The Plausibility of Pacific Rim

I went out to see Pacific Rim with some friends last week, since over time the trailers had convinced me it would be a decent movie. And, actually, it was. But I was talking with one of my friends afterward who is an engineer and, as far as I’m concerned, an expert in the field of science, about just how little of the movie makes any sense – and not just from a scientific standpoint. Here are some highlights:

  • There is a very high possibility that the gravity distortions or the sheer volume of energy needed to open an inter-dimensional gateway or wormhole deep below Earth’s surface could cause some serious issues to our planet – like, possibly, tearing it to pieces.
  • If you’re going to clone a bunch of fearsome monsters, why would you not engineer out the ability to reproduce? And, as a director, if you’re going to introduce the possibility that these monsters can reproduce, why would you not explore that intriguing nugget further?
  • Supposedly the enemy tried to conquer Earth 65 million years ago but the right mix of oxygen wasn’t in place yet – so they waited. For 65 million years. In that time, how likely is it that this alien species would still be around, or still care about Earth? That is societal focus on a scale that we mere humans could learn from!
  • How is a wall going to save you from giant monsters, really? What happens if they climb over it? What happens if some of them can fly? Even American politicians aren’t that dumb. Invest more money in the giant robots. Or in a force field. Or to get the hell out of Dodge.

And the list goes on.

If nothing else, Pacific Rim serves as a reminder to me that any speculative fiction story needs to be at least plausible. You can have elements that aren’t 100% realistic, or 100% explained, because that’s partly the nature of the genre. I’ll use Battlestar Galactica as an example. In that show, ships are able to travel faster than light. It’s never explained how the FTL engines work, but just that they do, which is fine: FTL travel is theoretically possible, and we just haven’t figured it out yet. But even though the writers never explained FTL, they still made it realistic, by incorporating the need for fuel and the strain that too many jumps would put on a large, old vessel like the Galactica.

We’re past the era of Star Trek science that doesn’t even attempt to explain how it really works. Many people, and especially readers, are far more discerning today – despite our collective stupidity about many things – and as a result we as speculative fiction writers need to give some serious thought to the science and logic of our stories.

Sorry, Mr. del Toro. You’re a great storyteller, but Pacific Rim doesn’t quite measure up to today’s standards. Even if the robots in it are really tall.


2 thoughts on “The Plausibility of Pacific Rim

  1. Number of flying aircraft carriers in Pacific Rim: 0
    Number of flying aircraft carriers in The Avengers: 1

    1) Nothing was revealed about the nature of the breach. As we don’t know how it was established, we can’t make assertions about what would be required to generate and operate it. There is no known way, even in theory, to establish a direct adjacency between two distant points in space or time that admits an ordered state of matter to pass between them. The closest we can do is a Einstein-Rosen bridge (wormhole), which doesn’t work when you take into account quantum mechanics anyway (pro-tip: we should probably take into account quantum mechanics at least a little bit – it’s kind-of important).

    2) We don’t know how time works in the other universe, or in the context of the breach. For all we know, the breach can be targeted in space and time. “Oh, this won’t work. Too little carbon in the atmosphere. Aim it at about 65 million years later… good, now swat these annoying flies and we’re good to go”.

    3) For all we know, removing reproduction is hard. Maybe pregnancy is an important part of that particular creature’s biology, for example if they’re born pregnant, are continually pregnant throughout their lives (just cranking them out) and the fetus is actually part of the organism’s digestive system or something? It’s difficult to make educated guesses about the cost of engineering that kind of thing out of an organism. Maybe the cheapest thing was just to ensure that the creature’s offspring were not viable for long after birth, or were themselves sterile, or something like that.

    4) I totally agree, with no caveats, about the wall. It does very little for the plot, really.

    Basically, I’m happy with speculative fiction if the systems that authors invent are apparently consistent and serve a purpose. Ideally, rules would be given for systems of central plot significance. For instance, we know nothing about how the breach works until the very end. That was disappointing, but part of the “big SF blockbuster” formula.

    In a 2 hours blockbuster movie I’m happy if the giant robots aren’t made out of perpetual motion machines and homeopathic remedies.

    • I hear you on The Avengers, man. I hear you. As for your other comments:

      1) Point conceded. I may have jumped the gun on judging this “wormhole” too harshly. But due to limitations of any wormhole, like you said, debating it is kinda moot.
      2) Granted, it’s possible that they’re pinpointing different places in time to find one that suits their purposes. I didn’t get that impression from the movie, since I’m pretty sure Newton said that the aliens waited 65 million years, but I may have misheard or misinterpreted him. My only issue with the idea you described is that opening that type of wormhole would have to be incredibly costly in terms of energy required and be incredibly risky if anything goes awry, so I would expect the aliens to want to be sure that conditions on Earth would be suitable before opening the wormhole and sending people through, to limit the amount of times they would have to open one. Just taking a shot in the dark sounds really risky and expensive. And if they were doing that, why jump forward 65 million years? They could easily halve that and descend upon an Earth with a suitable atmosphere but no advanced species to annihilate.
      3) I can’t believe that a species that can engineer inter-dimensional or intergalactic wormholes – possibly ones that shift through time – can’t figure out how to remove the reproductive gene from something they’re cloning. More importantly, the inherent risks in giving a lab-grown animal reproductive potential are so huge that I doubt a cloning engineer would overlook them. These a giant monsters they’re creating, so any element that might lessen their control over every aspect of said monster has to be removed.

      I agree that consistency is key, and overall Pacific Rim was consistent and entertaining, so I don’t have any major issues with it. Just a bit of writer nitpicking.

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