This column endorsed by Sir Isaac Newton

By Jason Offutt

I only casually glanced at the movie playing in the family room, but I knew what would happen.
The heroes, flying in a passenger jet to somewhere dangerous, were in trouble. The screaming men who chased them from coach to first class brandishing Uzis were a dead giveaway. The heroine quickly rigged a trap that delayed the bad guys enough for her to push the hero, who wasn’t wearing a parachute, out of the plane.
Then the heroine strapped on a sexy parachute (sexy? Yes, the movie industry can make that happen), grabbed a second chute and jumped after him.
“Tell me if she catches him,” I said to the Boy, who was completely absorbed in this G-rated adventure movie. The heroine would catch the hero. She had to; it was in the script.
This sort of thing happens in movies all the time and by “this sort of thing” I mean the impossible. Our world works on rules. Such as yellow plus blue equals green, you’ll never get in at 9 a.m. for a 9 a.m. doctor’s appointment and that cute blonde at work will never go out with you. Then there’s that physics thing.
I’m fine with the impossible in a movie, as long as it makes sense. Gandalf makes sense. What happens in a movie when two people jump from an airplane does not.
“She caught him,” the Boy said when I walked back through the room.
Of course she did.
On the screen the happy couple now hacked its way through a Latin American jungle, although the heroine should have at least suffered a sprained ankle and the hero should be splattered over several square yards of rainforest.
It was time for Mr. Physics to pay a visit.
I paused the movie, walked into the kitchen and came back with a wadded piece of paper and an orange. I put them in the Boy’s hands.
“If I dropped both of these at the same time, which one would hit the ground first?” I asked.
He nodded and held up the much heavier orange.
“This one.”
You think so, huh?
I took the orange and paper, held them three feet over the couch and dropped them. They hit the couch at the same time. To make sure he got it, I did it again.
“How’d you do that?” he asked.
I could have gone on about Newtonian Physics, free fall and wind resistance, but I spared him.
“Objects of different weights fall at the same rate,” I said. “Remember that the next time someone in a movie catches up to the person they pushed out of a plane.”
Which brings us to the problem. Shouldn’t it be just as easy for Hollywood to get science right as it is to get science wrong? Did no one in the movie industry pay attention in high school?
I didn’t even get into the fact that the time between jumps and airspeed of the craft would have placed the heroes so far apart that instead of finding each other and saving the day, they would have been separated by miles and eaten by jaguars. I thought about it, though.
You see what it’s like to grow up in a nerd’s house?
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