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Sci-Fi Movies and 'Bad Science' 958

Roland Piquepaille writes "Science fiction movies can be fun, and sometimes boring, when Hollywood producers want to show us a 2 1/2 hour film when 90 minutes would be enough. But what about the 'science' behind them? BBC News says it's pretty bad in 'When sci-fi forgets the science.' For example, the metamorphosis of Bruce Banner into The Hulk, based on work of marine biologist Greg Szulgit from Hiram College, Ohio, about sea cucumbers, is qualified by himself as "really awful"." The Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics website, which we've previously mentioned, is referenced in this article, and is now freshly updated to deal with movies like The Hulk.
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Sci-Fi Movies and 'Bad Science'

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  • by kaan ( 88626 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:42PM (#6786702)
    does this mean the flux capacitor isn't real?
    • by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:50PM (#6786800) Homepage
      Hell, I'm not even sure I believe in the deLorean!
    • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:52PM (#6786833)
      they had to be removed from the stock 1982 DeLoreans because the resulting fire trails violated emissions standards
    • Gigawatts (Score:5, Informative)

      by UsonianAutomatic ( 236235 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:52PM (#6786835) Homepage
      The producer commentary on the 'Back to the Future' admitted to some mildly bad science... Doc Brown's mispronunciation of the word 'Gigawatt'.

      He said something to the effect that nerds everywhere wrote in and pointed out this egregious error after the first film was released, but for the sake of continuity they had to keep using the 'jiggawatt' pronunciation for the rest of the films.
      • Re:Gigawatts (Score:5, Interesting)

        by rudiger ( 35571 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:57PM (#6786899)
        Main Entry: giga-
        Pronunciation: 'ji-g&, 'gi-
        Function: combining form
        Etymology: International Scientific Vocabulary, from Greek gigas giant
        : billion

        there is nothing wrong with his pronunciation; it is infact the first (ie preferred) one.
        • Re:Gigawatts (Score:3, Informative)

          by jstott ( 212041 )
          there is nothing wrong with his pronunciation; it is infact the first (ie preferred) one.
          I'm not sure what dictionary you're looking in, but shouldn't it be either gi-ga or ji-ja? After all, in Greek they're both "gamma" [which, I note, is also a hard g], so the two g's should be pronounced the same way in both syllables, no?


        • Re:Gigawatts (Score:4, Informative)

          by wass ( 72082 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2003 @12:50AM (#6791260)
          I'm glad this issue has finally seen some light on slashdot. As many have pointed out previously, it was commonplace to pronounce 10^9 as "jigga" before the advent of gigabyte hard disks, and that the root is similar to the word for 'gigantic'. One guy I know even claimed his friend would pronounce it as "jyga" instead, to correspond to gigantic.

          But anyway, it was typically 'jigga' all the way. I have been to several RF and optics conferences where many of the speakers still talk about bandwidths and frequencies in "jiggahertz". It's pretty cool to hear it pronounced like that.

          It seems the hard-g pronunciation was picked up through by computer users, as spread through literature (magazines, hard disk ads, etc). It seems natural to pronounce it with a hard 'G'. whereas the 'jigga' folks were most likely RF engineers learning the vernacular from their peers.

          Maybe some '1337 computer folks will start measuring their disk sizes in 'jigga-bytes' and the like, bringing back in the old-school pronunciation.

          Oh, and FWIW, I was reading some article about lightning a few years ago, and it said that bolts of lightning typically emit a few GW of power. I was psyched that some of the BttF writers did their homework.

      • by robogun ( 466062 )
        Hindsight is sharp, but do not forget the film came out in 1985. Giga- was not in common usage until after the first commercial 1-gig drive came out in 1995. I recall actual discussion about the pronunciation -- is it a Jig-a byte, or, to avoid the potential negative racial connotations, a Gig-a byte.

        In a couple years I guess we will have to settle on vernacular pronunciations of peta- (10^15), and exo- (10^18) bytes.
    • by coffee_admin ( 697311 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:03PM (#6786973)
      one day working the hell known as OEM tech support, I had a customer call me claiming that AOL told him he needed to have his "modem flux capacitor" reset in order for him to get connected to the internet.
    • by Cyno01 ( 573917 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:48PM (#6787509) Homepage
      Seriously, go call radioshack right now and ask if they have flux capacitors in stock. They'll pause for a moment, then tell you they're out but should have more in stock in about two weeks.
  • Gee (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ElectricPoppy ( 679857 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:42PM (#6786704)
    do you suppose that's why it's called science fiction??
    • Re:Gee (Score:5, Funny)

      by calebtucker ( 691882 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:44PM (#6786726) Journal
      Geeks have a special gene that won't let us keep quiet during a movie when something isn't technically correct.
      • Re:Gee (Score:5, Insightful)

        by harrkev ( 623093 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:01PM (#6786940) Homepage
        Give me a break. As long as it is not TOO bad, you have to expect some of this type of stuff going on.

        Star Trek: Alien species can communicate without even exchanging any sort of dictionary. All ships have exactly the same concept of "up" and "down." It is also assumed that there is an absolute time (even though it is not explicitly stated). The theory of relativity simply does not exist.

        Star Wars: All ships have a maximum speed, which assumes a fixed frame of reference (motion is NOT relative). And I must admit that I like it this way. When playing Star Wars flight sims, if I had to deal with the "real" physics of acceleration (and near-limitless velocity), the game would not be as much fun to play.

        And, of course, don't even get me started on X-men.

        BUT (and this is the important part) -- I liked all of these movies (well, at least some in each series). The point of watching a movie is to have fun. If the movie has good plot and characters, that can make up for a LOT of bad science.

