Wake Up and Smell the Science, Hollywood!

//
The cast of The Core, looking baffled by bad science.

Neutrinos? You’re going to kill the Earth using… neutrinos?!

That was the thought echoing through my brain during the November 2009 screening of Roland Emmerich’s disaster orgy, 2012. However, I was in the minority.

At the end of that painful 158 minutes, the filled-to-capacity midnight movie screening erupted with applause.

What?! Everyone else enjoyed it? Did I miss something?

Unfortunately, that’s the problem, I didn’t miss anything. In my mind, I knew neutrinos couldn’t cause the Earth’s interior to boil, turning our planet into a sphere of Jello; I knew the much fabled “galactic alignment” and “killer solar flare” doomsday theories are bunk; I knew the polar shift as depicted by Emmerich was completely flawed. Don’t get me started on the tsunamis, Arks and silly plot twists.

After writing a review on the science failings of 2012, I received a mixed bag of comments, but the overriding sentiment was that I needed to “suspend disbelief” and that I shouldn’t take movies so seriously.

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in San Diego, at a session chaired by The Science and Entertainment Exchange director (and Discovery News blogger) Jennifer Ouellette, a professor from Emory University in Atlanta shared his frustration about the science failings in movies.

Prof. Sidney Perkowitz (also a member of the Exchange) suggested that movies should be allowed just one major suspension of belief for the sake of the storyline.

Often movies that contain more than their fair share of science failings (such as The Core, as singled out by Perkowitz as the worst offender), will be the least memorable movies, whereas more accurate movies (such as Contact and Apollo 13) will often go down in movie history.

Contact has one of the best depictions of an actual scientist, and a woman to boot, ably played by Jodie Foster. Perkowitz is also a fan of last year’s indie film Sleep Dealer, District 9, and Moon, and Gattaca. As for the bad: The Core takes top honors, about drilling to the Earth’s core, in order to detonate a nuclear device that will kick-start the core’s rotation. And the giant insect aliens in Starship Troopers would collapse under their own weight were real insects scaled up to that size.” — The Science and Entertainment Exchange blog.

Although “bad science” doesn’t necessarily translate into a failed movie (for example, 2012 pulled in almost $800 million worldwide), in my opinion it does miss an opportunity to prove just how exciting real science can be without having to make stuff up. Movies can be an educational tool, why not depict science accurately?

“That’s the true power of science fiction: not only can it entertain and inspire the next generation of scientists, but it provides a compelling framework in which to explore how science fits into our culture at large, and the inevitable ethical/philosophical questions that accompany major breakthroughs in research.” — The Science and Entertainment Exchange blog.

There is the requirement for sci-fi movies to create fictional worlds, futuristic technologies and bizarre alien creatures, but sticking with believable science shouldn’t be just an option. Granted, some disbelief suspension should be expected at the movies, but it would be nice if The Core was the exception rather than the rule.

As one commenter said in reply to my 2012 review: “Knocking science in science fiction movies is like shooting fish in itty-bitty barrels with a very big gun. It’s fun and can make a big splash, but isn’t very hard.”

But when the movie is really bad, it becomes a really, really small barrel.

Source: Cocktail Party Physics.

DISCOVERYnewsletter
 
Invalid Email