Friday, December 21, 2012

"The Impossible" recreates the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean

The new film “The Impossible”, by Juan Antonio Bayona, takes us, through the eyes of one Spanish family (depicted as British) through the tsunami that hit much of the Indian Ocean shorelines on December 26, 2004.

The tsunami hits the family, relaxing in a Thailand resort, suddenly, with a wind gust, odd animal behavior, and then a wave of about 20 feet smashing everything.

Almost any coastal community could be hit by a tsunami, perhaps generated from an earthquake across an ocean, thousands of miles away. The tsunami in the film was generated by an earthquake near Indonesia.  There is a volcano in the Canary Islands (Cumbre Vieja  or“Old Summit”) which could erupt, cause an underwater landslide generating a tsunami over 100 feet high toward the East Coast.

The movie is about the separation and reuniting of the family, which knows that if it can survive, it can go back to its own life in England (or Spain).  The film opens with plane experiencing turbulence (as if from “Flight”) and shows the husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) depending on his wife Maria (Naomi Watts) for reassurance that they locked their house up before leaving.  Partners in marriage can watch one another’s back.  They are both professionals, and she is a doctor, staying at home to raise the kids. He’s a bit neurotic about keeping his job.

Now, there are catastrophes that can destroy a homeland and be so overwhelming as to throw anyone into homelessness and poverty.  I’m at 300 feet, but if a Cumbre tsunami really could be several hundred feet, I would experience instant poverty.  The same could be true if we lost electricity for months, as with a huge solar storm or EMP.  Therefore, “radical hospitality” becomes an important resource.

Lucas (Tom Holland, who puts in a virtuoso performance) follows his badly wounded mother in a makeshift hospital.  You wonder why British and US Naval hospital ships weren’t available sooner to give the victims first class medical treatment.   

Henry is still back in the remains of the resort with his two other sons and must go on a tedious quest to find the rest of his family. At one point, he tells Thomas to look after the youngest child, and Thomas says, “I’ve never looked after anyone before”.  Good moral point.  Family responsibility doesn’t have to wait for having one’s own children.

The official site (Summit Entertainment) is here

I wondered how the movie would work if it had been filmed in Spanish with actors from that country. The film was shot in Thailand and Barcelona with a Spanish production company.

Apparently there is a version dubbed in Spanish (prepared by Warner Brothers).  

Well known designer and television personality Nate Berkus (who often appeared om Oprah) lost a partner to the tsunami while they both vacationed in SriLanka (all the way across the Indian Ocean). He has discussed this on the Oprah show. One wonders why people that far away didn't have enough warning to evacuate.

Wikipedia attribution link for animated map of 2004 tsunami.

Monday, December 03, 2012

"Solar Crisis", a B-movie from 1989, got made too early to grasp the potential solar storm crisis

There’s an earlier sci-fi film on the “solar flare” problem, titled “Solar Crisis”, directed by Richard C. Sarafian and Alan Smithee, dating back to 1989, from Trimark.

In 2025, there is a space station preparing to launch an anti-matter bomb on the sun to redirect a huge “coronal mass ejection” that may be capable of frying the entire Earth (or maybe just Mercury). The writing of the film is campy, and it seems to be a Japanese production with aging American stars (including Charlton Heston and Tim Matheson).  There is a bizarre subplot involving control of the Earth’s fried real estate (can one have land title to an entire planet?) , and some desert sandstorm scenes that resemble the Australian Mad Max and Thunderdome movies of the 80s.  The script describes plenty of other catastrophic plagues, such as locusts.
Newt Gingrich is said to have liked this film, but it come from far too early in the genre before scientists really knew to take the coronal mass ejection threat seriously. Ironically, though, the film was apparently made about the same time that Quebec had its big power outage in 1989 from a solar storm. 
The spaceship has a personable but bossy computer like "HAL" in the "2001: A Space Odyssey" classic.

There are some pretty interesting special effects showing the innards of solar storms or sunspots right at the end.

The DVD projects in full screen.   

Compare to “Solar Attack” and “Sunshine”  (Aug. 2, 2007 )on this blog. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Red Dawn 2": North Korea uses EMP against us -- but it couldn't happen this way

The remake of “Red Dawn” starts innocently enough at a high school football game in Spokane, WA, where the Wolverines hold off a field goal attempt and win.  There is a curious confrontation between the coach and a filmmaker wanting to put the game on his website. 

While everybody celebrates, the power suddenly goes out. They’re outside when it happens.  The next morning, some of the teammates and older brothers (One returned from the Army, played by Chris Hemsworth) awaken to sights and sounds of paratroopers dropped from fixed wing planes landing on their town, shooing up civilians, and quickly setting up a military government.

The 1984 film had started with soldiers dropping into a Colorado high school field from choppers with no warning. In that film, the enemy was communists from Central America, under Soviet aegis. This time, it’s North Korea.

As for the rest of the film, you could say it’s an imitation of Beirut or the West Bank, how local resistance can turn back and invader with scorched earth.  Actually, the kids run to the hills, and the enemy has to take some effort to find them (shooting them with tagged bullets).  All of it is pretty much popcorn stuff, none of it believable.  There’s no away a guerilla Army could move around this way if something like this could happen.

There is a lot written about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  Back in 2002, George Tenet of the CIA said that North Korea could lob a missile with a nuke as far as Alaska or even the US Pacific Northwest.  But there’s no way North Korea could ever on its own arrange a ground parachute attack and control large amounts of US territory.  Presumably, it conquered South Korea first – that idea is never mentioned.  The film does say that North Korea has help from the Russians, but, oddly, not the Chinese (enemies).  Iran would make a more credible “ally” for the DNR.

Even so, back in the 1990s, North Korea had been considered our most dangerous potential enemy; few people understood Al Qaeda yet.

Late in the film, the kids encounter some Marines ready to join their “militia”. The Marine officer says that both US coasts were hit by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) blast, knocking out the power, followed by multiple ground detonations of either dirty bombs or neutron bombs – that wasn’t clear.  The latter possibility was actually feared for a while after 9/11 especially by doomsday speakers like Charles Krauthammer. It doesn’t sound credible now.  But it is possible that North Korea or Iran (or both) could route nuclear materials to terrorists who could launch moderate to high altitude nuclear blasts with scuds from cargo ships offshore. That’s the pretext of the 2009 novel “One Second After” (Book reviews July 20, 2012), which ought to become a movie.