        The truly sad thing is that I recognize bad science when I see it. The average American would not. I see this as not being a failing of Hollywood, but as a failing of the American educational system.
        • Re:Gee (Score:5, Funny)

          by gpinzone ( 531794 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:15PM (#6787099) Homepage Journal
          My major complaint about Star Trek was that in all that time, they still can't come up with a uniform that has to be adjusted every fucking time Picard gets up from his chair.
        • Re:Gee (Score:5, Informative)

          by willtsmith ( 466546 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:24PM (#6787199) Journal
          Star Trek: Alien species can communicate without even exchanging any sort of dictionary. All ships have exactly the same concept of "up" and "down." It is also assumed that there is an absolute time (even though it is not explicitly stated). The theory of relativity simply does not exist.

          Actually, Gene Roddenberry put some serious thought into these topics.

          Alien Communication:

          Star Fleet personnell are outfitted with a device called the "universal translator". It apparantly works on a sub-conscious level and allows the brain to automatically speak foreign languages. They've done some episodes where the Universal Translators didn't work and saw the results.

          Personally I kinda like all the alien languages that you get in "Star Wars". It's a lot funner and makes things a lot richer in the same way that the various languages spoken in "Lord of the Rings" makes things a little more interesting.

          Relativity Time:
          Star Trek dates things with "Star Dates". The Star Dates take relevatistic effects in effect so that everything evens out.

          Relative Travel:
          In Star Trek, the ships don't travel faster than lite in normal space. The move to an adjacent space where the laws of physics are slightly more lenient. This allows the starships to leave earth and return without suffering the "twin paradox" effect too badly.

          X-Men is a pure fantasy universe (like ALL comic books). Stan Lee is a pure story-teller. The Marvel universe reflects his disinterest with technobobbles. He just say's it works a certain way and it does. The characters, and their interaction, is the important part.
        • Re:Gee (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          The truly sad thing is that I recognize bad science when I see it. The average American would not. I see this as not being a failing of Hollywood, but as a failing of the American educational system.

          Oh gag me. Why does Slashdot tolerate this sort of self-congratulatory egomaniacal crap? Give me a break. You think you're the only person who passed high school physics? Newsflash: you're not that special.

          I'm sorry, I don't mean to rip on you, but it just really gets me when I hear people here sighing an
    • Re:Gee (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ekarjala ( 446184 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:47PM (#6786753)
      The story is the fiction, the science is what "should" make it seem feasible.
      • Re:Gee (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Phantasmo ( 586700 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:24PM (#6787200)
        I heard this explained really well one year at Toronto Trek [].

        If you can strip out all of the characters and plot from a story and it's still interesting, it's probably sci-fi.

        You read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to hear Captain Nemo explain how they fuel the submarine, how they feed the crew, etc. But you don't watch Star Wars to learn about ion engines, blasters or light sabres work.
    • Re:Gee (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Eric Ass Raymond ( 662593 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:49PM (#6786789) Journal
      An excellent point.

      I'm a professional scientist but I'm more pissed off by the "let's find a plot hole in a movie just to prove that I am smart"-people than the actual plot holes.

      Hey, it's entertainment! Go with the flow!

      • Re:Gee (Score:4, Interesting)

        by NaugaHunter ( 639364 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @05:07PM (#6787725)
        It's a question of degree, and is directly related to 'suspension of disbelief' - originally a consideration of live theatre. What it encompasses is the degree to which a person is able to accept things that are false and stay focused inside the story and not their reality. For example, can an audience accept that Act 2 takes place 8 hours after Act 1, even though only 10 minutes have passed, or that the scene on stage is at night though it is clearly daytime.* Science Fiction that takes excesses tend to run directly into this problem square on.

        This is visible to some extent in all films, not just Science Fiction. For example, I recently saw The Count of Monte Cristo. In it, a prisoner is taught to become a master fencer by another elderly prisoner, while digging a tunnel and being malnourished. And he taught him on stone so well that fighting on a sandy beach presented no problem whatsoever. Clearly not very likely, but acceptable enough as a plot point in a rented movie since the overall story of escape and vengeance was more interesting.

        From my point of view, I'm more critical of science fiction because I like science. I can accept minor bs-physics (for example, almost no space movie that I've seen has bothered with the fact that planets move - somehow Mars is always on the way to Earth) if there is an interesting story that doesn't harp on it.

        I never could understand why Solo et. al. weren't bothered by a moon floating without a planet, unless they just assumed it was Alderon's. And in Star Trek II I always wondered why the sensors didn't notice a missing planet, but the story and execution made up for that oddity.

        The same criticisms of SciFi are probably true of historically themed films to historians, but this is not commented upon nearly as often.

        *[I learned in a Theatre History class that there once was a movement and law in France that the plots of all plays were to be in real time to the performance. Strange, but not quite as drastic as killing slaves for real blood near the end of the Roman Empire.]
      • Said it best... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by geoswan ( 316494 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @05:58PM (#6788274) Journal
        I remember twenty years ago when Superman 3 was first released. dejanews is failing me. I remember the movie newsgroups being flooded with discussions of this film. Dejanews only found a handful of articles...

        Anyhow, the movie newsgroups were flooded with many reviewers picking plot holes...

        And I remember one wag posting something like this:

        I have been reading all your critical comments on Superman 3 this last couple of weeks. And, after seeing it myself, I have got to agree -- this film was very unrealistic...

        But I am going to disagree with you about what the most unrealistic element was. Some of you said it was a drunken Richard Pryor taking over the entire world using the computer literacy course he was taught in prison... Other of you said the most unrealistic element was ...

        Well, so far as I am concerned, the most unrealistic thing about this film was the guy with the blue tights and the red cape.

    • Re:Gee (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Daniel_Staal ( 609844 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:27PM (#6787231)

      No. Science fiction is when the science works. At least in theory. It is the genre of the what could actually happen.

      'The Hulk', and most 'Science Fiction' movies are in a different category altogether: Fantasy. That is the genre where anything is possible, no matter what. It is a total escape from reality.

