When life and death for everyone hangs on a ten-second countdown, those ten seconds can feel endless because of your adrenaline rush and your super-focused attention. Or maybe those seconds actually are endless. (Like this awesome moment from Time Chasers via MST3K — thanks t3knomanser!) Science fiction TV shows (and some movies) have a long and honorable tradition of cheating on final countdowns, where seconds last ridiculously long. It's like ten, nine, eight and a half, eight and a quarter.... Here are some of the most unreal countdowns from science fiction.
We at the io9 Space Station debated the reason why there are so many elongated countdowns in scifi. Here are a few possible theories:
1) When your ship is traveling faster than light, time appears to be moving more slowly to a stationary observer (such as the audience.)
2) Similarly, if you're traveling through time, or there's some element of time-distortion going on, it's entirely possible that two or three of our seconds could equal just one second in our heroes' continuum.
3) Every alien planet will have a day that's much longer, or shorter, than our Earth days. And if your home planet's "day" lasts 40 Earth hours, then you might evolve a clock that moves quite a bit more slowly than our Earth clocks. And who's to say whether the spaceships of the future operate according to Earth time, or Rigelian time? Eh?
So without further ado, here are some examples of the "extra Mississippi" phenomenon in scifi:
I feel like there are about a hundred countdowns in Trek that last way, way longer than they're supposed to. Here's one of them. I acutally timed it — the computer says there are 25 seconds left before the ship blows up. And then 25 seconds later, Kirk is still giving his chest-thumping speech about how nothing can stop the countdown except him. (Blame Shatner's trademark mid-sentence pauses.) A few seconds after the ship should already have blown up, the computer starts its ten-second countdown. (To be fair, this could be a feature deliberately built into Federation self-destruct sequences, given how often captains use them to bluff their way out of a jam.)
Here's the exciting climax from the Doctor's first ever encounter with the Daleks, who are like mutated Nazis in mini-tanks. The Daleks are going to launch some kind of neutron bomb that will kill off everybody who's not them, and give them the nice shiny radiation that they've gotten used to. So the Doctor and his friends launch a desperate last minute attack, as the countdown ticks down to zero... but it all just takes a little too long. The countdown reaches "4" and the guy waiting patiently in the background still hasn't swung down on his rope. Not to mention the Daleks still haven't been defeated, and there's a lot of pre-choreographed mayhem still to go. In those days, Doctor Who was recorded in one take, with little chance for retakes. So obviously somebody decided to just let the countdown stop, and let the last battle take as long as it needs to. You can't rush an apocalyptic final battle between humans and machine-creatures. You just can't.
Green Lantern/Green Arrow:
When Green Lantern and Green Arrow first teamed up, based on their color schemes matching so well, their comic was all about the mismatched duo traveling around and discovering America. It was one long civics lesson, about racial injustice and smack being bad for you. But low sales drove writer Denny O'Neill to reinvent it as a crazy space-opera, where Green Lantern fights aliens with his self-righteous buddy Green Arrow along for the ride. In this sequence, Green Arrow decides he can survive in the vacuum of space for ten seconds... which is enough time for him to jump from ship to ship, get inside the other ship's airlock, make himself some lunch, and invent a whole new space dance:
Watching this scene, I feel as though Spaceballs wasn't even trying to be taken seriously or something. I mean, what is up with this final self-destruct countdown? First the computer says it'll take two minutes and 45 seconds, and some three minutes later Mel Brooks is still goofing around. And then the computer skips the number 7 and goes straight to six — and has time to make a joke about it and restart the countdown at 6. And then when it reaches zero, it still pauses to wish the soon-to-be-incinerated people a nice day. At least it's a suicidal computer with manners. But seriously, it's almost as though they were mocking the genre conventions or something.
The Fifth Element:
This one doesn't take any longer than it's supposed to, but it's still a tad unrealistic to evacuate an entire huge pleasure ship in five minutes — and it actually only seems to take three minutes, since everyone's gone by the two-minute mark. And you can watch that awesome sequence here.