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.