Swamp Thing 3.9: Sensor and Sensibility

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight.

There’s a guy named Ronnie, who’s one of the security agents guarding Alec Holland’s magical cabinet of wonders, out on the edge of a dismal, dreary swamp. Ronnie’s patrolling one day, when he comes across a large group of armed men, who are messing with one of the sensors. Ronnie thinks that nobody’s seen him yet, but then a big scary man named Ferret pops out of the bushes with a gun.

Ronnie tries to run, but he’s outflanked by other scary men emerging from behind basically every tree in the area. They manage to grab him, and then Ferret murders him with a pocket snake.

So I have a question: What is the sensor sensing?

I know, it probably doesn’t matter, but I’m old-fashioned, and I like my movies to have some idea of why they’re telling me things. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why they keep talking about a sensor that doesn’t sense anything.

Let’s see if we can figure this out together. We find out about the sensor when Charlie brings Cable into the command shed. She looks at all the screens and flashing buttons, and recognizes that it’s a laser-induced subsonic field generator, which gives double readings in the 3200 band. Obviously, that’s a problem; a laser-induced subsonic field generator is supposed to give single readings or nothing, no matter what band it’s in. I mean, we’re not animals.

Looking at the blinky lights on the machine, Cable notices that there’s a flashing red light under a label that says Sector 3. It’s making urgent bleepy noises, although it’s not clear whether that’s a warning signal or if it always sounds like that. You never know with movie machinery.

Then we see Ronnie, walking around with a snakebite all over his face. He manages a few steps, and then falls into the water, dead.

Later on, Charlie’s going to ask Alec and Cable, “Did either of you see one of our guys out there? Ronnie?” Cable will say, “No, why?” and Charlie will answer, “We seem to have lost contact with him.” Then everybody forgets about it, and it stops being part of the movie.

So a security agent’s mysterious disappearance is part of the bad guys’ plan somehow, and that’s why Ferret brought the pocket snake. I mean, you don’t put a poisonous snake in your pocket by accident. Ferret showed us that he has a machete — possibly in the same pocket, which must be difficult to manage — but he kills Ronnie with the snake, because he wants it to look like an accident.

But it’s pretty hard to get a snake to bite you on the cheek by accident, so I’m not sure what that’s supposed to achieve. In the script, they use the snake on Ronnie’s leg, which is more plausible. Then Alec and Cable find Ronnie during their boat trip, still alive but too weak to talk. They observe the snakebite, and then they bring him back to the camp, and nothing much comes of it.

Anyway, back to the movie. When Cable meets Ritter, she says, “You know one of your sensors is reading malfunction?” and Ritter replies, “It’s not surprising. They rot in a week in these damn swamps.”

So now we know one thing that the sensors do; they rot. Nobody seems that concerned about it. Charlie suggests that she take a boat out into the swamp to check it out, and then Alec offers to take her there.

So now we’re back in good ol’ sector 3, where we find a camo-printed metal ball on top of a pole, and that’s supposed to be the sensor. Alec and Cable open up the ball, and they find it’s just a mess of disconnected wires, which is suspicious and worrying.

Now, you and I know that the ball on a stick has been sabotaged by Ferret and his merry band, for some reason that I cannot for the life of me figure out.

I mean, Ferret must have been trying to do something. The result of his tampering with the sensor was that it made an urgent-looking light start blinking on the laser-induced subsonic field generator, which inspired somebody to come out into the swamp to check it out.

So Ferret clearly wasn’t trying to sneak through sector 3 without anybody noticing. If he was trying to conceal something out here, then tampering with the sensor should be the last thing he would do, because it brings more attention to this specific spot.

And if the sensor is part of a security system, which the movie seems to imply, then it doesn’t help the people back at camp from keeping people out, because fifteen bad guys walked right up to the sensor and specifically fucked with it, and then wandered off to one of the other sectors. The laser-induced subsonic field generator didn’t warn the folks at camp that bad guys were walking through the area. It warned them that the sensor was broken, which the bad guys did on purpose.

