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Review: Wild Wild West

poster for 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 behind them.

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.

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