One problem with using the EMP idea here is that ordinary electronics and automobiles aren’t knocked out in the film.  They probably would be.  An invading Army would not be easily able to restore power even for itself.

It is possible that the radical left could embark on terrorism, just as radical Islam did.  Back in the 1980s, I developed some novel  manuscripts based on that idea.  The basic idea was that big cities could be attacked with radioactive contamination (essentially “dirty bombs”), and that disorder in an area around the city would occur, and law would break down, and locally a “revolution” could happen.  In the novels, generally a character like me gradually encounters a charismatic figure who knows about the plot. After job loss (prepared with a series of episodes), the character based on me lives in an academy, intended to train civilian defense “reservists”, where he is when chaos breaks out.  But I had imagined all this before Communism fell. 

There are a few scenes where the North Koreas display their ideology, and the militia display their own, based on family values that set in well before men have children.

So, this implausible action film, directed by Dan Bradley, is indeed a bit of a right wing fantasy.  Maybe Newt Gingrich would like it.

It is distributed by Film District and United Artists (MGM).  The official site is here

The film was actually shot in Michigan.  The city scenes actually appear to come from Detroit. 

I think we need a modern documentary about the EMP and solar storm threats to the power grids.  Is Morgan Spurlock game?  Maybe I can push this myself. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

NatGeo airs TWC film "Seal Team 6: The Raid on Osama bin Laden"

The Weinstein Company, with director John Stockwell, has made a 90 minute (2 hours with commercials) docudrama film to be aired on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday night Nov. 4, “Seal Team  6: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden”. 

The film provided a rather straightforward look at the “behind the scenes” world leading up to the raid, starting with the interception of a Kuwaiti courier, Abu Ahmad.

Later it’s somewhat interesting to see the brainstorming sessions at the CIA on how to verify that the “pacer” at the compound in Abbottabad really is Osama bin Laden.  Kathleen Robertson plays the female CIA analyst (Vivian Hollins) identified as “Jen” in Mark Owen’s book “No Easy Day” (Books blog Oct. 9).  They come up with a plan to “vaccinate” people in the area.

The last half hour recreates what must have happened, with the helicopter crash and then in the house, rather literally, but without all the interpretation possible in Owen’s book.

The Weinstein brothers deny that the showing of the film two days before the general election is intended to affect the results in favor of the president.  The timing is related to a deadline set by Netflix, which supposedly will release the film for instant play fairly soon.  But there is no question that when the raid was announced, it initially made the president look very effective.

A commander says “Al Qaeda: they are not afraid to die. Neither are we.  We are fighting for something greater than ourselves.”

The official site from TWC is here

The NatGeo link is here

The film seems a bit more mechanical than a couple of one-hour documentaries that aired on CNN and ABC two weeks after the raid (reviewed here in May 2011).  I also didn't find it as compelling as the film by Peter Bergen aired on NatGeo on Nov. 6, 2011.

My review of Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" is on my Movies Blog, Jan. 11, 2013.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Teen filmmakers capture the horror of trees toppling during Sandy without special effects

Two teen filmmakers captured horrifying footage of threes falling during Hurricane Sandy. Both sequences seem to come from communities on Long Island (or at least New York State).
John Mateer filmed three trees near the family house, one hitting a car, the dog barking, and then a fire breaking out nearby.  If this wasn’t real, it would look like a scene from a typical Hollywood “B movie”.
John starts with “This Is the Apocalypse”. 

Matthew Weinschreider showed a free falling away from the family house gradually.  First the ground heaves, almost like in special effects, and then the tree roots are lifted out by the leverage of the entire free by 60 mph winds.  The saturated soil, even with a grassy covering, cannot hold the tree.

Matt’s link is here.

John and Matt  appear on Katie Couric here.

Other people have done a lot of mashups with these two videos.

There are some other original videos of trees falling (mostly from Long Island, some in New Jersey) and one comment is that “we’re nowhere near the eye”.   In some of them, houses are damaged.  A massive tree can cut through a frame house and destroy it. 

Indeed, winds were stronger along southern New England, 150 miles from the center than they were in Washington DC.  That’s partly because they are coming just off the water, and partly because winds are usually strongest northeast of the center of a cyclone. 

The “kids” (Mateer and Weinschreider)  ought to collaborate, edit the two sequences (Mateer’s is mostly “vertical” in aspect), and submit the material to short film festivals.  I guess they can  both say “I am Rogue” (the legal wordmark for Rogue Pictures, part of Universal and Relativity Media, focusing often on horror films).  Maybe Hollywood could use this footage in a commercial horror film (and pay for it).   
Should building codes for new homes in wooded areas include strength (such as metal framing) requirements to resist tree damage?  Metal framing is said to make houses tornado resistant.  Given climate change, we have to think carefully about making new requirements for more robust construction.

Pictures: Roots on an old, massive swamp maple near my house; upper branches show severe damage from previous storms (especially a microburst in November 2010), shortening the tree and preventing any liontailing.  The previous damage, ironically, probably prevented the tree from toppling during Sandy, but it looks precarious to me.  Trees whose branches break during brief but strong thunderstorms, however, may be less likely to fall over completely later after prolonged  “soil saturation” events like tropical storms or strong “noreasters”.  No cairns here. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

YouTube "films" about Hurricane Sandy ("Superstorm") -- made before the storm moved to the New Jersey-New York coast

Okay, for this blog, here’s a “film” from Bloomberg News, posted by “Servitude for All”, “Meteorologists Warn of Worst Case Scenario as Hybrid Super Storm Approaches East Coast, link here

The “film” (from Bloomberg) runs ten minutes.