Now, there is an answer to some of these questions in the novelization, but those answers do not help us at all.

Here’s what it says when Cable’s in the command shed:

As Charlie returned to his conversation, Cable began switching on pieces of equipment. A small CRT monitor lighted up with a message. In simplified computer type, it said: “SENSOR OUT/SECTION THREE.”

She found a clipboard on the bench that listed twelve sectors, with twelve sensors that recorded sound, wind velocity, light level, and air mixture with emphasis on toxic gasses, temperature and humidity. Number three seemed to be out — unless the display was being misled by an internal problem.

So that means the sensor is not part of the security system; it’s taking scientific readings, presumably for the project, although I can’t think of a reason why Alec would need a constant record of the swamp’s humidity, taken simultaneously in twelve different places. I mean, it’s a swamp. You can assume it’s pretty humid, most of the time.

But clearly, the sensor isn’t there to warn them about an invasion, because it doesn’t sound like it has a camera, and you wouldn’t build a security system that involves a continuous perimeter check on the wind velocity.

To further complicate matters, here’s how the novelization describes Alec and Cable finding the sensor:

“Alec,” she said quietly. “Come look at this.”

The wires connecting the modules had been cut. So had the lines to the telemetric transmitter.

“Why would anybody want to do that?” Cable asked.

Alec nodded. “I’m afraid I can imagine why someone might want to blind us and make us deaf. But who… when… and how did they get in and out unnoticed?”

So maybe it is part of the security system, but if the bad guys were able to walk right up to it and cut the wires, then it isn’t very helpful. Also, they apparently rot in a week.

So Cable and Alec come back to the camp to warn everybody about the apparent threat.

Cable:  There’s a cut sensor out there. What about that?

Ritter:  Which sector?

Cable:  Sector 3.

Ritter:  Hank was working on that one when he was bitten by the gator. Needless to say, he didn’t put it all back together again, before we took him to the hospital!

But if that was true, then the sensor would have been malfunctioning for days. You can’t take Hank to the hospital and then fly a replacement all the way down to the swamp immediately.

Now, the big reveal we’re going to get in a few minutes is that Ritter is actually Arcane, so I suppose he could be lying about Hank and the sensor for some sinister purpose, but if so, then it’s obviously a transparent lie, because Charlie is standing right there, and he would know where Hank was, when he was bitten by the gator.

Charlie also would have noticed that a sensor in sector 3 was malfunctioning for several days, because it’s part of the security system, and it would have been bleeping and flashing lights to warn them about it. And if they didn’t have anybody to notice the flashing red light, then why do you have these sensors at all?

And then — just when you think you might be able to forget this whole problem, and move on with your life — we get the sequence where the bad guys all silently appear in multiple locations around the camp and instantly kill all of the armed guards, without raising any alarms or causing any fuss.

At that point, Cable, looking for Ritter, walks into the command shed, where her attention is drawn to the flashing red SECTOR 3: PENETRATION light, which is coming a little bit late, because literally everybody except for Cable and the Hollands have already been murdered, and the camp is overrun with trash fires and evil spirits.

And then Cable looks at the screen that’s right above the PENETRATION light that is clearly marked SECTOR 3, and we see Charlie falling down and dying right in front of our eyes, except a) he falls down on the ground and not in the swamp where the sensor is, b) the sector 3 sensor didn’t have a camera in it, and c) even if there was a camera there, then it wouldn’t be working because that’s the sensor that was disabled in the first place.

So that brings me back to my original question — a question that I now recognize as my life’s mission to answer — why does the laser-induced subsonic field generator have a sensor, and what is it trying to sense?

I bet Alessandro’s behind this, somehow. I told you about that guy. And on top of everything, we have no idea what the wind velocity is up to.

Tomorrow:
Movie science and set design
3.10: Let the Great Experiment Begin!


Footnotes:

I know that you don’t care, but for the sake of obsessive completeness, I feel like I need to tell you that in the script, Ronnie’s name is Randy, and in the novelization it’s Sam Darkow, the brother of Bill Darkow, who’s the guy that drives the boat that takes Cable and Charlie to the camp. See, I told you that you wouldn’t care.

