Over-Acting Joystick

Do you ever watch action movies and wonder where reality ends for them? It’s always the little things for me. Those small aspects of controlling mechanical objects that films like to exaggerate and mess up. But, it’s not just film, I see this sort of thing in kids cartoons and other media.

Last night I was watching a submarine based film. It was terrible and had loads of parts to it that I hated. But in it they had a small rescue sub piloted by two submariners. While driving this craft along they, on more than one occasion, had to turn “harder” and then ever “harder”. So, what did they do? They pulled harder on the joystick and made grimacing faces to show that this took more effort than normal to turn this tight. What shit.

Here’s some explanation. When we [humans] first made mechanical devices we had rigid linkages to the control systems and if it was going to take more effort to move the control system then we would have to put in more effort to our hand sized device be that a control column, wheel, or pedals. There used to be a direct mechanical connection from one end of the system to the other. This is fine for objects requiring little force to move control systems as humans can provide that force for a limited time.

Then, over time, our mechanical devices became larger and required more force input to move the control systems. Engineers and designers soon realised that the pilot/driver/controller couldn’t provide all the force [push or pull] required to move the control surface and so they needed help. Also, if large effort was required over a long period of time the pilot would become physically tired very quickly. So, powered control systems were invented.

When a pilot/driver/controller moves the control stick/wheel/pedals they actuate a motor which helps to turn the control surface or device. Now, it starts to get a little complicated. There is required a certain level of feedback force to the pilot through the control column so that they can “feel” what is going on with the aircraft/sub/car etc. This amount of feedback is controlled very carefully to ensure that the pilot can understand what’s happening to their craft while also allowing them to maintain a high level of work without becoming over-tired.

So, in the submarine movie they had the pilots obviously physically straining trying to turn this craft but that would not be the case in real life. Once the control column is moved as far as it will go there is nothing else you can do. It wouldn’t take that amount of effort to maneuver and you can’t turn a little tighter by grimacing. It’s bullshit.

This trope is similar to driving fast in a chase. It always seems the vehicles have another gear to change in to or the driver can put his foot down more. If you are being chased why aren’t you going as fast as possible from the very start. It’s lazy filmmaking because they could do other things to make the action interesting. The producers just settle for the easy.

So, as a rough guide to powered control systems and feedback devices I would suggest that anything before 1950 would require effort to move a control surface. That is a very broad brush. Many bombers had powered control systems and so it’s not the absolute guide but it does set a rough idea of how to spot the crap in a film.

ICIF Proceedings – A Selection

Selections from the transcripts of the International Court of Insurance Fraud, Filmstrasse, The Hague. Tidal conditions are irrelevant.

The Pearl
The Pearl

Judge R. Chester: State your name and occupation.

Will Sawyer: Will Sawyer, building safety investigator and licensor.

Judge R. Chester: Please tell the court a brief history of your experience.

Will Sawyer: I’m a military veteran and also SWAT team member, part of the Hostage Rescue Team. I got blown up. Lost my lower leg. My doctor fell in love with her patient but that’s not creepy at all because we are married now with twins.

Judge R Chester: Thank you. Can you please give us a run down of what happened from your point of view when the Pearl was consumed by fire.

Will Sawyer: I was employed by the owner of the building to inspect the fire and safety systems, my job was to approve the works and then the insurance company would agree to insure the Pearl.

Judge R Chester: Do you think that being paid by the building owner to approve his building is a conflict on interest?

Will Sawyer: Err, nope.

Judge R Chester: Shouldn’t this building have had insurance approved before breaking ground and then you would inspect as the construction evolved?

Will Sawyer: Err, maybe. But then we couldn’t have ripped off the story of the Nakatomi Tower.




Judge R Chester: Mr Sawyer, please tell us why this building was taken over by violent gangs.

Will Sawyer: The building project was blackmailed through threats of removing unionised workforce. The Pearl owner decided to pay off these criminals rather than inform the authorities and then managed to track the details of these payments through all the shitty money laundering countries. He then kept the names of these international criminals in a safe in the top of the Skyscraper. The crime bosses wanted those details removed. There are apparently copies of this file elsewhere but those aren’t explained.

Judge R Chester: How did the crime bosses intend to get the memory stick?

Will Sawyer: By setting the building on fire above the open floors it was intended to blackmail the building owner. He would hand over the names he had collected. Neglecting to mention the copies he had made.

Judge R Chester: So it didn’t really matter?

Will Sawyer: I guess not.

Judge R Chester: Let me get this right. The whole episode is moot as there were copies of the file elsewhere?

Will Sawyer: Yes.




Judge R Chester: Did the insurance company representative strike you as odd?

Will Sawyer: Yes, he did seem rather slimy and twisted. It was obvious he was a baddie. But, then he was in insurance and no-one likes them.




Judge R Chester: Was it necessary for the police to turn up at the park where you believed the ground crew were waiting with your blues and twos on?

Head Of Local Police: Yes, we always prefer to give warnings to criminals we are trying to sneak up on.




Judge R Chester: Did you not see the sports ground nearby within the area you were searching for the ground crew and also, how come you know so much about base jumping?

Head Of Local Police: Err, we needed an old industrial area to have a fire fight.




Judge R Chester: Mrs Sawyer, how come you can’t use an iPhone and what are you doing to make it stop working?

Sarah Sawyer: We’d prefer to watch Die Hard. It’s far more realistic.

Judge R Chester: Court adjourned.




I’ve been having a bit of an Anime resurgence. I’ve started watching some on Netflix and it made me think about my “collection”. Now, I don’t collect films any more. I went through


a phase of wanting DVDs, just wanting to own them. I have quite a few I’ve never watched.



Apart from Dark City and Serenity on the far left the others are all Anime. I really like the bold colours and stories. I like reading cartoons too. There’s something about the simplicity of the drawings, the lack of chaos in the colours. I just like it.


Looking at that list I know I own Urotsukidōji parts one and two but they don’t seem to be in the family cabinet. Well, that makes perfect sense, they are borderline porn.

Looking Forward to Watching

I am really looking forward to watching the following things with my children when they are old enough.

  • Star Wars episodes IV, V, VI
  • The Back To The Future trilogy
  • The Fifth Element
  • Star Trek films
  • Firefly – tv series
  • Akira
  • Battlestar Galactica

I hope they get the same enjoyment out of them that I have done for ages. The biggest problem is knowing when to introduce them to these wonders!