The biggest question in my mind is whether basic commercial institutions can start functioning so people can put their lives back.  For example, will modern hotels at least be OK so people who really need full media access can rent rooms and do their work.  Will power companies be overwhelmed by the manual labor involved?  Can they use the National Guard?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Videos show that Canary Islands eruption and underwater avalanche could wipe out US East Coast

I looked up in YouTube the category “tsunami cumber vieja” and found a number of videos.
One of the most informative originates with the BBC, “Mega Tsunami – Canary Islands Threat”, posted by “jennylunatic” Oct. 2011 (9 min), with YouTube link here.

The general risk is that a volcanic eruption on this volcano in the Canary Islands would cause a landslide that could generate a tsunami several hundred feet high toward the East Coast of the United States, where 40 million people live (below 500 feet elevation).  There would be eight hours notice.  

The Canary Islands are an autonomous region of Spain geographically located off the northwest coast of Africa, about at the latitude of South Carolina. 

Apparently, there are volcanic eruptions in the area about once every 100-200 years and the largest ones cause catastrophic landslides, the last of which appears to have occurred 120,000 years ago.

This video also mentioned a tsunami over 1000 feet high in an Alaskan inlet.

There’s a video  (“Global Alert: Mega Tsunami from the Canary Islands”) based on the History Channel and posted by the “Nordic Truth” that claims that such an event is imminent.  The video has good graphics. Bill Daegle and John Moore narrate, and claim that dangerous eruptions happen every 300 years.  This video says that significant tsunami  (30-40 feet, mainly in Florida) could be generated by an earthquake alone in the Canaries, even without an underwater landslide.  The video gives the detailed geography of the volcanoes.  This video says that the tsunami  from a landslide could be 3000 feet high, breaching the Appalachians, but It might decrease to a hundred feet or so crossing the ocean.  The link is here. 

Simon Day gives a discussion from the Discovery Spotlight (“Amercia’s East Coast Meega Tsunami Canary Islands Explained”, posted by High Powered Lasers. 

John Goff explains that there is an underwater ridge somewhere off the coast of North Carolina that could slip and generate a significant tsunami.

This topic would make a good subject for a longer documentary film. So far the existing videos don't have very imaginative titles. 

Can anything at all be done about it?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Solar Storm: entertainment gets in the way of the serious message about solar coronal mass ejections (Can the sun "attack" us?

The 2006 film “Solar Attack” (also called “Solar Strike” and maybe "Solar Storm") from Lionsgate and CineTeleFilms (Canada), and director Paul Ziller, seems like an overdone attempt to warn – that is, entertain – audiences with the threat from solar coronal mass ejections.

The film maintains that increased methane in the atmosphere (from global warming) makes the upper atmosphere vulnerable to spontaneous combustion when the CME penetrates through the ozone layer. 
There is also a private probe, the Galileo (not to be confused with NASA’s), which gets destroyed by the CME, with pieces falling onto downtown Detroit (aka Toronto, probably).

The cure is worse than the disease, perhaps.   A nuclear explosion near the North Pole is supposed to put out the fire.  Wouldn’t it also generate an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) over much of the northern half of the world?  EMP does get mentioned near the end, in connection with geo-politics with post-Soviet Russian subs.   

Lou Gossett Jr. is not too convincing as President Ryan Gordon (aka Barack Obama).

What seems needed is a serious documentary film on this subject: just how much danger is the power grid under from larger (Carrington style) coronal mass ejections.  

Monday, September 03, 2012

X-files hero had gone to Heaven in "The Rapture", which really happens

I don’t know if the “Rapture” qualifies as a “catastrophe” in the sense of many other events on this blog, but certainly the disappearance of a lot of people would create chaos (airplanes, highways, infrastructure) comparable to that of an EMP attack.

I thought I would retrospect on the 1991 film “The Rapture”, directed by Michael Toikin, from Fine Line. I saw it then (October) at the Shirlington Theater in Arlington during a difficult time in my own career when I was preoccupied with some mundane, compulsion-associated problems.

The film first attracted my attention because David Duchovny, the handsome “Fox Mulder” from X-Files, played Randy, the innocent husband who gets murdered, and winds up in Heaven.  Apparently he believed in a simple way. But the story is mainly about Sharon (Mimi Rogers), who stumbles into contact with a religious sect that believes that the Rapture is eminent, becomes a born-again Christian, and gives up her unfaithful lifestyle (with Patrick Vauchau as Vic).  But after Randy’s death, she questions why God allows bad things to happen to good people, and winds up killing her own daughter Mary (Kimberly Cullum).  She refuses to commit suicide, and when she is in jail, the Rapture happens and the jail walls fall down with the sounding of trumpets.  She refuses to accept God even now, and “chooses” to stay in Purgatory forever, separated from Randy.

I never heard much about “The Rapture” until I moved to Dallas (in 1979), and I remember a particular Sunday night sermon at MCC Dallas by Rev. Don Eastman where I heard it mentioned in early 1983, just before AIDS would become an everyday headline.

Here’s a 24-minute short, “Getting Prepared for the Rapture” by “Kingdom Come Warriiors” from Youtube(2011).

If it happened, there would be a “one second after”. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

TED offers cybersecurity "short films", "All Your Devices Can Be Hacked"; also, recalling some 80's TV WWIII predictions

A website called TED, “Ideas worth spreading” (or maybe ideas worth giving to people, as my mother would have warned), has some interesting videos on threats to be prepared for.

A 16-minute talk from Feb. 2012 by Avi Rubin, called “All Your Devices Can Be Hacked” is definitely interesting.

Avi starts out by talking about how cardiac pacemakers (my mother never had one) can be manipulated wirelessly, but this is usually a good thing because you don’t want to shave and open someone’s chest repeatedly, do you.  (Not even Dick Cheney’s.) 

He then presents the vulnerability of all the electronics in your car, including the speedometer.  The main abuse would be tracking someone or, of course, auto theft (or knowing if someone is home).

He also talks about devices in cell phones that can spy on keystrokes from everyone around you.  At least not that many of us really want to eavesdrop on all those smartphone texts and conversations that “interrupt” the activity on a dance floor.

