Thursday, October 11, 2012

More about science in movies

When I wrote that “Physics vs. Fantasy” a few days ago, I found too much neat stuff on the subject to let it go. Dr. David Carroll and Dr. David Kirby are far from the only scientists fact-checking Hollywood. And how about the movies that defy lab tests? Here’s a short Myth Busters style list for you:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Director Stanley Kubric did some serious homework on this one. He spent 3 years consulting NASA and over 65 other research facilities to produce space scenes so accurate that conspiracy theorists suspected him of creating Neil Armstrong’s moon landing two years later. Verdict: PASS

Star Wars (1977-2005) This beloved series, alas, committed 8 out of 11 “science violations”, the most of any sci-fi rated by author Charlie Jane Anders.  “There is no sound (of explosions or otherwise) in space. You can’t dodge laser weapons. And it wouldn’t be that easy communicating with  wookies, even if you were Han Solo.” Verdict: FAIL

Deep Impact (1998) With no clue how a spaceship would land on a moving comet, filmmakers spent a day with scientists and astronauts. They learned that due to a comet’s low gravitational force, the craft would have to match its speed to affect a landing. They would also be ducking debris the size of house trailers that make up the surface. This film is widely regarded as a masterpiece of accuracy. Verdict: PASS

Jurassic Park (1993) With all the science available for this one, true fiction abounds. The filmmaker studied the factual data and decided the teeth of the T-Rex weren’t sharp enough. Hence, the razor-sharp dental work. And those terrifying 8-foot velocirapters?  About the size of chickens. Verdict: FAIL

Contact (1997) In homage to highly respected author and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who finished the book on his deathbed, the science in the film adaptation is airtight. Even nonscientists like film critic Roger Ebert appreciated the effort put forth by the writing staff. It’s kinda sad it never equaled the box office cred of Star Wars. Verdict: PASS

2012 (2009) Okay, that looks weird at the outset. From the premise of planetary alignment triggering a string of natural disasters to the sun’s neutrinos to tsunami behavior, this has got to be the least scientifically accurate film ever. NASA has received so many questions about this movie it created a website to deal with it. Verdict: FAIL

This isn’t to say I didn’t like the FAIL movies. I loved them. If I want to learn something, I check The History Channel, Discovery, NatGeo, Snopes, PBS (if it survives the election), or Google. Movies are for entertainment!

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