Ridley Scott’s new film ‘The Martian’ may put up at least some appearance of presenting a plausibly realistic depiction of science in its sci-fi story, but that isn’t something Hollywood often concerns itself with. In this week’s Roundtable, we look at some of the silliest “science” in science fiction movies.
I’m going to avoid the obvious here and not complain about explosions and noises in space, since almost (but not all) sci-fi films make this mistake and – let’s be honest – movies wouldn’t be half as much fun if the creators treated outer space as the vacuum it really is.
Instead, I’m going with the bad science of movies like ‘Lucy‘ and ‘Limitless‘ (and many others over the years), which continue to tell audiences that humans only use 10% of their brains. This would be semi-forgivable if it were only a minor plot point, but these movies base their entire premise on a lie. No, we actually do use all 100% of our brains… well, except maybe for the writers of these movies.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand how someone could take ‘Face/Off‘ seriously. I’m sure some folks have said that it’s satire, or camp, or some other word used to re-label something that doesn’t work, but to me the whole seamless face swap element of the story, which is the basis for the entire film, makes absolutely no sense. I just can’t get around it.
My immediate response has to be ‘Gravity‘. It’s a fun a movie and all, but the sense of scale in outer space is betrayed by the contrivance of the plot. Take the ISS and drop it into the Indian Ocean, and it would be gone in no time. It’s just a spec in relative size. As a speck, it moves incredibly fast in order to stay in exact distance from Earth in low orbit (which is way below were MIR was, where the Hubble is, where the lowest satellites are), and getting to it requires one heck of an approach to match orbits. Meanwhile, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are tooling around like bath toys. Likewise, the Soyuz and Shenzhou aren’t turn-key lifeboats. The lack of consideration for orbital distance is some ‘Wrath of Khan’-like 2D thinking, but even in 2D, most of the movie treats gravity like a cable connecting the astronauts to Earth and swinging them towards whatever other cabled orbit location they wish to go.
I was 7-years-old when ‘Superman IV‘ was released. I loved plenty of movies at that age that I now look back upon and realize they were horrible. Even back then, I knew that the science in ‘The Quest for Peace’ was utter crap. An early scene shows a strand of Superman’s hair bearing the weight of a giant metallic sphere. The single hair is supposedly so strong that it can carry an unbelievable amount, yet someone takes a regular old pair of wire cutters and snips it. But that’s not even close to being the worst offense against science in the movie. As a super nerdy science- and space-loving kid, when Nuclear Man flew to the moon with Lacy in his arms, even I knew that was total garbage. If a 7-year-old can call b.s. on a movie, then it seriously has some obvious science problems.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
An asteroid the size of Texas is hurtling towards our planet, and somehow none of the scientists the world over in ‘Armageddon‘ (or, well, anyone looking outside) manage to spot it until a few days out. Oh, but don’t sweat it. We’ll just give some oil drillers a crash course in becoming astronauts rather than teach seasoned astronauts how to drill a hole. Only these experienced folks can drill several hundred feet into a nearly 900 mile wide asteroid, which won’t actually accomplish anything, but we’ll wave some movie-magic around to pretend that it would. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that ‘Armageddon’ is ridiculous.
Chris Chiarella (Sound & Vision)
It’s hard to call “Bullshit!” on just one thing in the epically awful ‘Batman & Robin‘, truly one of the worst movies ever made, but my handiest gripe starts with the citizens of Gotham being ice-cubed by Mr. Freeze one evening. Instead of, y’know, dying from being frozen solid, they’re saved by the sunlight reflected from the other side of the world, via repositioned satellites. Let’s think about that for a moment. Even if it was possible for Batman, Robin and Batgirl to have access to the controls necessary to modify the orbit of every satellite in operation, and even if they knew what they were doing, and even if they could aim these beams of life-saving sunshine precisely onto the affected individuals… how frickin’ long would it take for 160 pounds of carbon-based ice to melt in imported daylight? By that point in the story, however, our collective IQs have been so painfully beaten down that I guess we’re not supposed to notice that the filmmakers have just given science the finger. Hmm, I wonder where they stand on global warming…?
‘Apollo 13‘ is a movie that seems to be beloved by everyone in the world but me. I just can’t get past its drippy sentimentality or Ron Howard’s ignorant disregard for even the most basic of scientific principles. Any 8th grader knows that there’s no sound in the vacuum of outer space, but the director apparently doesn’t. I can forgive fantasy movies like ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Star Trek’ when they add sound effects in space for the sake of drama, but an allegedly fact-based docudrama about the space program requires a greater semblance of verisimilitude. When the rockets in ‘Apollo 13’ make their zoom-zoom and whoooosh!! noises, I can practically see 10-year-old Ronny Howard playing in his bedroom, muttering cartoon sound effects as he holds his toy model spaceships over his head. He might as well have had Superman fly in to save the struggling astronauts at the last minute. That would hardly be any less realistic.
On the other end of the spectrum is a guilty pleasure that I enjoy despite (or perhaps because of) its brain-dead stupidity. At least ‘Timecop‘ never pretends to be a true story or an important prestige picture. It’s pure B-movie cheese. Complaining about the logic in a time travel movie (an inherently illogical genre) seems redundant, but this one is particularly moronic in how it handles the scientific aspects of the story. For one thing, our hero Jean-Claude Van Damme hops in a goofy little rocket car to travel through time, yet when he arrives at his destination he just pops out of thin air. Where did the car go? Worse, when it’s time to go back, he simply vanishes from the past and miraculously appears in the future riding in the rocket car again. What?? How did he get back in the car? This is never addressed at all in the movie.
Some readers may call me a hypocrite for disliking an acclaimed Oscar nominee like ‘Apollo 13’ while admitting that I do like the idiotic ‘Timecop’. Personally, I don’t see a contradiction. Both movies are dumb as dirt, but the latter doesn’t try to hide it and is a lot more fun.
What movie science strikes you as the most ridiculous? Tell us about it in the Comments.