- Explorer Dwayne Fields rates nine polar-exploration scenes from shows and movies for realism.
- In 2010, he became the first Black Briton to walk over 400 miles to the magnetic North Pole.
- He looks at "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004), "Eight Below" (2006), and "The Midnight Sky" (2020).
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcription of the video.
- [man yells] Not gonna happen. Not in the foggiest is that ever gonna happen.
I'm Dwayne Fields, a polar explorer. I've spent so many years traveling in and doing work and carrying out expeditions in the arctic regions. I'm the first Black man of Britain to have walked to the magnetic north pole. Today, we're going to be focusing on polar-exploration movies, and we're going to be judging how realistic they are.
"Eight Below" (2006)
[Doc panting] Jerry: Take deep breaths, Doc.
He's saying, "Take a deep breath." What you want to do is slow your breathing down, control your breathing. It stops you from panicking. What you do is you get your arms out, you kick your legs, and you wiggle your body up onto the ice. Unless he's got an injury where he can't kick.
Jerry: All right, take the rope. Go to Doc.
He seems relatively calm despite the shock that he would be feeling. I've done exercises where I've thrown myself into a hole in ice just to get you accustomed to the feeling and the shock. You get in there, you dip yourself down. [breathes slowly] Now you can talk to me, because now I've brought everything down a slower pace.
Jerry: She's coming to you.
You're putting another body, whether it's a dog's body, human body, another body in danger. If the dog falls through the ice, it's going to panic. It might cause the ice to crack more. He's also 8, maybe 9 meters away. He could easily throw the rope that distance and save risking the dog's life. Some of the best-trained dogs in the world still only follow one command. Go left, go right, go straight, go down, come back, sit, jump. In terms of, "Put this over Doc's head and shoulder," that's not realistic. Let's be honest.
If I'd walked across some ice and someone behind me fell through the ice, I'd assume that there's a weakness there. My first thing is lay down, spread myself as flat as I can, get a board, get a piece of branch, anything to spread my weight and to assist the rescue. Throw the rope to the person. I wouldn't go towards them. I'd give it a 6, because, like most people, who doesn't want a well-trained dog?
"The Day After Tomorrow" (2004)
What they're hoping for is that sample of ice has trapped bubbles of air, which gives them an idea of what the atmosphere was like at the time.
You don't know what the extent of it's going to be. It does crack. It's a [imitates ice cracking] sound. [ice cracking] If a crack starts to form, you get away from the crack. You raise the alarm, and you get away from the crack. What I found was we'd go to sleep in the tent on a bit of frozen ocean, and we'd wake up to small sounds. And only when it's silent, there isn't much wind, can you hear the slight cracking, and it almost sounds echo-y as it echoes and resonates through the ice itself. Grabs the samples that he's collected. It looks like four or five of them. Now, these things aren't light. You cannot jump a 12-foot, 10-foot gap carrying 20, 25 kilos. You can't do it.
Not gonna happen. Not in the foggiest. Can't imagine he would have been sat in the office, the office tent, and thought, "Oh, I'll just keep my ice ax on me." I've kept it in my bag, to the side or the back of my bag. Generally, I don't keep it around my waist unless I'm using it at that point. If I'm climbing an ice wall for recreational usage or when I go for a walk in high altitude or snowy terrain, I'll carry one. In case you slip, you can use it to stop yourself. I generally don't walk around with an ice ax on me. But the ice itself is what's holding you. As long as it's cold enough, the ice is hard enough, it will hold your weight. They were made of wood with maybe a steel tip. Nowadays they're made of aluminium mostly, so they're super lightweight, super strong. You could comfortably support yourself. And I'd give it a four. Entertainment value, it's an entertainment film.
"Eight Below" (2006)
She's holding something which is metal with exposed skin. You don't want to do that in the cold. What happens is your skin is always going to be slightly warmer than the thing that you're touching. That thin layer of moisture on your skin or warmth on your skin will melt the ice on the metal object just slightly so you almost get stuck. Normally, what you'd do is you'd allow it to warm up. You'd warm it up slowly using, arguably, people say, no, use hot water; other people say use warm water. Oh, my God. That looks like advanced frostbite. If it wasn't frostbite and it was frostnip, you might see some discoloration. You might feel some numbness, some stinging maybe. I had my goggles on, which was perfect. I had a bit of material just covering the goggle, and it was just rubbing on my nose, and where that material got so cold, the end of my nose turned darker and peeled off. The outer layers of skin were dead. With frostbite, the cold causes all the cells to burst. If the cell wall is burst, that cell is dead. It's useless. The skin cells, they're all the way through to the nerve endings. Nothing? I'm going to have to amputate this. No, no way. Get them taken off as quickly as possible. Prevent further damage. It really does get like that. They start to change color. It goes from maybe a pale color to a dark blue. Then it starts to get darker and darker until it turns black. Now, the way you can avoid it is we layer up, as many layers as you can. Give that scene a solid 8, 9 out of 10.