      I like both. But I don't confuse them.

      • Re:Gee (Score:5, Insightful)

        by B'Trey ( 111263 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @06:35PM (#6788651)
        Couldn't agree more. Just sent the following email to intuitor (author of the Hulk article linked above):

        You closed your recent Hulk article by saying "We went to see the fantasy of a likeable nerdy guy reluctantly turn into an 8 foot high science project and educate the mindless, heartless cool guys who had ignorantly messed with him. What we got was a cross between King Cong and Godzilla. Not only did the moviemakers give us wrong physics, they gave us the wrong movie."

        You couldn't be more wrong. I can only assume you're basing your expectations on the syndicated television show staring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno and that you're unfamiliar with the comic books themselves. I was profoundly disappointed in the movie. The plot was disjointed and weak. The dialog was inferior to that normally found in poorly dubbed martial arts movies. The only thing they got RIGHT was the size and strength (and color) of the character.

        The Hulk is SUPPOSED to throw tanks around. He's SUPPOSED to leap thousands of feet through the air. He's SUPPOSED to have missiles bounce off his chest. Yes, the physics are all wrong. But like almost all comic books, The Hulk isn't science fiction. It's fantasy. And you might as well calculate the amount of energy it would take to turn a Hobbit invisible and complain that a tiny ring would be incapable of containing that much energy as complain about the strength or density of the Hulk.
    • Re:Gee (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dasmegabyte ( 267018 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:34PM (#6787316) Homepage Journal
      Here, here. I'm of the opinion that it's the Fictional Science which creates the enjoyment. It's all a matter of what-if.

      Hulk is a perfect example. When he was created, everybody was scared of nuclear weapons, because they were powerful and mysterious. Marvel said, "What if a gamma bomb were able to create monsters and in doing so updates Jeckyll and Hyde?"

      Good science? No. Of course not. Good science would have our man Banner dead from radiation sickness and buried in a lead lined coffin. The story is rather short and tragic. Now, with this fictional, impossible, fantastic science, Hulk is an interesting character and a symbol of inner conflict.

      The "Science" in science fiction is crap because it makes the stories more interesting. Complaining that it's crap is missing the point entirely -- it's like complaining that conceits are unrealistic, something that Willy Shakespearre already touched on..."My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," etc.

      I do think there's a trade off, and the best science fiction adheres as closely to "real world" physics, chemistry and biology as it can. But you have to excuse where it steps off, or accept some VERY boring shit:

      "Warp Factor 5, Mr. Sulu."

      "Ahh, but captain, warp dynamics violate general relativity, and therefore are bad science. Besides which, it does not make sense that they are measured in factors when those factors have decimal values."

      "I guess we'll just float around here for a while, then. Maybe I'll make out with a blonde crew member, being as there's apparently no sexual harrassment in space."
  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:43PM (#6786715) Journal
    Law of conservation of mass and energy. Apearently, they can conjure up matter from no where. If they repected that law, then 99% of movies are out the window.

  • by OneIsNotPrime ( 609963 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:43PM (#6786717)
    Radioactive spiders do not actually change you into a buff moviestar who swings around fighting hobgoblins.
    • by jmays ( 450770 ) * on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:48PM (#6786767)
      Maybe for you it didn't ...

      *swings away*
    • by schon ( 31600 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:29PM (#6787256)
      Radioactive spiders do not actually change you into a buff moviestar who swings around fighting hobgoblins.

      OK, First off: I have no problem with "physics" like this - it's suspesion of disbelief.. I know that it wouldn't happen, but it doesn't ruin the movie for me..

      But what really annoys me is when TV hosts of (for example) the Discovery channel, start claiming "there is real science behind it!"

      When Spiderman was released, Discovery had an interview with different entymologists and biologists, asking them about the "science" in the film.. and their conclusion was "there is real science behind it."

      For example, when asked about "spider-strength", the biologist said "spiders can lift many times their own bodyweight - so it's correct!".. while completely ignoring that the reason that spiders can lift many times their own weight is that they're small, not because there is some magical "spider" quality that gives them super-strength.

      If a spider was a big as, and weighed as much as a human being, it wouldn't be able to damnwell move, let alone lift anything, because its muscles wouldn't have enough strength to overcome their own weight.

      This is what pisses me off - not the faux-science, but supposedly intelligent individuals treating it as real science.
  • by Le Marteau ( 206396 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:44PM (#6786722) Journal
    What gets me every time is when there is, say, an explosion (ala Star Wars) in space, and it goes "Boom!".

    Obviously, without air, there would be no sound. I think it's much more dramatic to see the explosion without hearing the sound, like they did in 2001: A Space Oddessy, rather than the way they did it in Star Wars, which came across as rather cartoonish in comparison.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:50PM (#6786809)
      In fact it is more dramatic. Firefly made good use of the silence of space on several occasions.

      Conventions like woosh-n-boom-in-space aren't there for drama's sake; they're simply put in without a thought. The vastest majority of TV and movie makers are astonishingly uncreative hacks working from formulae they'd be terrified to change. Did you think the best and brightest of your society were all going to Hollywood to write and direct? People with creativity and clue have far better things to do...
      • by NudeZiggy ( 635825 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:16PM (#6787112)
        Conventions like woosh-n-boom-in-space aren't there for drama's sake; they're simply put in without a thought.

        bullshit. Most sound effects designers are Physics Majors anyways. Everyone (yes EVERYONE) watching a movie knows sound can't travel in a vacuum! All movie makers know it too, and they all admit it. The sound is for dramatic effect. I'm sorry, when I was 4 I woulda been bored to death with Star Wars if the Tie Fighters didnt have those cool metallic wines and the blasters have those blasty sounds. Hell, Asimov let it slide when he was consulting for the first Trek movie.

