Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fun With Physics: Pacific Rim is Great Fun But It is No Kaiju Big Battel...And That is Okay

Last night, I was  listening to black folks on the bus talking about George Zimmerman's acquittal for killing Trayvon Martin. I have been following online threads and comments which speak to that pain. The consensus? The verdict hurts. I understand.

But folks have got to remain sane, happy, healthy, and wise.

To that end, I went to the movies today. I watched Turbo--a good film that made me very happy. I also saw Pacific Rim for a second time. I stayed in Grownups 2 for an hour before walking out. Chicago is hot. I am a utilitarian. Thus, I will suffer a horrible movie in order to stay cool.

As a means of cleansing my post-George Zimmerman acquittal for murder palate, I watched Pacific Rim again. The movie is a dumb, fun, loud, exaggerated, genre film. It is not Shakespeare. Why would it be? I offer that observation after listening to contrarians leaving the theater who were vocal and loud in their complaints.

Some people do not know how to have a good time within the limits of a given genre experience.

I grew up watching monster movies everyday on TBS during the 1980s. I judge Pacific Rim as being acceptable.

Pacific Rim is a fun spectacle. Del Toro has an eye for details. The movie relishes in that talent. But, if Del Toro wanted to get the four stars from me, he would have done some motion capture of men in suits fighting old school style, as opposed to CGI kaijus that lack personality, battling in the rain and darkness which obscures the action.

As a ghetto nerd, I also wonder about the small details of films. Why? Because those little things separate the good from the great. Pacific Rim has some wonderful small moments such as the backgrounds, details on the mecha, and a little red shoe (folks who have seen the movie understand that allusion). Del Toro does well in this regard.

We have a varied and smart bunch of readers here on We Are Respectable Negroes.

I am also sure that some of you are really good at math and physics.

One of my few complaints about Pacific Rim involves those moments where the physics are just unbelievable. Yes, that is a minor complaint. I am a ghetto nerd. We revel in such trivialities. I also accept that sometimes we have to fudge the science in order to make a watchable movie. I would suggest that there remains a happy middle ground between fan service, entertainment, and responsible science.

Pacific Rim will spawn RPGs and tabletop role-playing games. Big machines and monsters are catnip for ghetto nerds and others in our camp. Because the movie features a nice back story and giant walking robots, there are already fan communities who are doing the math and stats to figure out the boundaries and logic of Pacific Rim's universe.

Consequently, I have a few questions about the movie for physics and science folks who can figure out such matters.

1. The mecha in Pacific Rim weigh about 2,000 tons. How many helicopters, and of what torque and turbine power, would be necessary to lift such machines? For those of you who can do statics, what type of cable would be necessary to carry them in the air?

2. Why are the mecha using explosive weapons given the thickness of the kaiju's skin? Wouldn't old school kinetic energy weapons and swords (as we see in the second half of the movie) be much more effective devices to kill the kaiju? Am I alone in thinking that the world governments would save a bunch of money by building World War 2 style battleships, as well as modern rail guns, to deal with the kaiju?

3. One of the mechs, Gipsy Danger, falls safely from 50,000 feet after a battle with a kaiju. What would the mech's terminal velocity be? How does terminal velocity play into its surviving the fall? What would the mech's momentum and force be upon impact? What type of shocks and struts would be necessary to keep it from disintegrating upon impact?

4. The American mecha was described as "analog" and "nuclear." The other mech were "digital." Huh? Could one build a steampunk mech that was hardened against an EMP pulse, yet still had digital-appearing computer screens? Were the other mechs running on hydrogen?

In another life, and if I had the talent, I would have been a high school physics teacher. One of my assignments would involve my students going to watch movies and then applying the physics concepts they have learned in class to what occurred on screen.

I do hope that there is a like-minded teacher doing the same for Pacific Rim. How many high school science teachers have the skills to do such a thing?


Scopedog said...

I haven't seen PACIFIC RIM yet, but I plan to--like you, I grew up on a steady diet of giant monster films (both Western, like THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and THE GIANT BEHEMOTH) and Easter (like GODZILLA and RODAN). And of course my love of all things mecha, like ROBOTECH and GUNDAM.

I know the film is not supposed to be Shakespeare. It's supposed to be fun and you go to have a good time. Why people walk into a film with a checklist in their head already is beyond me, but maybe I'm not so smart because I actually go the movies to have fun (some films are exempt from that).

Also Chauncey, you should check out the novel MM9. Think of THE OFFICE meets GODZILLA, with some tongue in cheek humor. More info on the book (written by Hiroshi Yamamoto, translated by Nathan Collins) can be found here:

chauncey devega said...

I will. MM9 sounds right up my alley. I have heard good things about the new Godzilla comic book series too. See the movie and have fun with it. Del Toro most certainly did.

Wavenstein said...

They love sacrificing brother Idris in these alien movies don't they?

Pamela Andersson said...

There's actually a guy who specializes in this type of questions:

@dorolfe said...

The movie shows 16 twin rotor Chinook-style choppers per jaeger. However their lift cables all join at what looks like a winch which has two cables extending down to the shoulders. Going with 2000 tons and a crosssectional area for the cables as 10 square cm that means the tensile strength of the cables has to exceed 8.9 GPa.

I don't know a lot about materials but that seems like a lot. Wikipedia says 2.5 GPa for some of the strongest stainless steel cables. My assumption up there is a cable you could put your hand around, steel rope like you see on cranes. And that goes for the anchors and the releases etc.

All of that is a long way of saying I believe the lift problem is less outlandish compared to the materials problem. The jaegers themselves must be constructed with amazing materials to be able to withstand the stress of hitting a monster in the face with a ship. Or to operate freely on the sea floor. Or as you mentioned to survive a 50,000 foot drop with a perfectly timed and placed retrorocket assist. (The exhaust port doesn't seem to be at the center of gravity, so you have to assume the pilots can compensate.)

I can't begin to guess all the numbers to do terminal velocity with drag (surface area on a jaeger must be huge) but with no drag it's 1200 mph, so the fall takes just under a minute. What's the surface area on a 747? You could try that.

And as long as you strait up ignore the part about EMPs not affecting the nuclear mark 2s the rest of the suspension of physics isn't too bad.

Also, I loved it. The moment where GDanger cuts the kaiju in half with a gleaming sword at sunset is like an idealized recreation right out of Voltron.

chauncey devega said...

And that is why I wish I was an engineer. Cool stuff and thanks. What type of materials would the mecha have to be made of to fight the kaiju as depicted? Do such materials exist yet?