Alright, maybe I just missed the explanation (seen the movie twice so far), but there's just that one thing I couldn't understand seeing John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) decrypting the prophecy. Sorry for the long spoiler block, but don't want to spoil anything for people who haven't seen it yet.

After noticing the possible meaning of the numbers, John writes down all numbers written on the sheet of paper on a blackboard.
Then he starts circling days, months, years, numbers of casualities and coordinates with colored markers.

And here's the one thing I don't understand: Days, months and years are obviously always the same length (I think they're always 2 digits in the movie; but doesn't really matter whether 2 or 4 digits for years). The issue are the numbers of casualities as well as coordinates. How does he know how long these numbers are and which of the following digits form the next date or coordinate?

Simple example: 111121111 - what date is in there (considering leading and trailing digits are part of casualities or coordinates)? 11/12/11? 12/11/11? 21/11/...?

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    You've seen it twice? What, you weren't traumatised enough the first time? It's appallingly bad... – PhilPursglove May 13 '12 at 19:55
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    @PhilPursglove I'm not sure "appallingly bad" does it justice. In my opinion it's truly, spectacularly awful. – Anthony Grist May 13 '12 at 20:09
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    I thought it was good up until they introduced the whole "we're aliens here to save the human race" aspect. – Xantec May 13 '12 at 20:15
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    I've seen worse. :) But I agree, it's one of these movies losing lots of their appeal once you know what's happening. – Mario May 13 '12 at 20:32
  • I saw a review last year that said 'Watch it until after the plane crash. Then leave, and make up an ending. You're guaranteed to come up with something better than the actual ending'. :-) – PhilPursglove May 14 '12 at 9:19

Dates and co-ordinates are fixed length, so the only part that has a variable length is the number of casualties. In order to determine the variable length part, you simply need to identify all the fixed length parts. Knowing where the next item in the sequence begins isn't terribly difficult, because you believe it's a date that corresponds to a major disaster that's already happened.

You ring all the date parts - year, days, months (since it's an American film, I doubt they'd use a date format that actually makes sense!). You have a strong suspicion that all of the numbers in between the groups of date parts are combinations of co-ordinates and casualty numbers for major disasters.

You look up the co-ordinates for the major disaster that corresponds to the first date, then identify the subsequence in the unringed series of numbers that matches those co-ordinates. Once you've done that, you know the format - the first or last X numbers in the unringed portions are your co-ordinates, so you ring all of those.

At this point, you're left with just the casualty figures, which you can check against news reports (or any other source you can find) to confirm your theory.

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    Think you misunderstood me (partially). You're perfectly right for the numbers regarding past events (and this part is depicted rather well). However I'm talking about the events that didn't happen yet. Here you're lacking any numbers to compare, you can just guess the portions of digits making up dates or any of the other information (due to the length being undetermined; so offsets might be unknown as well). – Mario May 13 '12 at 20:36
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    @Mario after you have all of the past events, the next numbers on the list is the date and gps coordinates for the next disaster, and while technically the length of the number of casualties are unknown, it wouldn't be difficult at all to assume the next time you see a valid future date is another disaster. – NominSim May 13 '12 at 20:56
  • @Mario I considered addressing the future events specifically, but decided that it wasn't necessary because the process is identical. NominSim covered it pretty well in his comment, however. – Anthony Grist May 13 '12 at 22:37
  • Well, guess I'll just count it as "luckily he had quite obvious and easy to spot dates hidden in there". – Mario May 22 '12 at 10:44

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