        Personally, I like it a lot. Yeah, Kubric and Whedon, etc. use the true silence for the real dramatic effect, but movies would be boring if everyone did it. Besides, those sonic charges in Attack of the Clones had THE COOLEST SOUND EFFECTS. Everyone loved 'em.

        If you want to argue what the sound is in Real Life, just imagine the viewer (yes, you) are viewing the action from outside, but you get the feeling you are in every space craft on screen, it's sensory immersion, the original point of it. Sonar doesn't really go "PING" (though some expensive medical equipment do). Before I knew it was silent in space, I didnt really give much thought to the sound effects in movies. Afterwards I passed it off as 3rd person omniscient experience (be it outside the craft hearing what's inside, or actually being in it, but seing it from outside....)

        Besides, it's a FUCKING MOVIE get over it!

        Thanks for listening.
    • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:57PM (#6786894) Journal
      Obviously, without air, there would be no sound.

      Actually, you could "hear" the explosion, when the shockwave gets to you, the same time you can hear it on Earth.

      You couldn't hear a spaceship passing 10 inches from you if it is coasting, but you might "hear" the exhaust if it is accelerating, or exhausting for some other reason. Of course you need to be in the exhause to hear it, and that could be fatal. (Or not; not all sci-fi spaceships have high-energy exhausts; you could stand in front of a modern ion-drive for a while before suffering ill effects from radiation exposure, I bet; it's pretty parsimonious with the atoms it spends.)

      You don't need air, you just need a medium. Doesn't even need to be gaseous, though our ears are designed best for that case. In the case of an explosion or exhaust, the "medium" is provided by the same event you're hearing; in theory it can carry other sounds as well but you're unlikely to care about them. ;-)

      Silence can still be as wrong as a loud "boom!".
      • by Kombat ( 93720 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:13PM (#6787084) Homepage
        Actually, you could "hear" the explosion, when the shockwave gets to you

        With no atmosphere, there is no shockwave. Sure, the debris from the explosion would eventually hit you, but no one would seriously try to call actual matter hitting you "sound."

        I repeat: Explosions in space have no shockwaves. A nuke detonated 10 feet over the surface of the moon would amount to little more than a small dust cloud a few feet in diameter (if anything) when the remaining atoms slammed into the surface. It would be nothing compared to a similar detonation on Earth.
        • by Tyler Durden ( 136036 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:34PM (#6787309)
          A nuke detonated 10 feet over the surface of the moon would amount to little more than a small dust cloud a few feet in diameter (if anything) when the remaining atoms slammed into the surface.

          Actually, the intense electromagnetic radiation generated by the nuclear explosion would create enough heat when it hit the surface of the moon 10 feet under it to effectively vaporize a big chunk o' moon. This sudden heating may also generate a sizable shockwave across the surface of the moon. (I'm not quite sure about the shockwave part. But you can bet the heat and light would be something to behold.)

    • by josh crawley ( 537561 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:08PM (#6787020)
      Consider this: perhaps owing to the ubiquity of space combat in the Star Wars universe, every starship contains a synthesizer system combined with radar which senses ships in the vicinity, explosions, and blaster trails, and generates a surround-sound representation of all within the cockpit, to aid the pilot in dodging and maneuvering.

      This explanation makes about as much sense as any other.
    • by ChrisWong ( 17493 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:23PM (#6787182) Homepage
      JMS, the creator of Babylon 5, got sick of the you-cannot-hear-sounds-in-space complaint and posted a response. The gist of his argument -- apart from artistic issues -- is that space is not all empty all the time. He asked some experts, apparently, and decided that sounds were possible.

      An exploding manned (soon to be unmanned) spacecraft would carry a breathable atmosphere and other gases/particles to carry sound. Weapon zaps and engine whines would be audible from within these crafts and over their comm-links. It's all a question of where you stick your microphone. Nobody is telling you where the mic is or how it works.
    • by MrAndrews ( 456547 ) * <mcm.1889@ca> on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:38PM (#6787366) Homepage
      This is actually a really annoying thing to deal with as a producer. The concept of a ship making is something that sounds good (ahem) on paper, and even in some circumstances it has dramatic effect, but then when you get to the visuals of a dogfight (such as it is) in space, with lots of ships and lots of movement, the lack of some kind of whooshing sound makes it all seem very empty.

      The alternative is to cut inside the ship to hear the sounds there (well, the sound of that ship itself), but eventually you need to go outside again, and once there, the silence almost seems like a statement rather than a fact. It's like the environment becoming a character by its absence.

      So really, in some entertainment, it's either your scientific accuracy or your excitement level. Crappy tradeoff.

    • by Anonvmous Coward ( 589068 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:55PM (#6787596)
      "What gets me every time is when there is, say, an explosion (ala Star Wars) in space, and it goes "Boom!"."

      What gets me is when somebody walks into a shot, and you can hear music. I've watched my boss get that look in her eyes and start walking towards my cube. I never once heard the Darth Vader march.

      Stupid movies shouldn't have incidental music. They should all be like the Blair Witch Project.
  • by Gudlyf ( 544445 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:44PM (#6786730) Homepage Journal
    Why can't people just take a movie for what it is? These aren't documentaries, you know.

    I agree that some movies push it a bit too far, but did people really go into The Hulk expecting to come out saying, "holy crap, I want to go get induced with gamma rays now!"

  • Bad Astronomy (Score:5, Informative)

    by msheppard ( 150231 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:45PM (#6786733) Homepage Journal
    Another site collecting this sort of stuff is Bad Astronomy []

  • by zoloto ( 586738 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:45PM (#6786741)

    There's hardly a nerd who wouldn't like, at least once, to morph into a huge green guy and panic his tormentors. So, how is it that Hollywood can take this delicious daydream and puree it into pure broccoli juice? Let's start with a simple principle that Hollywood has failed to grasp. Bigger is not always better

    pfft.. that's not what she said!
  • by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:47PM (#6786752)
    Apparently to make a man, complete with 6 pack abs and a nice gold lame speedo, you just need a big ass empty aquarium and some funky colored fluids... but you do need to be wearing some really trashy lingerie...

