See the universe through a brand new set of
eyes. By all common measures of movie quality, “Mission:
Impossible IV – Ghost Protocol” is a GOOD movie. It was big at the box office when it
came out, and the critics STILL love it — It’s over 90% FRESH at RottenTomatoes.com. Good movies often feature good acting. But
I’m amazed how often good movies feature bad ACTION: action scenes that defy the laws of
physics. These scenes not only hurt our aesthetic sensibilities
— they just look wrong and can mar our enjoyment of a movie — but they also hurt our physical
intuition — making us a little dumber about the way the world really works. Someone who
has seen enough bad action scenes begins to believe that you really MIGHT be able to dodge
a bullet … and that you really CAN jump to safety from a high-speed car. Let’s take a look at such a scene from Ghost
Protocol. Here, Tom Cruise is racing after a bad guy during a sandstorm in Dubai. Tom
(in his blue car) is about to have a head-on collision with the bad guy, whose car is symbolized
in red on Tom’s hand-held GPS receiver. Watch what happens. Wow! The acrobatic car seems unlikely, but
that’s MUCH more likely than what has happened to Tom after he jumps from the car onto the
caressing fingers of Dubai asphalt. Just before the collision, the speedometer
in Tom’s car indicates a speed slightly greater than 90 kilometers per hour. In American units,
that’s 56 mph. When Tom bails out of the car, HE — his body — is also going 56 mph! And
when he soon hits the pavement, he is still going 56 mph!! (Maybe air resistance has slowed
him down to a more legal 55, but he is still going to hit the asphalt at an ordinary urban
freeway speed!) I asked trauma surgeon Dr. Rochelle Dicker,
Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of California — someone who’s seen a lot
of auto accident victims — what happens to people who jump out of cars at freeway speeds.
Professor Dicker said such people are “likely to have life-threatening injuries.” LIFE-threatening
injuries. But what happens to Tom Cruise in Mission:
Impossible – Ghost Protocol? Tom has a limp and a 2-inch tear in his trousers! Maybe Tom was … lucky. Don’t SOME people
who bail out a car at freeway speeds get lucky? We expect our movie heroes to be lucky. …Yes,…
but when our heroes are fantastically lucky, in scene after scene, the movie itself becomes
fantastic — it becomes a fantasy. Fantasy movies are fine, of course. But when patently
unrealistic action happens in a real-world — not a fantasy-world — setting, our intelligence
is insulted, and our physical intuition is assaulted. We all get a little dumber about
the way the world REALLY works.