A backstage entrance into the world of neuroscience and academia.

Science/Fiction: Pacific Rim

Science/Fiction is a regular column that looks at error made by books, films and others whenever they include some science in their plot.

This episode contains spoilers for Pacific Rim, obviously.

Somehow, in films, aliens rarely come to Earth in peace. This is one more time the case in “Pacific Rim”. How to explain “Pacific Rim”? Well, it is a movie about the humans enjoying fights between giant robots and invading aliens, the Kaijus (the Japanese word for giant monster). The giant robots are called Jaegers (the German word for hunter). Anyways this is not what we are here to talk about. We are here to ignore the giant robots and concentrate on science!

Concentrating on science means we skip about 30 minutes of the film. It is just talking about two brothers, punching robots, several giant monsters, a commander and a girl. More important is the introduction of the neural drift. Sincerely, I have to command the film for not trying to explain the drift technology. It is just saying that this tech merges two minds and this is necessary to then drive the Jaegers. So one giant robot has two pilots, their two minds merged into one.

Now for the interesting part: the introduction of the scientific team. Two persons. Yes, when the world is in danger and attacked by a new species, the army only hires two scientists to study the enemy. Wait! The film has the perfect excuse to explain this: budget restrictions. Researchers all over the world must be nodding in agreement. Except, would you really spare any money when Earth is on the line? I might be mistaking, but I think there would be more than two working on the Kaiju problem, maybe just because we really like to be alive.

Let’s get back to our two scientists. Herrmann is the physicist, here to study the portal through which Kaijus come. Newton (Newt) is the biologist studying the Kaijus themselves.

I will start with Herrmann and his sentence: “numbers do not lie”. I do have a problem with this statement because it is said about a mathematical model. As the word “model” implies, the computer is only calculating an expected outcome based on our knowledge; and quite often our knowledge is not the exact truth, just a simplified version. So in this case, numbers could lie! I understand the statement is here to reinforce the scientist feeling, but it is such a wrong thing to say, more so if you are an actual scientist.

Herrman makes all his calculations by hand. Why? Budget restrictions, probably.

But enough about Herrmann, the only man intelligent enough to realize that if attacks are closer and closer together, at some point two Kaijus will appear. Let’s talk Newt, the Kaiju groupie. And first, let’s talk about how he dissects! He throws on the floor some parts of the body. That is bio-waste and no one should ever treat samples like this! Even more so if they are rare (it is not like they can breed Kaijus). But concerning the rarity of the samples, I would put the blame on the army. They kill the monsters and do not even care to pick the carcasses up to study them, so in the end, Newt has to go buy some samples on the black market…

Am I really watching a film with the army involved? You know, like an organised, set on protecting human race organisation that would not have to pay for body parts of a monster they kill. Or maybe just an army that values the study of their enemy much more than their giant punching robots so that they can develop a weapon that destroys them from afar.

But enough said about logical mistakes. Let’s focus back on Newton and both his good and bad scientific habits. Newt keeps a log of his experiment. Yes! Like in many films, this is represented by him using a voice recorder and not a lab book, but this has little to no importance. Newt is mostly a good scientist.

What makes him not fully good? Well, as well as a lack of respect for the floor of his lab, what I note is that Newt is reckless. He chooses to try a neural drift with a Kaiju, knowing this is a dangerous experiment. Here, the fate of Earth is on the line, so I will not blame him for trying this on the spot with no previous preparation. No, I just blame him for not telling anyone he was doing something dangerous. Plus, wait. This moment of the film is also one where there is a small logical mistake. Newt suggests to the military that one should try to link with a Kaiju brain. Newt is the Kaiju specialist, so his demand should be considered, right? Yes, it is a leap into the unknown but he is the biologist. He should know what is possible or not, right? Guess what? At that point the commander says that linking with a Kaiju is too dangerous. On what ground? How come the commander has knowledge of the neurophysiology of Kaijus? Because he kills them? Really?

Guess what? The commander was wrong. I’ll pretend I am surprised.

Let’s leave behind the military having scientific knowledge he is not supposed to have and come to the biggest scientific mistake in “Pacific Rim”. Newt comes back shaken from his neural drift with a part of the frontal lobe of a Kaiju. Somehow, in this minimal part of the brain he discovers the whole truth about the Kaijus. It is, in fact, an unimportant truth compared to the one I am about to dissect. Because the revelation that shocked me is not that Kaijus are weapons (who could have guessed?) but that they are all clones bred by masterminds.

According to the dictionary, here is the definition of a clone: “a plant or animal that has the same genes as the original from which it was produced”. Then I need to introduce a genetic concept: architect genes. These genes are telling our developing body where our limbs should be and what they should look like. Basically, all humans have the same shape, arms on top and legs below their body with a head above the shoulders. The only way to modify this is to edit the genome. See where this is going? Kaijus have different shapes, different number of limbs, different internal organs (one spits acid when the others cannot). Basically this means that the genome from one Kaiju to another is edited, so they are not clones.

Instead of a Kaiju, here is the inside of a Jaeger. If you are so eager to see monsters, you now know where to find them.

With that, I would just like to say the film does not have much more to offer scientifically speaking. Then if you are into giant robots and monsters, this is a delightful show. Also take the time to appreciate the music!

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