    (rocky horror picture show for those who are too young to remember, or maybe humor impaired)
  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by OneIsNotPrime ( 609963 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:47PM (#6786760)
    I hope I am not too presumptive too think I speak for the entire Slashdot community in saying...


    ...and, while I have this chance to speak for everyone




  • by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:48PM (#6786769) Homepage
    ...something like, "Any science sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic."

    Thus, I feel that films about the realms of magic fall into the same catagory. There are so many inconsistencies in the Harry Potter stories, for example, they make me wince. My girlfriend laughs and reminds me that it's just a story, but it's often not about the magic or science (as the case may be). It's often just an issue of consistency. I mean, if those kids can cast a spell to keep their faces dry in the rain, why can't they cast it on their whole bodies?

    OK, I guess I've got better things to do than rant about Harry Potter... Or do I?

    • I'll defend Harry Potter, for want of something better to do...

      Harry Potter does not claim to be consistent with any rules of science. Including the rules of cause and effect, or predictability. 'Magic', by any accounts, is an art, requiring talent, skill, and experience to practice. Just because something happens in one case that does not mean it works in a similar case. Why? Because it is magic, and follows no rules but the historic: A happened when we did B before, so if we do B again A will happ

  • Let's Face It... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gothic_Walrus ( 692125 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:48PM (#6786776) Journal
    For the most part, movie goers don't care if it's realistic or not. Lightsabers are a hell of a lot more interesting than laser pointers, even if the sabers can't physically exist. Until Hollywood is overrun by geeks, we can't expect anything close to real science in films.

    /stating the obvious

    • by foqn1bo ( 519064 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:33PM (#6787296)

      There's more truth to what you're saying than I think you realize. Perhaps the reason that people don't seem to care that explosions in space make loud boomy sounds, and that computer hackers navigate networks in ridiculous VR suits, is that they've already suspended their disbilief for what is often an extremely unreal story with fantastic premises.

      Like a number of people, I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, usually with large groups of friends. Most of them are in physics, and I don't think I've watched one show all the way through without somebody making a snide comment about the dubiousness of some bit of physics, chemistry or what have you.

      Physics Nerd: "That shouldn't have made such a big explosion"
      Me: "You're watching a tv series about that assumes the existance of vampires, demons, magic, hell dimensions, the appearance and reappearance of souls, spirits, mystic births, oracles, and a teenage-college age rich girl who has been imbued with the sacred and confusing powers to conveniently save the universe during sweeps, who's died and come back 3 times for some reason. I think your claim to the position of 'evangelist of science and reason' is hereby null and void."
      Physics Nerd: "That shouldn't have made such a big explosion"

      Not to insult those who find fault with movies that are actually trying to present a realistic world to us, but most of the time it seems you guys are just trying to prove your intellect. Or something.

      • by MalachiConstant ( 553800 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @09:19PM (#6790096)
        I think the Stupid Movie Physics site makes a good point about this:

        There's an old axiom in fiction writing which says it's okay to ask a reader to believe the impossible but not the improbable. For example, it's okay to say that a maniac has activated an antimatter bomb in the wall safe, but it's not okay to say that someone miraculously guessed the right combination on the first try.

        This makes sense. Obviously if I'm watching a movie about a robot that comes from the future I'm willing to suspend some disbelief and enjoy it. If the robot suddenly built a railgun out of common household products I would be annoyed at the impossibility of it.

        When you go to a play you agree to believe that those people on stage are actually sitting around the dinner table talking or whatever and ignore that they're actors on a stage. You don't agree that they can hack into the FBI in 30 seconds. Suspension of disbelief doesn't mean you throw your brain out the window, it means that you are willing to accept certain basic fictions so the story can be told.

      • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2003 @12:47AM (#6791243)
        Physics Nerd: "That shouldn't have made such a big explosion"
        Me: "You're watching a tv series about that assumes the existance of vampires, demons, magic, hell dimensions, the appearance and reappearance of souls, spirits, mystic births, oracles, and a teenage-college age rich girl who has been imbued with the sacred and confusing powers to conveniently save the universe during sweeps, who's died and come back 3 times for some reason. I think your claim to the position of 'evangelist of science and reason' is hereby null and void."
        Physics Nerd: "That shouldn't have made such a big explosion"
        Yeah, and when you watch it with a bunch of theologians they ignore the overloud explosions and say "That's a stupid name for a demon."

  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:48PM (#6786778) Journal
    A few years back I worked as an animator (Lightwave 3D) for a production company pitching a pilot to Universal.

    It was a space scene and I was told "make it look real". I did, physics and all.

    Then the producer looked at it and asked why the stars didn't move ala Star Trek. I explained that will the ship was moving fast, there are no know little glowing dots in space to zip by and smack the camera. Stars are big and very, very far away.

    He said "fix it, and do it right this time!"

    • by neglige ( 641101 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:13PM (#6787069)
      Upon reading this, I pulled the old ST:TNG Technical Manual from the shelf, which dates back to 1991 (I wonder if this has any collector value). And in the introductions, I find this:

      "The Starship Enterprise is not a collection of motion picture sets or a model used in visual effects. It is a very real vehicle; one designed for storytelling. [...] Documents such as this Technical Manual help give some background to the vision we work so hard to create on Star Trek. Rick [Sternbach] and Mike [Okuda] have obviously had a lot of fun filling in the gaps and trying to find technical 'explanations' for some of our mistakes." -- Gene Roddenberry

      There you have it, folks: story comes first, physical accurate explanations come later. The list of credits has a lot of names from NASA, Boeing, Rockwell and so on. Those scientists (or people in the know) were constantly asked from advice - but if the story demanded some excuse, then the scientific background was set aside (according to the comments scattered throughout the manual).

