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Hollywood Movie Features Morse Code, Homebrew Equipment -- and Sea Monsters!

02/23/2012

In the movie Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Sean Anderson (played by Josh Hutcherson) receives a coded distress signal that comes from a mysterious island where no island should exist. Sean decides to follow the signal with the unwilling assistance from his stepfather Hank (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).

The movie opens in Dayton, Ohio with Sean on his motorcycle, being chased by police officers. Sean had been caught breaking in to a “satellite facility.” When questioned by Hank, Sean confesses that he had received a coded message from his grandfather (played by Michael Caine), but his equipment was too weak to copy it; he decided to go somewhere where there were bigger antennas. The message -- a string of one and two syllable words taken from the books by Jules Verne -- makes no sense to Sean. Hank, a former US Navy cryptographer, offers to help decode the message; he feels this will be a good chance to bond with his stepson.

Immediately, Hank figures out that the message is really in Morse code: each one syllable word is a “dit,” while each two syllable word is a “dah.” Hank translates the message, which gives clues to the location of the grandfather’s whereabouts.

Sean explains to Hank why he wants to hunt down the signal: “A few nights ago, a radio signal got sent out from these coordinates. It could be the mysterious island that Jules Verne wrote about.”

Hank replies: “You think you’re gonna travel halfway around the world and meet up with some lunatic who’s messing around on a ham radio?”

“That’s not some lunatic,” Sean says. “That’s my grandfather.”

This scene takes place at Sean’s desk in his bedroom. There are various pieces of radio gear -- such as a Kenwood TS-450s transceiver, an Ameritron AL-80 linear amplifier, an ICOM IC-28A 2 meter transceiver, an MFJ 949E antenna tuner, a Lowe HF-150 receiver, a microphone and books on radio dating from the 1930s -- on the desk; when Sean’s house is shown from the street, however, no antennas are visible. Behind the desk are posters from Jules Verne works, as well as maps -- including The Radio Amateur’s World Map from Yaesu -- and QSL cards on the bulletin board behind the desk.

One of these QSL cards belongs to Ned Conklin, KH7JJ, of Honolulu, Hawaii. Conklin is the President of the Battleship Missouri Amateur Radio Club, KH6BB. “The movie people contacted Joe Speroni, AH0A, looking to borrow radio gear for the movie,” Conklin told the ARRL. “He didn’t know anyone who had equipment they could loan, so he contacted me to see if the Missouri had any. We provided him with some gear, as well as some beautiful QSL cards that we had received from hams in the South Pacific. They shot the scene with the radios here in Hawaii, but the movie people asked if they could take the equipment to North Carolina in case they had to use it again.”

Through the clues in the coded message, Sean and Hank learn that Sean’s grandfather is on an island off the coast of Palau, located about 500 miles east of the Philippines. The two go to Palau, in hopes that they can charter someone to take them to the island where they believe Sean’s grandfather to be. There, they meet up with Gabato (a helicopter pilot played by Luis Guzman) and his daughter Kailani (played by Vanessa Hudgens). The group makes their way to the island and finds the grandfather, who takes them to the hut that he has built out of the boat that brought him to the island.

The grandfather explains that he was glad Sean was able to receive and decipher his message. He said he built his radio in three months “out of an alarm clock, copper wire and a teaspoon.” When the others tell him that they should get on the radio and call for help, the grandfather says that would be a good thing, but “you have to wait for the communications satellite to come around into the proper position.” When asked when the next time would be, the grandfather says “Oh, about two weeks.” After this scene, radio is never mentioned again.

Eventually, the five get off the island in a most unique way, with Sean and Hank returning to Dayton. Kailani also ends up at Dayton as a student at the University of Dayton. Thanks to the remarkable way the group escapes the island, Gabato’s fortune is made and he expands his tour business. And the grandfather? He’s ready to set off on another adventure.

“We appreciate being asked to be a part of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” Conklin told the ARRL. “It is always thrilling to see Amateur Radio in popular culture, and hopefully young people will feel the excitement and want to explore the magic of radio.”



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