There’s a 9-minute video in French, from 2010, by Guy Pholippe-Goldstein, “How Cyberattacks Threaten Real World Peace”.  He starts by stating that in 1982 the US CIA performed a “cyberattack” on a remote Soviet pipeline (an incident reflected in the 1982 TV movie “World War III”, on NBC (directed by David Greene and Boris Segal), where the Soviets attack Jimmy Carter’s Alaska pipeline.  That film should not be confused with “The Day After”, also 1983 on ABC, by Nicholas Meyer. Where Kansas City takes the nuclear hit (the US ICBM’s are fired from Lawrence, KS); the film actually showed people turning to skeletons with the blast. Jason Robards starred in the aftermath. . Goldstein warns that the US government has plans for nuclear retaliation for big-scale cyber attacks.
Remember, as discussed in previous entries here, the increasing dependence on semiconductors makes us vulnerable to EMP and solar storms, until we get serious about hardening our systems. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Some PBS stations air "September's Children": in NYC after 9/11, Afghanistan, Gaza

On July 17, Howard University PBS station WHUT aired the one hour film “September’s Children”, narrated by Judy Woodruf.

The film covered on the efforts to protect and guide fifth graders at a public school (234) near the World Trade Center site on 9/11.  Many of them saw or heard the planes hit and towers fall.  The kids were taken to a different PS, and it took some time for all the parents to arrive to pick them up.  Teachers faced the daunting task of explaining to elementary school kids why the attacks had happened.  At the end of the film, in June 2002, the class graduates to middle school in a world with a “new normal”.

Later the film moved to Afghanistan, and covered the way families in areas ravaged by the Taliban had children and tried to educate them in secret.   There had been no schools at all in many areas, not even for men.

The film also covered conditions in Gaza, and a teenage boy with multiple shrapnel wounds. The boy says he has no desires and lives every day for the present.

Georgia Public Television has a link for the film here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

HBO airs Sundance documentary "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"

The 40-minute HBO short “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom”  (dir. Lucy Walker) starts with the most graphic video of the March 2011 tsunami in Japan that I have ever seen. As people watch and then scream from a bluff,  the “last wave” approaches from the distant ocean, then encroaches, and finally comes to the foot of the bluff, washing away buildings and people on camera.  People trying to rescue patients from a nursing home themselves are washed away.

Gradually, the film turns to rejuvenation, the late Spring in northeast Japan, as symbolized by the cherry trees (some quite large) and blossoms.  But there are no festivals this year. “Plants don’t give up, people do.”
Disasters can wipe out people who don’t participate in building social capital, who are totally invested in “themselves”.

The tsunami was 133 feet high at this particular town.  It is conceivable that a volcanic eruption and landslide underneath the Cumbre Vieja in the Canary Islands could send a tsunami to parts of the US East Coast 200-300 feet high, with about eight hours warning. We are not prepared!

The film won a grand jury prize, short-film non-fiction, at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

HBO’s link is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for animated diagram of tsunami. 

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Open Minds interview of Travis Walton (1975 UFO abductee) compares his account to "Fire in the Sky"

I stumbled across some YouTube videos of a 57 year old Travis Walton describing, with articulation, his abduction on Nov. 5, 1975 by a UFO from a group of other loggers on a forest road about the Mogollon Rim near Snowflake, AZ. 

The most detailed interview that I could find is with native American host Alejandro Rojas of Open Minds Radio, the interview ("Travis Walton Discusses his Abduction Experience") taken on Jan.  3, 2011. The link for OMR is here

The first thirty minutes of the 90 minute “film” have him discussing other UFO-related issues, including a discussion with someone from SETI claiming that red dwarf star Gliese (about 20 light years from Earth) seems to have at least two planets (however tidally locked) within its Goldilocks zone. Walton talks for the remaining hour (sometimes is voice is very low and hard to hear).

Walton’s account is quite vivid (and it tracks to Wikipedia, here

Walton says the evening sky was illuminated oddly around 6 PM (after dark that time of year).  The video simulates the illumination. The crew thought that the light might becoming from flares from hunters.

Walton says he was struck by a bluish bolt (rather like ball lightning) and woke up feeling very weak on a gurney on the craft, with medical gear attached to his head and chest.  He describes seeing “people” looking the “the Grays” before being taken to an indoor hangar where he would encounter a few “normal” humans who tried to continue the medical experiments.

The most interesting fact is that Walton was gone for five days, but returned to Earth on a road near Heber AZ five days later.  Search parties had found no evidence of him, although I recall claims at the time that there was someone he knew that he could have stayed with.  Nevertheless, it would be rather incredible that the entire logging team would have been in on a prank.  All passed the polygraph tests, and Walton’s medical tests were normal (no drugs).  Walton did not have the bruises that might have resulted from the initial trauma of the encounter.  No one has mentioned whether any of the alien medical tests left significant changes on his body (like hair removal).

Walton says that the real account is quite different from the Hollywood account directed by Robert Liberman for Paramount in 1993, “Fire in the Sky”, written by Tracy Torme, based on Travis Walton’s own book, where Walton was played by D.B. Sweeney.  I saw that in Pentagon City in 1993 when it had a theater complex (I don’t know why it didn’t do well enough to stay open).  The film was a bit hokey as I recall.
I did make a rental car vacation trip to northern Arizona in December 1975, talked to a journalist in Heber myself (he believed the story), and then went to Dan Fry’s Understanding “Saucer City” near Tonopah AZ for the first time.  (It’s no longer there, now a cotton plantation, last visit in 2000.)  I saw one large object over the sky in the Mogollon area on that trip, and in 1978 (at an Understanding “convention” called “Man in Space”) a lot of us saw a triangular object with flickering red and green lights in the sky for about an hour.  Would a chopper hover that long?

Other films about abduction cases include “Roswell” (1994, dir. Jeremy Kagan, with Kyle McLauchin (who else?), Paramount) and “The UFO Incident” (1975), about Betty and Barney Hill.  

Would Walton's story make a good Dateline investigative report now?