      Do you honestly think this has hurt the series?!
  • Look at Total Recall [].

    At the end of the movie, Arnie and the generic love interest end up out on the Martian surface without suits, gasping, their eyes bulging like tennis balls, and the "airmaker" gets going, venting out precious oxygen. A wave of wind washes over them, and suddenly they're back to normal, no worse for the wear. The "wind wave" slams into the colony and windows explode inward.

    Okay, first off, if your skin and eyes are stretched like that, you would have serious damage to contend with. Just to make some sort of nod toward this, they might have shown them with bruises and bloodshot eyes, but no...

    Second, as presented, there's no way that air machine could have created a breatheable atmosphere in the time shown. At the rough rate of production shown, it'd be hours before a noticeable air pressure had built up.

    But you could even save this scene. Imagine the scene exactly as presented, except suddenly, around the mountain, some shimmering globe of energy forms, trapping the air. As more air comes in, it expands, maintaining a constant pressure. This would save our heroes (well, except for the eyes-the-size-of-tennis-balls thing) and you could have a neat effect of the globe expanding, sweeping past windows that blow in sequentially as the 'force-field' passed by.

    Sure, we don't know how such a 'force-field' could possibly work, but aliens can get away with a certain amount of magic. For a science fiction movie done right, see The Abyss []. All the human tech is plausible or at least not inconceivable. Sure, the aliens do magic things, but hey, they're supposed to be more advanced than us.

  • Marvel comics (Score:4, Informative)

    by gpinzone ( 531794 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:49PM (#6786792) Homepage Journal
    I love Stan Lee's work, but let's face it. Just about all of the characters' powers come from the mysterious force of radiation. Well, it's not that mysterious now. In the 50's and 60's, it was a dark power that caused all kinds of mutations. All the A-bomb testing would throughout the world would have strange side effects on humanity, etc. In modern times, people don't fall for this line so easily. that's why in Spiderman and The Hulk, the screenweiters shyed away from radiation. Of course, all they did was replace it with modern day boogymen like genetic engineering and nanotechnology.
  • Hulk mad! (Score:5, Funny)

    by cK-Gunslinger ( 443452 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:49PM (#6786793) Journal
    Hulk smash puny web server!
  • This is why "Science Fiction" and "Fantasy" are commonly lumped together in book stores. It can be difficult to separate one from another and people endlessly dicker over where the line is. Also, where do you categorize books which were based on the science of the day, but over the course of fifty years are systematically proven incorrect?

    Now people usually separate sci-fi into "hard" and "soft" to make this distinction, because they don't want to lump sci-fi and fantasy together. This seems to me to be a pointless form of elitism. Science fiction without any scientific explanation (even if not given) behind the "science" is fantasy, plain and simple.

  • badastronomy (Score:5, Informative)

    by mraymer ( 516227 ) <mraymer&centurytel,net> on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:51PM (#6786812) Homepage Journal
    Over at Bad Astronomy [] a professional astronomer reviews the science in movies.

    Always informative and often hilarious... check it out!

  • by GreenCrackBaby ( 203293 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:51PM (#6786815) Homepage
    Nothing wrecks a movie for me more than watching them talk about computers or doing stuff with computers that is so completely out to lunch that whatever illusion the movie has created so far is destroyed.

    Then there's my wife, the genetics expert, for whom hollywood's attempts at describing that particular branch of science causes her to throw her popcorn in disgust.

    I image that nearly everyone experiences this frustration with movies, regardless of their area of expertise though. I bet if my mom had watched american pie she would have said something along the lines of: "That's not how you bake a proper applie pie -- the crust should be darker!".

  • by whorfin ( 686885 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:53PM (#6786844)
    The Incredible Hulk: Not Real

    Also Not Real:
    The Tooth Fairy
    Santa Claus
    The New York Times
  • by El ( 94934 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:53PM (#6786853)
    Lois Lane falls from top of tall building, reaches terminal velocity of about 200 mph. Superman flies up from ground to meet her halfway, resulting in a 400mph relative speed. Superman catches Lois, and she's unhurt! Yes, it's no wonder schoolchildren don't understand physics, when what passes for everyday experience violates it on a regular basis, and nobody tells them that what they see on telivision and in the movies isn't real. From what I've seen of movie representations of computers, I have no doubt that an expert in ANY field must be appalled by how that field is depicted in the movies...
  • by TexVex ( 669445 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:57PM (#6786904)
    You shouldn't's entertainment!

    As a computer geek, I know how to program, use the internet, and assemble collections of OEM components into working computers. I wince every time I see some Hollywood version of these activities, because they are always utterly ridiculous! They aim for entertainment value rather than realism. The teeming masses don't know any better. And they don't want to. A movie is supposed to be entertaining rather than educational or thought-provoking.

    I bet it's the same for every profession. I'm sure real firefighters look at firefighting scenes in movies and find a hundred little inaccuracies or unrealistic stretches. Lawyers must have retched at "Legally Blonde". Hell, I've been on a witness stand and your average real-life court case is about as exciting as boiling pasta, and lawyers don't holler "I object" every two minutes.

    Everybody who really understands the basics of General Relativity and Special Relativity knows why FTL travel and "subspace" communication can't happen. Hell, Star Trek is internally inconsistent as well -- how do you fire a phaser out of your ship's warp field, across normal space, and into another ship's warp field when both ships are travelling at some multiple of the speed of light? But the average viewer doesn't give a flip about Relativity and has no desire to analyze the fictional science. They just care that Worf gets warm fuzzy feelings about pounding Borg ships with photon torpedoes.
  • by djeaux ( 620938 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @03:58PM (#6786918) Homepage Journal
    "Science fiction" has become a catchall for anything that's weird & "unreal" but doesn't qualify as horror. Someone down the thread mentions the blurring of sci-fi with fantasy & I concur on that.

