- Hollywood loves ridiculous explosions – and movie stars usually walk away from them unscathed. We had Columbia University explosives engineer Rodger Cornell rate five more explosion scenes from action movies to tell how realistic these scenes are.
- This time, Rodger looked at scenes from “The Rundown,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Spectre,” “Drive Angry,” and “Man on Fire.”
- See the original video here.
The following is a transcription of the video:
Rodger: My name’s Rodger Cornell. I’m an explosives engineer.
Declan: Boom shakalaka!
Rodger: All right, so right off the bat there’s a lot of gunfire. You see holes being ripped into multiple fuel tanks. Essentially just the perfect environment to start some kind of combustion process. So you can see that there’s at least some source of flame under the hood of the engine bay. So, oh man, that explosion is just ridiculous. We just saw bullets ripping through almost every fuel tank there. Those tanks, they no longer have any capacity for holding pressure, which will prevent the reaction from accelerating and turning into something violent like this. And I know it’s The Rock, but no one is just going to walk away from that thing.
The villain in this movie is essentially trying to create a distraction, so he’s thinking that by lighting the fuel source of an automobile on fire that he can somehow create this explosion and that’s going to distract everyone inside. He takes a rag and inserts it into the gas tank to get it soaked with gasoline, and then you’ll actually see him take this combustible material and use it to cover up the actual gas cap so that no gas vapors can be exposed. The big issue with this scene is the fact that I can’t see why the gasoline would actually go through an explosive vent. Even if you have a flame that exists at that gas cap interface, there’s no reason for it to travel into the tank. I would expect the flame to just sit at that gas cap and just continue to burn until there were no more gasoline vapors to pull from. You would essentially have a giant car candle.
In order to actually get it to explode, if I had to do it, I would try to seal up that gas tank as best as I can, and if you put a flame underneath that gas tank, and if you start to heat it up, increase pressure to the point that it ruptures, and then all of that would light up and create somewhat of an explosion.
James Bond: Let’s go home.
Rodger: So “James Bond” movies are typically filled with ridiculous scenes that just are completely nonphysical.
Bond: I said, doesn’t time fly?
Rodger: The watch that was just thrown is one of the gadgets that James Bond got from Q, I believe?
Q: But you can have this.
Bond: Does it do anything?
Rodger: Supposedly it’s filled with some sort of energetic material, and it can be used as a detonator.
Q: It tells the time.
Rodger: There’s no device that can be that small and yet that potent to actually knock someone out of their chair, throw them across the room, there’s certainly a lot of fantasy, but at least there’s some cool physical elements within the actual flame production that we see. The one advantage that this scene has is I’m pretty sure there’s no CGI or limited CGI here. You can see the black smoke. The black that you’re actually seeing is soot production, essentially carbon in the air. If you look into the fireball, you can see these liquid jets of fuel being propelled into the air. When I saw like the fuel shooting out, I was like, “Ah, this is definitely real, this took a lot of work.”
Q: Magnificent isn’t she?
Rodger: The explosion is almost perfectly symmetric. Starts at the center, breaks down the legs at the same rate. Combustion events like this, especially if it’s an accident, they’re unpredictable, there’s a million factors, there’s a lot of physical considerations to take into place, you can bet that there were charges that were timed in a very symmetric fashion so that the flame looked exactly as it does here.
This poor, poor man has been given essentially a suppository.
John Creasy: Used by convicts to hide money and drugs.
Rodger: Filled with C4, which is a really commonly used energetic material. It’s been inserted into him. This is going to get a little dark.
Creasy: What do you got?
Rodger: The human body is actually a really great tamping mechanism. We’re made of water, and we have pockets of air, and both of which do a really good job of dampening out shock waves. The guy would just have a really bad day. And don’t get me wrong, he’d certainly be dead, but for the most part there’s no reason a fuel tank would explode. If you had that amount of material, it just wouldn’t do that kind of damage. Way too much flame, the explosion’s way too big.
He shoots a bullet into the concrete to get this trail of fuel to start. Bullets don’t spark unless you have very, very specific rounds. This wouldn’t work at all. If I had to guess what would happen if you actually were able to light that trail of fuel, I’d imagine the car would just sit there and burn. It’d get hot, it would burn for a while, it might melt some of the surrounding structure, and that’s it. The fact again that there’s fuel on the ground tells me that the fuel tank is ruptured. There’s no real mechanism for building pressure in that combustion system.
Bond: Let’s go home.
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