Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Worst 5 Science Movies

So far, we've talked about science in the film and given some examples of what good science movies look like. Now for the fun part. What differentiates the good films from the bad is simply effort. The good films take a few minutes to think about the universe that they inhabit and make an effort to ponder the implications of their ideas. The bad films have gorilla human hybrids and super giant diamonds in the Earth's crust.

Congo. The movie involves gorilla/human hybrids. Gorilla… Human… hybrids. That’s right. You heard me. I mean, you probably don’t want to think about how these Humorillas were made but apparently they exist somewhere in Africa. But don’t worry, they have a purpose, which is to guard the magical blue diamonds, which can be used to make super lasers. Oh, and the characters eventually make diamond based Humorilla killing super lasers. I don’t think we need to know anything else.

The Day after Tomorrow. You know it’s a bad sign when NASA (who, let’s be honest, could probably use a publicity bump) publicly disavows a movie. So what’s wrong? For one thing, it would require most of Antarctica to melt in order to submerge New York City to the level it is in the movie. If all the rays of the sun were directed at the South Pole, its ice would melt in about two and half years. Naturally, in the movie, this occurs in a couple of days. Duke University paleoclimatologist William Hyde said it best, "This movie is to climate science as Frankenstein is to heart transplant surgery."

Outbreak. While everyone loves this movie, (I do too) there is a glaringly bad science created hole in the plot. Ok, 2 holes. 1. No virus this deadly, with this accelerated a life cycle, would survive for long, because it would burn through its food supply (us) far quicker than is sustainable. Even the Spanish flu of 1918 which killed between 50 and 100 million people spotted you a couple weeks before you died. 2. You can’t make a vaccine or a cure for a disease this deadly in field lab in about 20 minutes. I don’t care if you have the outbreak monkey’s blood. It's fair to say that vaccines cannot be produced in less time than it takes to watch an episode of The Simpsons. Great movie. Bad science.

The Core. It’s not original to say this movie is terrible. It’s also not original to say that the science in this movie is somewhere below sub-moronic. However, it’s also not original to say that ice cream is good, but that doesn’t make it any less true. A list of my personal favorite scientific nonsense from this piece of utter dreck…
  • The core of the earth stops spinning. AND THIS IS KEPT A SECRET??? Now, I am no physicist, but I’m fairly certain that something like this might show up with simple science equipment like, you know, a compass.
  • We’re all going to die because when the core stops spinning we’ll lose Earth’s magnetic field which means that we’ll be exposed to deadly microwave radiation that will cook us all TO DEATH! Leaving aside everything else, try deflecting radiation with a magnet. I’ll wait. Oh wait, no I won’t, because it doesn’t work and I’ll have to wait forever.
  • The solution is of course blow up nuclear weapons inside the core. No, really, that’s the solution. So a couple of nuclear weapons (which couldn’t possibly produce enough energy) will hit the core and just start it spinning? Is it like a reset button?
  • The ship which will of course tunnel to the center of the earth with movie magic lasers and somehow use MRI TO STEER A SHIP THROUGH SOLID ROCK.
  • They’re in radio contact with the surface. While several thousand miles deep into the center of the earth. My cell phone barely works in the basement.
  • At one point the ship runs into a “giant diamond” in the middle of the earth
  • One of the scientists handles a plutonium fuel rod from an active reactor without a helmet to minimal consequences.
Oh, and it is 2+ hours long. Enjoy.

Look, it is just not that hard to include halfway competent science in a movie. Just a little bit of attention to detail is really all that separates Gattaca from The Core. Ok, there are a lot of things that separate Gattaca from The Core, but most of that has to do with plot, direction, acting and cinematography. The point is that when the effort is made, movies can respect science and still be entertaining and futuristic. Or they can steer a train through solid rock with lasers and an MRI.

Other great discussions of science and culture can be found at:
Bad Science
Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics
USA Today article on Science in Film

This is Part 3 in the New Voices series on Science in the Movies.
Part 1 - Science in Film
Part 2 - Top 5 Science Movies


  1. You're not the only one who thought The Core was terrible:

  2. That was only four movies