    Sometimes, things get blurred based on who the author is. I suppose anything that Arthur C. Clarke ever wrote gets called sci-fi, while anything Stephen King writes is horror. The Dark Tower books are as sci-fi as it gets, IMO, but betcha you'll find 'em lurking over in the monsters-under-the-bed section.

    But back to the topic: If I want to see "bad science," I don't go to a theatre. I go to the undergrad labs ;-)

  • I happen to like this film [] quite a bit. But opinion seems to be fairly divided on whether its good science or bad. Consider - NASA cuts funding on a mars mission, so the "bad scientist" decides to fake the space mission by staging it in an unused air-force facility, disguised to look like mars, and then transmitting the footage to the audience. NASA "good guy" looks at transmission lag, compares it to what the real lag should be if the transmission were indeed from mars, and figures something's fishy. "good guy" talks to "bad scientist" who then knocks him off, but before he disappears, he divulges suspicions to a close friend/reporter, who plays the hero. Now, whole thing requires cooperation from the astronauts, who comply, only to find the spacecraft blowing up on re-entry due to heat-shield failure, thereby "killing" them, even though they've never even left the earth. Now, astronauts must escape before "bad scientist" really kills them off. Nice sci-fi/thriller/comedy/70mm action flick, but didn't get the acclaim it deserved. Ppl poked numerous holes into the plot, which I concede isn't airtight, but still, is pretty sound considering other cheaply made sci-fi's involving data on a floppy disk or somesuch.
  • by decipher_saint ( 72686 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:04PM (#6786977)
    Does exclude our "aerodynamically impossible" flying insect friend from a career in the movies?

    I mean seriously, if someone had said in the Middle Ages that there was to be no fiction to challenge or exaggerate current scientific knowledge think how boring literature and art would be. Flying machines were built by technical people who were inspired by science fiction of the day. Who knows, perhaps there is a flux capacitor or perpetual motion machine out there in someones imagination ;-)
    • Just FYI... there was a mistake in the math, it has been corrected, and scientific theory now agrees that bumblebees can fly.

      That is not to say, however, that I disagree with your point.

  • by LeoDV ( 653216 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:05PM (#6786979) Journal
    I'm the first to cringe at "insultingly stupid physics" during movies, but standardized nitpicking such as the one provided in this movie is highly annoying.

    Let's not forget that filmmaking is an art and as such doesn't have to be realistic. I notice irrealistic stuff in a movie, and cringe when it isn't justified, but gladly accept it when it is. The need for style > the need for realism.

    This is especially true for Asian movies and directors, whose respect for reality is far supreior to that of most Hollywood directors, but will willingly disregard it when it pleases them. I could mention John Woo's HK era masterpieces, which are wholly unrealistic -- but who cares? Tsui Hark's Time and Tide is an incredible combination of highly realistic action moments, far more than 99% Hollywood movies, and completely ludicrous/impossible events. And the director knows it.
  • by The Lynxpro ( 657990 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:11PM (#6787045)
    They were based upon the ancient Greek idea of mankind having "sparks" of the god(s) inside their very being; that everything the god(s) created had a piece of themselves inside as well. Or, for a more modern adaption, go for John Carpenter's "The Prince of Darkness." That film's premise advanced the idea that every thing in the universe had particles that were of God and also anti-God inside them; thus explaining how objects and people could be controlled by the paranormal... The reason why the Midichlorians "ruined" Star Wars is because it took away the moviegoers feelings that they too could be a Luke Skywalker, a hero transformed by his beliefs and his own inner strength. A whole generation of sci-fi moviegoers dreamed of becoming Jedi Knights only to find out that the universe made it impossible for an individual to become one from faith alone; that they only could touch the divine if they had enough microbes in their blood... The Matrix is terrible because if you've seen "Dark City" before, there's no point in seeing the film. Its just an algamation of the plot of "Dark City" (and with some of that movie's sets as well) mixed with the special effects from "Blade", the computer plot *adapted* from "The Deadly Assassin" episode from 70s Doctor Who, and a healthy batch of wire-fu. And for the third film, we have Mech-Warrior in it now as well...or maybe Robo-Jox. I know the only reason why I'll go see it is because Monica Bellucci appears in it...
  • by UsonianAutomatic ( 236235 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:12PM (#6787064) Homepage
    Yes, 'Independence Day' was pretty much mindless enjoyment... I got as far with the 'willing suspension of disbelief thing' as

    'Ok, so these aliens are invading earth pretty much for the sheer hell of it, the Fresh Prince is an ace fighter pilot, Lone Starr is the president, and they've just given Cousin Eddie control of a multi-million dollar fighter jet'

    But when Jeff Goldblum plugs his Macintosh in the mothership network (good thing those aliens have compatible jacks in their spaceship control panels) and "uploads a virus" to an completely alien operating system written by a species advanced enough to have mastered interstellar travel, I'm not buying it anymore. He must have had a copy of O'Reilly's "Giger-derived Alien Scripting Language In a Nutshell" with him when he went to Area 51.
  • by isa-kuruption ( 317695 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:13PM (#6787074) Homepage
    That's right, everyone... by some weird cosmic coincidence, the stuff you see in Science FICTION movies is not real... and is, well at least in some cases, just plain impossible. Those of us who know better refer to this stuff as FICTION.

    According to fiction is defined firstly as 'An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.'.

    Ah hah! Imagine that! So in the world of science FICTION, they use imaginative creation to INVENT something that doesn't represent actuality. WOW! What a concept!

    Look, if it was SCIENCE SCIENCE it just wouldnt be as fun to watch... if it was SCIENCE SCIENCE, it'd just be the Discovery Channel or TLS but costing you $8 per show (not to say these channels dont have anything of interest mind you).