Is it just possible that there is a civilization in the Gliese star system that has overcoming tidal locking (probably seeded from elsewhere, as in Ridley Scott's "Prometheus") and is capable of the 20-light-year journey? Could a "hangar" really exist somewhere else in our solar system, an hour or so at the speed of light away? One of my own screenplays is "69 Minutes to Titan".  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" when NASA can't deflect a large asteroid

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”, the new “romantic comedy” from Focus Features and director Lorene Scarfaria, provides enough warning to deserve to be reviewed on this blog.

The obvious comparison in Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” (Movies blog, Nov. 11, 2011). That film is much grimmer and moodier, and more gradual in introducing the phantom planet menace. This time, the rogue planetoid is called “Matilda” (“On the Beach”), a sexier name than “Melancholia”.  And here there is no Wagnerian, chromatic music; just pop stuff.

This film (Sacrfaria) hits us right away.  The anti-hero, life insurance agent Dodge (the “man-o-lantern” Steve Carell  -- his chest never shows here) , sits in his car and hears a radio message that a space mission  (the last chance to “save mankind”) to destroy a 70-mile-wide approaching asteroid has crashed and failed.  The world will end in three weeks as a fireball from the explosion encircles the earth.  (In “Knowing” in 2009, it was a fireball from a sun storm).  

Society shuts down quickly.  The last airline flight, on Delta, lands.  Plans are announced to cut off Internet and power about a day before.  Rioting breaks out.

Dodge goes on a road trip to reunite with a sweetheart (Keira Knightley), and a number of family paradoxes emerge.  But it all sounds pretty silly compared to the “big problem”.

The film is supposed to take place in New Jersey but doesn’t look like it.

At the very end, there is only a sonic boom and a whiteout.  But it is the end of the world.

It probably would take much less than a 70 mile asteroid to wipe us out.  Maybe 5 miles would do.  A comet would have to be a bit bigger.  Could NASA deflect a large asteroid now?  The largest one, Ceres, is in the asteroid belt and is considered a “dwarf planet” now.

The film seems silly compared to the 1998 hits, “Armageddon” (asteroid) and “Deep Impact” (comet). 
The film was produced by Mandate Pictures and Indian Paintbrush.

I saw the film at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington VA in a small auditorium but with new digital projection. The audience was not particularly impressed with a main story that seemed too trivial for the premise. 

The official site is here

Pictures: (1) When a new cell phone tower invokes Stephen King's "Langoliers"; (2, 3):  A woman was advertising this film a short distance from the AFI Silverdocs, at the Metro station in Silver Spring. MD.

Friday, June 15, 2012

NBC's "Revolution" in Fall 2012 apparently anticipates an electromagnetic pulse attack

A site called Ecorazzi has a four-minute trailer from the Fall 2012 NBC Monday night series by J. J. Abrams called “Revolution”.  The second "o" is made to look like a computer off-switch. 

I generally don’t write reviews of trailers, but the hype that this series is getting this June (in the early summer of 2012) deserves mention.

The link is here

With only a tiny amount of advanced notice, all the electricity in the world goes out, and society breaks down into militia ruled by warlords as the story picks up fifteen years later.  Well, maybe a few people do have electricity.  There’s a scene where a girl tries to conscript a young man into some rescue effort “because we’re family” and he says, “But I hardly know you.”

The look of the series reminds me of “Life After People.” 

It’s more interesting to show how something like this happens than to show the aftermath months or years later (as in “Falling Skies”).

This sounds like the result of a high-altitude EMP blast, from a terrorist, enemy (like Iran or North Korea), or possibly extraterrestrials (that’s the first thing hostile aliens would do).  A solar storm wouldn’t cause planes to fall out of the sky, because there would be more notice.  A really catastrophic coronal mass ejection might affect electronic ignition of some cars.  Smaller, locally effective EMP’s from microwaves are possible, and weapons to do this belong to the US Army and have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A blog called “The Foundry” by a conservative group  has a posting (by Michaela Bendiva) titled “NBC’s ‘Revolution’ shows life after an electromagnetic pulse attack” (link) and goes on to castigate power companies for not hardening the grid. I agree with Heritage on that point.  Why are we so complacent?

In the early fall of 2001, Popular Science magazine warned about microwave EMP machines as weapons (just before 9/11). Later, in 2001, the film "Oceans 11" showed a local EMP outage in Las Vegas (as the thieves go about their smash-grab job), but then the lights came back on, which they wouldn't.  The Strip would really be toast for a long time. 

It's ironic that you need media to watch the series, that predicts the end of media.  All that is left is "People".  And music.  A Steinway piano doesn't need electricity.  Does that suggest a plot thread? 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Was the world before Noah's flood "high-tech"?

A Judged Creation: High-Tech Society Before Noah’s Flood” , by Billy Crone, March 2011, at Niagara Frontier Bible Church (New York State?),  is on YouTube in two parts.

The “sermon”, with many embedded slides and videos, documents some evidence of technological advances in societies before the Flood.  Some of the evidence includes a mechanical supercomputer, batteries that could generate electricity, and a lot of material about coal (as if mountaintop removal were practiced in ancient societies).

We could do without the “obvious” fundamentalist message (and creationism), to be intrigued by the idea that an advanced civilization came to civilization and that individual citizens may have been too “smart” for their own specific good.

In part 2, he mentions the Kensington Stone in Minnesota, which I believe I have seen.  He then shows many complex underwater city ruins, such as off the coast of Cuba and India.  There is a History Channel excerpt showing impressive underwater ruins off SE Japan.

Some of the examples could be compared to the Discovery Film “City Beneath the Waves: Pavlopetri”, off the coast of Greece, reviewed on the TV blog June 3, 2012.

Just a reminder: we really can fail.

Links are, Part 1, and Part 2, total of about 84 minutes.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Documentary on pole shift seems level-headed: "Magnetic Storm" by Duncan Hopp

I found a 52-minute documentary film, “Magnetic Storm: Pole Shift May Be Imminent, Please Educate Yourself”, directed by Duncan Hopp, posted by Sarah Livesey  in April 2011. The narrative style resembles that of a History Channel program. 

