Eclipses in Movies Are Ridiculous and Terrifying
But total solar eclipses in real life are nearly as fascinating.
During the total solar eclipse on August 21st, 2017 it’s unlikely that murderous, underground ogres will emerge from the ground and attempt to kill you.
In reality, should you journey into the path of totality — where the moon completely obstructs the sun — you’ll experience a substantially darkened environment. For a couple minutes (more or less depending on your location) you’ll see stars, and perhaps even hear some crickets, who might be tricked into believing it’s night.
Movies, however, tend to invent some pretty whacky ideas about eclipses that are as interesting as they are fictional. Below, we debunk some ideas, and appreciate the strange nature of others.
Pitch Black, 2000
After debris from a comet damages their spaceship, a group of interstellar pilgrims are forced to land on an unfamiliar planet. Here, they discover that the planet is inhabited by hostile creatures who are forced to live underground because exposure to sunlight will kill them. Unfortunately for these photosensitive aliens, there happens to be three stars in this solar system, perpetually bathing the planet in light and forcing the aggressive creatures to hide underground. That is, until an eclipse of the stars turns the planet to night, forcing the crashed pilgrims to fend off these horrifying creatures.
On Earth, total solar eclipses last for a pretty short duration of time, so these murderous aliens wouldn’t have much chance to attack before the toxic light returned. On August 21st, the eclipse will last for at most two minutes and 43 seconds. On July 16, 2186, an abnormally long total solar eclipse will occur on Earth, lasting 7 minutes and 29 seconds while passing over South America.
A benevolent demon named Hellboy is manipulated by Rasputin to open the gates of hell, which would unleash the Seven Gods of Chaos — something surely horrible for planet Earth. Only Hellboy can achieve this, because the key is his hand of stone, and the deed must be done during a solar eclipse. Fortunately, Hellboy defies his satanical destiny and chooses to kill Rasputin rather than doom Earth.
On August 21st, you might be best served to enjoy the eclipse, rather than attempt to open the gates of hell.
To appease the gods, a group of captive tribesmen are set to be sacrificed atop a Mayan pyramid. But they are saved by a total solar eclipse, as there is a taboo about beheading during the darkening event.
In reality, there is compelling evidence that the Mayans — who are famous for their astronomical savvy — may have predicted the total solar eclipse in 1991, which occurred centuries after their civilizations’ ultimate demise.
The Land Before Time X: The Great Longneck Migration, 2003
Apparently dinosaurs could predict total solar eclipses and believed they were omens that the sun would soon come crashing down to Earth. During each eclipse, Littlefoot and his long-necked dino-kin gathered together and craned their necks up at the sky in a spiritual effort to compel the falling sun to take its proper place back in the cosmos. In the case of this 10th installment of The Land Before Time, the darkening served an added purpose: It scared off a group of ravenous, sharp-toothed predators.
If there are any aggressive dinosaurs around you during this summer’s event, we hope the eclipse frightens them away, too.
A Knight in Camelot, 1998
When her time machine malfunctions, scientist Vivien Morgan is sent back to the Middle Ages. Things don’t go well, and she is sentenced to burn at the stake. But Morgan’s laptop made the trip to Dark Ages with her, and by reviewing data, she discovers that a total solar eclipse will soon occur. Prudently, she promises the king that she will make the sun reappear during this horrifying event, and in doing so, earns knighthood, not death, from King Arthur.
In today’s more “enlightened times,” we know that there’s not magic involved, simply the moon passing in front of the sun. Sadly, this may take away a clever trick for geeks looking to impress.