[polar bear growling]
Oh, I like that. He's taken shelter in this natural formation, a cave of some sort. And it looks like he's piled up the snow at the entrance to keep the air inside warm, which is a good idea, but you should be careful, 'cause you don't want the carbon dioxide to build up.
[polar bear growls]
Polar bears are brilliant hunters. They've got one of the best senses of smell in the natural kingdom. And you can hear it outside taking big breaths in. And that's a telltale sign. It's walking around, sniffing the air, tracking down where that smell is coming from.
[polar bear growls]
[polar bear growls]
Remember, these things are used to hunting seal and finding carcasses washed up on beaches from miles away. Normally, they'd find a seal underneath the ice. They'll dig it out, take the young, take the seal, and that's their meal. So it's doing exactly what it would normally do there.
[polar bear growls]
[polar bear growls]
Exactly what you're supposed to do. Loads of noise, be ready to defend yourself if you have to, and use the flare. People do get attacked by polar bears. It happens. They tend to happen near a settlement, or it tends to happen when the polar bear is either ill, finds it difficult to hunt. I'll give this one a solid 9 out of 10.
"The Midnight Sky" (2020)
No, thank you. I like these better.
You can see some frost starting to form on his jacket. And I think I can see a little bit forming on his mustache as well, so that's pretty accurate. You don't want to stop for a main meal every two or three hours. So what you do is you have a bag with food, the calorific content is very high, and you put your hand in your pocket, chop that in your mouth every so often. Now, inevitably you're going to get someone who eats a lot more than you. And part of a team dynamic is you stop and you share out whatever you've got. Now, if everyone does that, it balances out over the day or over the week. Look at me. Pizza. Cheeseburgers. See, sometimes when I'm out, I look forward to having a Jelly Baby at the next allocated stop that me or my team have decided. Could be any treat. Just having something to look forward to, it helps you take that next step. So, I think that's spot on. When I first went to the Arctic, I think two, three days before the end, we'd been walking for about, 22 days was the total journey time. We'd been walking for about 19 hours, and I remember thinking, "Oh, gosh, I'm hungry." And as soon as I said that, my mind started to think about a chicken biryani and a lamb korma that I'd had three weeks earlier. So I kept looking at my teammates, saying, "Oh, gosh, it's like I can almost smell it." You keep going in that direction.
Polar winds, it feels agonizing. When you see these images of people in polar extremes and around their eyes are blistering up and their lips are cracked, it's the wind for the most part that's doing that. Having one huge jacket is good, but the best option is have multiple layers to trap multiple layers of air.
There he doesn't have any goggles on. Luckily, the little girl, I think it is, does have goggles on. And it must be so scary to think that you can't open your eyes to try and navigate using whatever tools are available.
What looks like snow or mist -- or, it looks like mist, it's actually snow. It's called spindrift, and that's the wind kicking up a small amount of snow and making it swirl and blow past. Generally, at about 10, 15 kilometers, it will start picking up bits of snow. So you can almost tell roughly what the wind speed is by how much snow is being been moved along and how high up that is. The details such as the frost, I'd say I'd give it a solid 8, maybe 8 1/2 out of 10.
"The Terror" S1E1 (2018)
Man: Observe my signals. One pull on the tube means half a fathom slack.
It just instantly brought me back to the books I've read about Shackleton and Scott and ships being stuck in Antarctica over winter because they'd become trapped in the ice. And then burning bits of the ship just to keep warm.
There should be a surgeon here.
They're just below, Mr. Collins.
