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© 2015 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

7 Movies That Sent People Running Out of Theaters

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© 2015 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Lumière brothers were said to have caused quite a stir when their 50-second short film, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, premiered in Paris in 1896. Unaccustomed to the sensory experience of moving footage, audiences experienced a jolt of panic when an oncoming train seemed to be speeding directly toward them.

Over the years, the story has morphed into people fleeing from the theater entirely, though that’s not likely. Since the Lumières, however, many filmmakers have been successful in driving moviegoers out of their seats. The latest addition: Robert Zemeckis, whose film The Walk is quickly becoming notorious for its dizzying depiction of wire-walker Philippe Petit’s journey between the Twin Towers in 1974. The perspective of Petit more than 1300 feet in the air is reportedly too much for some to take. Here are seven other films that couldn’t keep audiences in the dark for long.   

1. THE EXORCIST (1973)

Lines wrapped around the block for the film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel about a young woman possessed by a demon. They quickly realized it was the cinematic equivalent of a hot pepper: something to be endured rather than enjoyed. News footage like the compilation above portrayed stricken filmgoers who had fled screening rooms out of sheer terror; one fainted in the lobby. “I just found it really horrible and had to come out,” one says. “I couldn’t take it anymore.” By the time the film premiered in London, ambulances were parked outside.

2. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1998)

Launching the found-footage genre with an economical story about filmmakers threatened by an unseen force, The Blair Witch Project was a sizable box office hit and remains one of the most profitable films ever ($22,000 budget, $240 million gross). But the documentary-style format, with actors jogging or falling over with a camera in hand, prompted waves of people getting motion sickness in aisles, lobbies, and bathrooms. The Associated Press reported Atlanta-area theaters were on puke patrol for most of opening weekend. “Someone threw up in the men’s restroom, the women’s restroom, and in the hallway,” said a theater manager. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, another theater manager made announcements before screenings to please vomit outside of the screening room.

By the time Cloverfield's (2008) handheld photography was churning stomachs a decade later, theaters wisely posted signs warning of a "roller coaster" effect. Instead of barf bags, theaters handed out refunds.

3. 127 HOURS (2010)

Fox Searchlight

From the get-what-you-pay-for department: Audiences that streamed in for director Danny Boyle’s account of hiker Aron Ralston, who got himself wedged in a cave and had to amputate his own arm with a pocketknife, found themselves bearing witness to James Franco wedged in a cave and amputating his own arm with a pocketknife. Many, many people fainted; some vomited; one person fainted, was hauled away in an ambulance, and returned to the theater to declare the film “excellent.”

4. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

It’s not necessarily shocking that the unflinching violence of a Quentin Tarantino movie would prompt audience evacuations: 1994’s Pulp Fiction lost patrons when Uma Thurman got a shot of adrenaline in her heart. But Reservoir Dogs is notable for the people it pulled from their seats. When Michael Madsen’s character began an unsolicited ear amputation of a hostage during an industry screening, the late Wes Craven (creator of The Last House on the Left and A Nightmare on Elm Street) fled the theater.  

5. FREAKS (1932)

Tod Browning’s infamous portrayal of a circus sideshow with revenge in mind was a harrowing experience for filmgoers. Not strictly a horror film, its large cast of “actual” circus performers with a myriad of deformities was unsettling. Freaks suffered mass walkouts upon release, viewers unnerved by missing limbs; MGM insisted on editing the film after a woman claimed she was so aggrieved during a screening that she suffered a miscarriage.  

6. IRREVERSIBLE (2002)

Panned for its depiction of a brutal assault, this revenge film from director Gaspar Noé prompted viewers to head for the exits—but not necessarily because of what was shown onscreen. Noé admitted to using a 27 hertz frequency of bass that can’t be picked up by the human ear during the movie’s first 30 minutes. Known as infrasound, it's been known to induce panic and anxiety in a manner similar to vibrations created by earthquakes. Paranormal Activity (2007) used a similar technique.

7. THE LION KING (1994)

Disney

In the proud Disney tradition of maiming parents came The Lion King, where tiny Simba learns to fend for himself after his father is trampled during a stampede. The animated tragedy proved so intense for younger viewers—Disney’s key demographic—that they had to be temporarily relocated to the lobby until they calmed down.  

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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