The film is quite level-headed.  It gives a basic background on how the Earth’s magnetic field works, and then gives a comparison with the tragic history of Mars.  Martian volcanic rocks show magnetism and evidence of a past field that failed because the planet’s core was too small and too cold. When the magnetic field of Mars failed, the solar wind gradually blew most of its atmosphere away so that today we have the almost airless, probably lifeless desert surface that is now familiar from Viking pictures.

Today, the Earth’s magnetic field emanates from the South magnetic pole and circulates back to the north, making the Earth one big electromagnet.  There is evidence that the field is weakening, and that a lessening of the field precedes a complete pole shift, which likely happened last 750000 years ago. 

A pole shift might happen gradually, resulting in a prolonged period of several weak magnetic poles (rather than just two), with much weaker protection of life on Earth from solar radiation, especially solar storms and coronal mass ejections (yesterday’s post).  It would not necessarily produce a physical cataclysm, although, as noted yesterday, it could become impossible to keep the power grid on.   There is already considerable evidence of great meandering and weakening of the south magnetic pole.

A scientist named Rob Coe shows evidence of past pole shifts in volcanic layers in Steam’s Mountain, on the East side of the Cascade Range in Oregon.

Here’s the basic link.

The idea of a pole shift forms the basis of the novel “The HAB Theory” by Allan W. Eckert, iUniverse, originally published in the 1970s.   

The Paramount 2003 film “The Core”, by John Amiel, was predicated on the failure of the Earth’s magnetic field and has explorers going to the center of the Earth, Jules Verne style, to reignite the core with nuclear explosives.  All pretty silly.  

Here’s a 4-minute video by “Survive Pole Shift”:

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA simulation of the Earth’s magnetic field, here

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Kaku discusses solar storm threat to power grid, various videos

Michio Kaku, physics professor and author, discusses the risk of another huge coronal mass ejection, associated with a “solar flare” in this 6 minute video from BigThink (link, requires ShockWave).

Kaku explains that the Sun has a pole shift every eleven years, explaining the increase in sunspot activity and solar flares. In 2012-2013 we’re entering another period.  The Earth usually dodges the bullet because of the vastness and geometry of space, but the probability of a direct hit with a Carrington-sized CME (referring to the 1859 event) is significant over several hundred elapsed years.

Kaku urges policy makers to build redundancy into satellite systems and the power grid.  Many areas, especially in polar latitudes, could be out of power for weeks or months.  The Internet could not function as wireless would be out.

One proposal would have utilities build large dampers to protect transformers, and implement blackouts when a huge CME is expected.

Evetsnalon offers this 14-minute video “Solar Maximum Cycle 24”, link. The largest event is called an X-class.  The 1989 event in Quebec shorted out transformers as far away as New Jersey.  Even gasoline stations depend on satellites.  It’s possible that automobile ignitions could be shorted out, as with an EMP terror attack. There is discussion of survival planning, including body core temperature.  Ironically, the hybrid and electric cars might be the most vulnerable.  

First Friday’s Revival has a 38 minute video “NASA Warns of Solar Superstorm 2012” here.    Michio Kaku appears and refers to it as a “potential Katrina from outer space”.  A technologically advanced and dependent society is more vulnerable than a primitive or pre-industrial society.  There is some concern over a big one in 2012 or 2013.  This would be far worse than the black out of the East Coast in August 2003. And the blackout could come suddenly, on a clear day.  This particular video does go into religion and salvation. 

All of this forms the premise of an NBC series this fall 2012, "Revolution", imdb link.

Why don't the power companies talk about this?   Newt Gingrich has posed this question. Hope we don't have another Carrington before the NBC series gets to start. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Battleship" is an odd way to portray the dangers of drawing attention from extraterrestrials

If it weren’t for a derivation from a Hasbro computer game (link)  Peter Berg’s new film “Battleship” would seem like an odd treatment for an existential battle for survival from an extraterrestrial alien attack.
Indeed, the concept of deciding the survival of the world in a sea battle, under an isolating “Truman Show” dome over Hawaii created by the aliens, seems improbable.  The film seems a bit like a dream, with “Transformers-like” unfolding of the alien machinery, and actual humanoids (almost the same as us, maybe without body hair) under the armor, running around and oddly missing their softer human opponents on the ground, and plenty of “Star Wars” gear from Ronald Reagan’s dreams in the 80s.

Remember, however, that Stephen Hawking has warned us that, sending out broadcast signals and drawing attention to ourselves (rather as if there were such a thing as a galactic Facebook without privacy settings, and a real  “galactic online reputation” issue) could invite a hostile visit.  The aliens might treat us the way Columbus and English settlers treated the native Americans.  Do unto others!   Seriously, is it such a moral violation to draw attention to the self, talk about the self and one's work, and then broadcast?  I thought that was salesmanship without hucksterism.  So that must be so for our planetary civilization broadcasting with SETI.

In the film, the aliens are said to hail from Gliese 581G, an M-star red dwarf about 20 light years away. Theoretically, a SETI probe sent before 1970 could have prompted a response.  Any life-bearing planet around this star would be tidally locked, and any civilization would live in an annular zone.  But such a planet could have been seeded with a robot-organic civilization from somewhere farther away with a more conventional “Earth 2”.

The plot of the film is a bit silly. The first half hour “develops” the future hero Lt Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), by starting with a fraternity-like prank where he robs a convenience store through a roof to prove he can get a hot burrito for a girl friend Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) after closing.  His older brother urges him to join the Navy to grow up.  It’s not possible for someone to become an O-3 Naval Lieutenant in such circumstances.  Seaman E-1, maybe.  He’s such a cutup he’s due for discharge, but then the alien attack during maneuvers gives him a chance to command more than one battleship.

The arsenal of alien weapons is quite striking, including toothed "langoliers" that sound inspired by a 1995 Stephen King film by that name.

This time, the city that "gets it" from the wayward falling alien spaceships is Hong Kong.  The vulnerability of the skyscrapers in that city is well demonstrated.  

There are some side plots, such as that of a nerd Cal (Hamish Linklater) who worked on the transmission devices that contacted the aliens, and an Iraq war veteran who may use his artificial legs to advantage. They come into odd personal contact with the aliens, and Cal is challenged at least once to prove he isn’t a bookish coward.