Cold water, your body loses temperature about 20 to 25 times quicker. He's using what looks like a spear to chisel away at the ice. At this time in history, there weren't any tried-and-tested methods for stuff like this. It was, you did what you had to do using the tools that you had to hand. I've read accounts of people chopping away at the ice using a pickax, tying ropes to ships and pulling them backwards and then pulling them forwards again, and taking a different route and using the dogs to pull and going ahead and breaking up the ice ahead of the ship. With modern ships, they've got hardened hulls. So the hulls may be twice as thick. It's made of steel. It's ready for impacting ice. They've got powerful engines that can break the ice up. They've got radar to detect the thickness of the ice. I think the Arctic has this mysticism about it, where -- we like familiarity. The thing with Arctic is, it changes every single year. The maps that we have this year, they won't be perfect, because come next year, the ice has fallen, some has melted. Because so much of it isn't visible, there's a lot that we don't know, and that doesn't sit well within the human mind, does it? Our imaginations start playing games with us. I love this. I'd give this a solid 9 out of 10.
"The Thing" (1982)
MacReady: We're not getting out of here alive.
But neither is that thing. Why would you say that? You're perfectly capable, at least three of you, perfectly capable. You've got all the tools to escape. You've got all the means to make fire and to get a good distance away. If something's happened and you're isolated, you leave. You head to the nearest populated area or a place you could get help and you radio back what's happened or what you need or what support's necessary. I notice that they are lighting what looks like TNT? Is it trinitrotoluene rods? They're lighting it right next to their chest, but they've also got other rods right next to their chest. I don't think that's something you'd do.
Yes, fire is a good option. Every single predator I've ever come across is afraid of fire. Simple fact. The only things that are attracted by fire, generally, are insects. I don't think it's ever a good idea to blow up a hole in the middle of your camp. You've got what looks like a tracked vehicle there, which is, it could be some kind of small bulldozer or lifter. You've got the means to escape and to survive short term. The biggest threat out there is never going to be the wildlife. If you prepare for that, it's fine. If you carry a shotgun for the most extremes of circumstances. The biggest threat's always going to be exposure. Making sure I'm prepared for whatever the weather is going to throw at me. No, not likely to face an alien. [laughs] I love a sci-fi movie more than most, so I'm going to give this one a 5, but in terms of how realistic it is, I'm sorry, it's not doing much.
"Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" (1980)
Han: Don't do this, Luke. Come on, give me a sign here.
I know there's going to be a bright "Star Wars" superfan that's going to come and tell me exactly what animal that is.
Han: But it'll keep you warm till I get the shelter up.
You should've had that up at the first hint that the weather was going to turn, had the shelter up. Secondly, in a survival situation, you take shelter where you can get it. I've heard of people sheltering in animal carcasses in desert environments where they've come across a dead animal, but I've never heard of anyone finding an animal big enough in an arctic environment to sleep inside. The average polar bear's probably about 8, 8 1/2 feet tall, and that's it standing up. To fit inside of a polar bear torso, it's going to be a lot of work.
If you're in the Arctic and you need shelter quickly, your best bet is to try and dig a snow hole or just pile up some snow to give you a break from the wind. Gosh, I'm a "Star Wars" fan. I'd give this a 5 out of 10.
Man: Hold the back! Hold it at the back!
In Antarctica, the terrain is treacherous. Antarctica has the longest mountain range in the world. It's got areas where it's ice rubble. You can see in this scene, there were piles of ice, they were pushing this little long boat. That vision of seeing completely flat arctic tundra or completely flat terrain, it's a myth. It very, very rarely presents itself. Man: I'm not doing this, it's stupid. Look at the hull. You're supposed to be captain of this cutter, and you're tearing it apart! Nowadays, I think people tell you more about what you're doing and why you're doing it. I've been on expeditions where similar things have happened. I mean, we were walking across the Arctic, we're day 10, day 11 in. My pulk, which is my sled, just started to feel heavier. And I realized that it was irrational when I went to my teammate, they'd walked ahead, I said, "Look, my pulk's heavy. You guys packed it wrong." My teammate laughed at me and said, "But, Dwayne, you packed your pulk yourself." Fundamentally, I hadn't eaten properly that morning and the evening before. And that's all it took for me to feel weaker, tired, drained, and fatigued. I'd give it a 6 or 7. I'd give it a 7 out of 10.
So, my journey into exploration was a bit of a strange one. I googled North Pole. A few names popped up, and one of the names was Matthew Henson. And I was drawn to Matthew Henson because he was a Black man. And I thought, "I've never seen a Black man in any arctic book or anything." I think when people watch TVs and movies and shows and read, the biggest myth they get is that only one type of person goes there. You always see, it's a white male who's about 50 years old, bearded, who's well weathered, got some money behind them that does this, and that's not the truth. We want more women doing it. We want more people from all different backgrounds doing it. If we follow what we're seeing on TV and in magazines and historical accounts, you'd think that no women had ever been to the pole.
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