Tomorrow:
Movie science and set design
3.10: Let the Great Experiment Begin!

Chapters

— Danny Horn

10 thoughts on “Swamp Thing 3.9: Sensor and Sensibility

  1. So this afternoon I dropped in the nearest comic book shop, and noticed Michael Uslan’s THE BOY WHO LOVED BATMAN on the shelf. On your recommendation, I bought it. The shop owner told me a some charming little stories about Michael Uslan, who’s a friend of hers, I recommended this blog to her, it was very pleasant. I look forward to reading the book!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. In one scene it’s a climate data station. In another it’s a perimeter intrusion monitor. But we already know it’s a laser-induced subsonic field generator, which is obviously a defensive barrier.

    The only conclusion we can possibly reach is that it includes a chameleon circuit, so that it does whatever the plot requires. No doubt it shares some technology with a certain screwdriver.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. “I like my movies to have some idea of why they’re telling me things.”
    Perhaps you’d like to join Ebert outside the theater, and drop off that heavy bag of expectations before you see the show.

    “you wouldn’t build a security system that involves a continuous perimeter check on the wind velocity.”
    If you’d lived through the Evil Kryptonian Trio’s attack on Metropolis, maybe you would.

    There are two possibilities.
    1. Laser-induced subsonic field generator sensor are there to measure single-cell hosts, that’s why they didn’t raise an alarm when bad guys came through.
    2. The sensors feed into a electronically controlled Hitchcock-MacGuffin Matrix, whose purpose is to incite characters to journey to where the plot needs them to be. It’s only off course because steering it is the Assistant Director’s job, and we know how busy he was elsewhere.

    “I mean, you don’t put a poisonous snake in your pocket by accident.”
    As I was too late to bring to the party before:
    Q Is that a snake in your pocket?
    A Yes, I’m unhappy to see you.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. “And if they didn’t have anybody to notice the flashing red light, then why do you have these sensors at all?”
    That is the question, isn’t it? Other than Cable, is there ever anyone else looking at these screens? And forget the sensors–where are these cameras set up in the swamp?
    There are a lot of creatures in the swamp–alligators, egrets, wild boar, nutria…The penetration light would be going off all the time. Maybe at some point, everyone just started ignoring it. Especially if people who did go out to check on it got attacked by alligators or bitten by snakes. Until the newbie shows up and gets the assignment. Critically, checking on the malfunction allows for her pair bonding with Alec.
    I think the sensors are powered by, generate and allow us to sense narrativium.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. This is what happens when a screenwriter/director goes, just run down to the SCIENCE! store and pick me up the general starter pack.

      Said creators usually have no idea what kind of SCIENCE! the characters are trying to do, and even if they have a stated goal what the procedures to achieve it would look like. They don’t know their perimeter light from their Cooper’s Digger, is what I’m saying.

      This is a proud tradition from the early talkies and before, where a Professor or Doctor character is on hand to provide exposition about everything from bridge construction to ancient languages to chemical formulas at the drop of a hat.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. In order for there to be a plot in this movie, several things must occur.
    1. Villains need to infiltrate the impenetrable security perimeter. (This is why Arcane is masquerading, so that he can sabotage said perimeter.)
    2. The heroes need to let their guard down for even a moment. (This is why Cable’s got that sweet, sweet rack.)

    Oh, well I guess it’s just two things that need to happen. The ‘scanners’ (as all sci-fi technology does) give ALL necessary information, as well as perfectly framed camera angles and incidental music scores. Any flashing red lights are specifically placed on the equipment so that they will be overlooked until It’s Too Late. (Except by The One Person Who Everyone Else Ignores. Again, it’s got a lot to do with Cable’s boobicological area as well as Arcane’s EEE-VIL machinations to lull the heroes into A False Sense Of Security.)

    I hope this helps to clarify things.

    Liked by 4 people

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