I saw this at AMC Tyson’s Corner today, and noticed that AMC is now showing the calories on all concessions.  Some are really horrific (over 2400 calories for some nacho snacks).  Really, movie chains need to offer more healthful snacks, or change their concession business models and rent some space to restaurants and share the revenue (increased by the wider variety of food).  Some Rave theaters already do this (as in Fairfax, VA). 

Universal’s little “Goldilocks Planet” featurette:

Monday, May 14, 2012

"The Divide": life in a foxhole after NYC gets nuked

The enigmatic film “The Divide” starts with a sepia view of a nuclear blast in lower Manhattan viewed from about Chelsea.  Almost immediately, residents are scurrying in panic to a cellar.  After some perambulations, eight survivors wind up testing each other out in an endurance game.

The film had one Friday midnight showing at Landmark E Street in Washington and then waited for the DVD in April.

Anchor Bay’s official site is here. The film is directed by Xavier Gens.

The film keeps the ragged, sepia look of living underground, but has some excursions that sound like real sci-fi.  Men in white radiation suits attack as if they were “aliens”.  An excursion “beyond” leads through some bizarre white tubing and experimentation areas.

After they capture a man who might have some intel as to how to get out, they practice “extreme rendition”, and the man, while losing a finger, makes particularly offensive comments, comparing homosexuality to cowardice and pariah status, eventually bragging that he has nine more fingers. But pretty soon the group really descends into all imaginable behaviors.  They make a ritual of the buzz cuts, in anticipation of radiation sickness.

 But then the eyebrows go, too.

This is a confining, unpleasant film, that misses the opportunity to portray, what if we somehow let it happen. Well, maybe the final walkabout above ground says something.  Life will not go on as it had. 

With Michael Biehn, Lauren German, Vilo Vintimiglia.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

IMAX Short film shows the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, volunteer rescue efforts

The 26-minute IMAX 3D Short, “Rescue 3D”, directed by Stephen Low, has the most graphic disaster scene that I have ever witnessed close up. A significant amount of footage in the film, now shown at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, shows, from the air at low altitude, the devastation in Haiti shortly after the January 2010 earthquake.  One sees several miles of tenements, pancaked and imploded.  People are herded underneath huge warehouse like structures near the ocean. A church is shown crumbling to the ground.   Naval surgeons are shown performing surgery under battlefield conditions.  I don’t know how the filmmakers got this footage as it happened.  How could they be set up for it before it happened?  The film also has a scientific explanation of the Haiti earthquake, where the ground underneath slipped six meters.

The film also depicts several individuals in several different military and volunteer groups that offer assistance.  A female Air Force pilot, Lauren Ross, flies a C-17 cargo plane.  Maj. Matt Jonkey of the Nevada National Guard helps rescue a hiker stranded on a rocky prominence about Lake Tahoe (this may be training).  Commander Peter Crain of the Canadian Navy trains on a cutter (more like a US Coast Guard boat) of the Nova Scotia coast, the Athabaskan. Stephen Heicklen drills as a volunteer fire fighter in Bridgeville, NJ, in a scene that recalls Ron Howard’s “Backdraft”.  The hospital ship USS Comfort is also shown. 

One wonders about the altruistic motives to volunteer for such duty, particularly outside the military (as with volunteer fire departments). 

At the end, the volunteers and military are headed for the tsunami disaster in Japan in 2011.

The Smithsonian link for the film is here

There is a volunteer information exchange site for people interested in volunteering, which is difficult, link here

Wikipedia attribution link for USCG picture of damage from overhead, similar to film

Friday, May 04, 2012

Could black holes a few dozen light years from Earth cause mass extinctions?

When reading a book by Lewis Darnell “Life in the Universe” (April 17, 2012 Books Blog) I encountered some speculation that earlier extinctions (over 1 billion years ago, not the dinosaur wipe-out 65 million years ago from the asteroid hit) could have been prompted by encounters with moderate or small black holes as the Sun revolves around the galactic center.  Not close enough to suck up the solar system, but maybe close enough to unleash destructive gamma radiation on Earth.  A supernova 30 light years away could unleash destructive radiation within a few thousand years.  There are some speculations that supernovae as far away as 1000 light years, enough to form black holes, could result in extinguishing advanced life on Earth.

I looked up a few videos on YouTube in the subject. 

I found one by Thomas Lucas and “”, 18 min,  “The Largest Black Holes in the Universe.”  He notes that some black holes formed very early in the history of the Universe, and that some coalesced to form quasars.

But a more interesting short, 10 min, narrated by Michael, produced by Numberphile, is  “Travel Inside a Black Hole”.

If you approached a black hole, you would experience time dilation, so it could seem like a long time before the tidal forces started to “hurt”.

An outside observer would see you approach the Schwarzchild Radius, and seem to stay there, because of time dilation.  Your image would be “red-shifted” out of sight, gradually.  He also explains the “Cosmological Principle”, that the Universe has no “center”, but that from any point, everything seems to be moving away from you at the same rate.

He also discusses “acoustic black holes” or “dumb holes”.  He also says that if the Universe got big enough through expansion, there is a good statistical chance of “Another Earth” (as in the sci-fi movie by Brit Marling) actually existing.

You can also try this 1 hour video, “The Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe”, by Dr. Paul Francis at ANU (Australia).   There is some mathematical theory that says that all the information in a galaxy will be stored on the surface of black holes in the galaxy.  When people die, their “information” will be stored there forever (as a kind of afterlife).  But there is a problem that the surface area may not be large enough to house all the information (because of the way volume and surface area work out in high school solid geometry!)

There is also the controversial idea of “Micro Black Holes”, which, in theory, could wreak havoc by “hacking” information in bizarre ways if they really existed, Wikipedia reference here

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Marburg virus outbreak depicted in ABC's "Body of Proof" in 2-part "Going Viral"

Christopher Murphey’s show “Body of Proof” on ABC featured (on March 27 and April 3, 2012) a two-part series “Going Viral”, in which Philadelphia experiences an outbreak of Marburg virus, related closely to Ebola.  At one point, there is an electron microscope picture of the virus with the “shepherd’s crook”.

