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Review: Wild Wild West
Yeah, once again, I know what you're thinking: after doing
a Bad Astronomy of
Austin Powers, I can't possibly have
any mind left to lose. So what am I doing reviewing
``Wild Wild West''? The same thing as before: using it as a
jumping-off point to present Good Astronomy. This one will be
short, I promise.
Out in the Utah desert, we see James West and his trusty compatriot
Artemus Gordon flying along in Gordon's weird da Vinci-inspired
flying contraption. We see the full Moon in the sky near the horizon
The problem here is that the full Moon, as seen from Utah, is never
up in the middle of the day. The full Moon by definition must
be opposite the Sun in the sky (for a more
detailed description of lunar phases go to
my Moon phase page). The Moon is a big ball of rock,
and it looks full to us when the half of it that's lit is facing
us. That can only happen when the Earth is between the Sun and
the Moon. From here, that means the Moon and Sun are on opposite
sides of the sky. So the full Moon rises at sunset, and sets at
sunrise. At midnight, the full Moon is high in the south (as seen
from Utah). At noon, it is well below the horizon.
The scene was pretty, but it was Bad.
At the end of the movie, the President orders West and Gordon
back to Washington. As they leave Utah, we see them, as all
cowboys in westerns do, riding off into the sunset.
Even in Utah, the Sun sets in the west. They were heading in the wrong
direction! I suppose it's possible they were showing us a sunrise,
but then that's not the way it's done in westerns. Maybe they were making
a joke: West was heading west. Get it? Hahahaha! Ha! Heh. Ahem.
[Note added September 17, 1999 and updated October 31, 2000:
Actually, Bad Reader Brian Rauchfuss pointed out to me that
maybe they were just riding their horses to the nearest
train depot, which happened to be to the west of them. But then
another Bad Reader pointed out they were riding the mechanical
spider at the end, and most train depots are ill-equipped to
handle such a thing. ;-) Oh well, it usually pays not to
overanalyze some movies!]
Like I promised, this review was short. I may do more of these in the
future, since not every movie bases everything in it on Bad
Astronomy, like Armageddon did. Stay Tuned.