  • by ivanmarsh ( 634711 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:13PM (#6787081)

    The episode where Bender gets fired out the torpedo tube while the ship is moving at full speed making it impossible for the ship to catch up to him.

    Frye (as Captain Yesterday) jumping over a railing after a falling gemenoid and Lela says "Frye, you can't fall fast enough"
  • by gobbo ( 567674 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:24PM (#6787197) Journal
    1) Trek Universe: the galaxy populated by white people with funny foreheads. I mean, chimps are nearly identical to us genetically, look at them!

    2) Bad magic physics: they're going a few light years and the stars are just zipping by. Come on!

    3) Continuity is sacrificed for goofy morality. Guys who turn into giants wear uberlycra pants all the time.

    4) Cultural continuity in the galaxy. OK, B5 had some truly wierd aliens, like the vorlons, and a narrative that helped explain the continuity somewhat, but the rest...

    5) The general lack of plots involving easily predictable tech, like nanotech, ubiquitous computing, and radical bioengineering of human flesh.

    6) Political dullardry. Haven't these damn script writers read Sam Delaney or KS Robinson? Things are going to get wild and wierd, mutate and evolve.

    7) Gender idiocy. Again, things have changed radically in just the last 10 years, what makes you scriptflakes think we're going to maintain a Cleaver family morality in perpetuity? Damn that Heinlein. See Varley, Delaney, Stephenson. Sex is between the legs, gender is between the ears, and we're figuring that out already.

    8) Economic ideology. New economies are the nature of social progression, STNG tries to be blandly utopian as a cop-out, let's see some interesting econotech please.

    9) No one ever excretes in the future.
  • by Our Man In Redmond ( 63094 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:26PM (#6787216)
    In fact, pretty much any Marvel-influenced movie is a special case. I mean, c'mon, even when I was a kid I had some vague idea that people didn't really turn green and get musclebound when they got mad, or that Angel would have had to have had hollow bones and pectoral muscles roughly the size of a Buick to actually fly with those wings of his.

    Science fiction is about the STORY, not about the effects. Sure, it's better if the science behind it is more solid, but the thing that makes science fiction good is the plot and characterization, not the science. Really, all the science is is a device to allow us to ask the basic question behind science fiction, "What if . . . "

    If the story's enjoyable it's much easier to willingly suspend disbelief and let yourself think, for a few minutes at least, that a guy can shoot webs out of his wrists or death rays out of his eyeballs. We all (well, most of us) overlooked "made the Kessel run in twelve parsecs" and the explosions in space, because we thought the story behind Star Wars was so much fun. (On the other hand, if a movie otherwise stinks, the flashiest special effects aren't going to save it, and any recognizably bad science is just going to make such a movie more laughable.)
  • Bad Astronomy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xihr ( 556141 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:28PM (#6787244) Homepage
    Phil Plait has a site called Bad Astronomy [] which features all the bad astronomy, and various other forms of science, that are inappropriately represented in contemporary films, news, and television. The site is excellent, and journeys into other areas, such as debunking common myths and misunderstandings about astronomy and science in general. I'm surprised it wasn't one of the ones mentioned in the title.
  • by QuackQuack ( 550293 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @04:32PM (#6787287) Journal
    Things I learned by watching SCI-FI

    1) When hacking into any computer system, the system will tell you that you are in by flashing "ACCESS GRANTED" or something similar in HUGE letters across your screen.

    2) Any technical problem can be solved by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow (Dr. Who)

    3) Any humanoid or machine that is devoid of emotion will always somehow develop emotion.

    4) If you travel to a distant planet that you've never been to, (IE Dagobah) to see someone you've never met (Yoda), you will manage to land in just the right place. (Star Wars and others)

    5) All planets other then Earth have just one climate type (Hoth - Ice, Tatooine - Desert, Dagobah - Swamp) (Star Wars)

    6) Even if you don't have a protocol droid, you can communicate with an Alien slimeball in English, and he will understand you, and likewise you will understand his language. (Star Wars)

    7) Space Ships can travel planet to planet and can easily escape gravity, and never have to worry about burning up upon reentry.

    8) No matter unhumanlike your species, you will find Earth women attractive.
  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @05:11PM (#6787767) Homepage Journal
    . . . and sit back and relax!

    I get torqued about this kind of thing from time to time, but far less than I used to.

    Most SF movies are allegorical; they don't try or even need to get the facts absolutely straight to a) tell the story, and b) get a point across. For example, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence was chock full of silliness, but it got an important moral point across about trivializing sapient creatures. Minority Report had a big plot hole, but it was a thought-provoking allegory about how reliance on a crime-predicition technique could screw over the innocent.

    Bad Science is a problem when the story directly warns about a specific problem . . . typically, "awful warning" stories about health or environmental issues. For example, there was an utterly ludicrous TV movie about global warming a year or two ago. No one could possibly learn anything from it that might make than informed citizen.

    Stefan Jones

    It's out! []

  • Hulk isn't Sci-Fi. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Infirmo ( 449121 ) on Monday August 25, 2003 @08:10PM (#6789568)
    It is myth, with some sci-fi trappings. Star Wars is space opera. Matrix is myth and psychology. Star Trek isn't even sci fi, IMHO. It's space melodrama and morality play. Science fiction is different from these. It includes plausible extensions of technology and theoretical boundaries, and hopefully an interesting plot about people dealing with their changing world. Aliens is sci-fi, but only fails to be guilty of bad science because it doesn't bother to explain every detail. If they had tried to tell us why the Sulaco was able to make the journey to LV 426, it would have quickly gotten stupid. 2001 is sci-fi, as is A.I., as is Contact. Hulk is not sci-fi, although it does contain bad science. And yet it was a very good movie, I think.

Lend money to a bad debtor and he will hate you.