A former disgruntled employee of a virology lab gets a job with WHO and infects himself with the virus, and then infects areas in the city where many people must touch a common surface (incidental blood contact). 
Marburg and Ebola cause horrific hemorrhagic disease with internal organs like pancreas, liver and eventually the brain disintegrating.  But some people survive with lasting disability.  Richard Preston (“The Hot Zone”) and Laurie Garrett have written books on the virus.  There was one strain, Ebola Reston, an outbreak in 1989 in animals, thought to be airborne.  

In the fiction scenario (about 85 minutes, a typical length for a feature movie) there are about 100 deaths in at least six clusters in Philadelphia.  The “typhoid Mary” is tracked down, ironically, through bedbug bites.
Samples of the virus would be present in very few places in the world, such as Ft.. Dietrich in Frederick, MD.   However, we all know that there is strong suspicion that an employee of that facility was responsible for the anthrax outbreak in 2001, as has already been covered in several television documentaries.

ABC’s main link is here.  I have covered the "Body of Proof" show on my TV blog, most recently March 28, 2012.

Here is an 18-minute documentary film on YouTube from Journeyman pictures, “Marburg Virus – Angola”, dating from 2007:

Saturday, March 03, 2012

"The Big Picture" examines climate change the day after the Joplin tornado; what about the March 2, 2012 outbreak?

 "The Big Picture" by Thom Hartmann (link), on May 23, 2011, looks at global warming (or climate change), on the heels of the horrific EF5 tornado multiple vortex outbreak in Joplin Mo. May 22.  I pulled up this YouTube video today to see what has been put out there about the relationship between climate change and huge tornado outbreaks, particularly in early Spring, as have happened twice this week. 

Mr. Hartmann’s approach is very similar to “Professor” Al Gore’s in Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth”, from Paramount Vantage in 2005, and it's a bit of a college lecture.  (Gore’s movie was almost the last film that my late mother saw before her passing in 2010. )  Hartmann uses timeline graphs (I don’t mean Facebook timeline here), to show how the world’s carbon dioxide levels were below 350 for all of history until the 1980s, and now are around 400.   A level this high persistently means that the ecosystem of the Earth will change permanently, in a way that humans are not adapted to.  He says that the city of Chicago no longer plants certain trees that it believes will be affected by a warmer climate, and that Chicago expects to have a Gulf like climate within a half century.

He also criticizes the denial in the Republican Party, and says that conservative think tanks and oil companies have hired bloggers specifically to spin their denial.  I would never accept payment to write someone else’s false stories to support their agenda. He mentions the movie "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" in discussion politicians' approaches to climate change. 

The global warming portion of this broadcast takes the first 13 minutes, and also includes comments on Japan’s progress in solar energy.

The storms on March 2, 2012 did lessen in severity as they approached the mid-Atlantic states, partly because colder air was dammed up against the Blue Ridge, and partly because the most severe part of the squall line had to cross the highest part of the Allegheny Front in WVa, often over 4500 feet. On the Weather Channel, I watched a severe squall line around Spruce Knob W Va die as it crested the Eastern Divide and become much less severe as it moved toward DC.  Later in the Spring the DC area would have been more exposed.  Mountains do protect the Washington and Baltimore areas somewhat, but not the Virginia and lower Maryland or Delaware tidewaters, where storms are usually more severe. 

Will this Spring be the worst ever?  Could long-tracking tornados occur in the mid-Atlantic states and major cities the way they do in the Midwest? Or will the tornado season “end” sooner and mid-summer drought begin earlier?

Remember, this year we had no winter in most of the US, but Europe had the worst ever.  The jet stream, under La Nina, moved north over the Americas but south over Eurasia.

There have been other years with mild winters in the East but cold springs.  In 1957-1958 we had a mild January but huge storms Feb. 14 and March 20.  In 1959-1960, when I was a junior in high school, we had “three white Wednesdays” with school closings in northern VA in March after a mild winter.  On April 20, 1961, the day of a Senior class hike, we had the latest snow ever, one inch. In 1990 we had a very mild January, February, and early March, but had two 2-inch snows after the first official day of Spring. In 1992-1993 we had a mild winter, which started to deteriorate in late February with two or three little snows, and then we had the Blizzard of 1993, on March 13. That storm was similar to the outbreak yesterday but about 100 miles farther East.  Had yesterday’s low tracked much farther East, there would have occurred an East Coast blizzard instead of a tornado outbreak.

The biggest East Coast blizzard ever occurred in New York City in March of 1988, but that was before climate change.  But it came suddenly after unusually mild weather.

In 1998, when I was living in Minneapolis, we had a tornado outbreak in Minnesota on March 30.  I had been up north with a friend that Sunday and came back through sleet before encountering the heavy storms. 

Wikipedia attribution link for NOAA picture of Jan 22-23 outbreak. 

Friday, February 03, 2012

More videos appear on H5N1 and the controversial Erasmus Experiment

There are a few credible videos on YouTube now about Ron Fouchier (website url bio) and his experiments at the Ersasmus Medical Center in making an H5N1-like virus that can be transmitted among mammals (ferrets) after transmission from birds or poultry.

One link, "H5N1Virus Can Kill Half of the Human Population"  from mrgreen416 is here (5 minutes), link, mostly still photographs and lecture.   The main controversy now is full or partial (redacted) publication of the methodology and results of the experiment.

NusuralUSA has a 22 minute film, 8 months old, “H5N1: The Next Pandemic?”  in two parts.

The first part starts in 1997 and covers the basic paradox: people in developing countries live close to the land in what we now think of as a sustainable model, but because of their mixture of people and animals, they present a risk of incubating and cross-pollinating new diseases – which can then spread to the modern world through air travel.

The second part covers a mini-pandemic in Vietnam starting in 2004. 

The film covers the point that bird flu has not been able to sustain a chain of transmission among mammals for long (which is why the Erasmus Experiment above, creating such a virus that terrorists could exploit, is so controversial).

The film was produced with the help of the FBI and Homeland Security, according to end credits.

One question: why are we dragging our feet on vaccine development?