Weekend Roundtable: Weird Science

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.

Shannon Nutt

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.

Mike Attebery

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.

Brian Hoss

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.

Luke Hickman

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…?

Josh Zyber

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.

16 comments

  1. photogdave

    Back To The Future!
    How can they expect us to believe a time machine could be made out of a DeLorean?
    A Dodge Caravan, I could believe…

  2. Chris B

    Uh Interstellar? We were always taught a black hole crushes anything that enters it (even particles of light), but somehow Matthew “alright, alright, alright” Mconaghey (or however the fuck you spell it) is able to fly into one with nary a scratch! The ridiculous science continues but I’ll stop here to prevent spoilers…

  3. Gareth C.

    Although I can excuse it in stupid comic book movies like the The Incredible Hulk and The Avengers, I hate when a lifeform violates the the conservation of mass.

    It’s my only gripe against Ridley Scott’s Alien. The creature grows from a dildo with teeth to a man-sized monster between its first and second kill. Conceivably in the time the creature is missing it could have gorged on the food stores of the Nostromo, but that is never offered as an explanation.

    Probably not a spoiler:
    Scott doubled down on this non-science in the underwhelming prequel Prometheus by showing the creature actually growing on screen.

  4. Jon

    The Core has some classic bad science. Gotta love those mountain sized diamonds that supposedly float in the ‘liquid’ (although it really isn’t) mantle of the Earth.

  5. Bolo

    I’d say the ‘Tron’ movies push a pretty silly sci-fi device on the audience by having real humans physically going in and out of videogames instead of just a Matrix-style plug into a virtual reality. The second one goes even sillier with a videogame bad guy wanting to invade the real world. They also throw in a new species of digital being that was not programmed by man, but indigenous to the digital world (who just happens to look like a cute human girl in a fetish outfit). None of this gets in the way of me enjoying ‘Tron 2’.

    My general feelings on movie science are that the less you try to explain it, the better it works. During that last ‘Godzilla’ movie they go into this whole scene where Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe give us a movie science lecture about how the kaijus live underground and where they get their nutrition and I was shaking my head and saying “Just stop! Please!”

  6. charles contreras

    For this discussion, I would’ve suggested the original Planet of The Apes films and how far fetched the idea would be that apes would evolve and dominate over man. However, considering what apes are doing these days as man is attempting to find out their skills through scientific research, maybe domination by apes isn’t so far fetched after all, and maybe sooner than we think. And how would that look on your Facebook profile?

  7. Timcharger

    Josh, Apollo 13’s space sound effects is 1 gripe. Hardly making it
    “dumb as dirt.” I put space sound effects in the category like how
    all space aliens speak English. American English to be precise.
    Any intelligent alien visiting Earth, if using logical odds, would arrive
    and attempt to speak Chinese or Spanish before trying English. So
    I just accept that’s what popular film making is. Space sound
    effects are the norm. English speaking space aliens are the norm.

      • CC

        But, really? It is dramatic liscense. If the rocket boosters made no sound, it would look silly. And why not bitch about the fact that there could not possibly be a film crew there to film this. The whole damn movie is fake!

  8. Csm101

    Precrime. I enjoy Minoriy Report (the movie), but I have alot of trouble suspending disbelief in the whole premise. It seems really far fetched for all the trouble they went through to make it look like a believable future. I understand the themes of it, but getting past the crime prediction is really hard. It seems more fantasy than sci-fi.

  9. Is ‘Batman & Robin’ a science fiction movie, Chris Chiarella? I mean, the movie’s dumb and stupid and whatnot, but it’s also a comic book movie. That’s one genre that has a lot of room for suspension of disbelief – more than alleged science fiction efforts. If we were to judge all comic book movies on their craptacular use of science, I’d say none would ever pass the test. ‘Spider-Man’? There’s no such thing a turning into a spider after being bitten by one.

    Right?

  10. Thulsadoom

    I’m going to have to go with Interstellar… when you’re trying to be a real hard science fiction film like that, and almost EVERYTHING in it is just crammed with idiocy… That was one big facepalm of a movie, that pi**ed me off no end, for all the praise it got. I’m not even going to go into the bad science (or plotting, for that matter) Or I’ll end up ranting for the next six hours. 🙂

    The other recent film that annoyed me for poor logic was Ex-Machina. Sure, it stumbled in the same places as many other good movies about AI, but those other movies were either a) popcorn fun or b) making the best assumptions they could at the time they were made. Ex-Machina made out it was a thoughtful intelligent film about AI, and had a single obligatory conversation about Turing to point to and go ‘oooh, look how clever we are!’ From the perspective of a programmer fascinated by AI, it was a stunningly stupid and illogical film.

    • CC

      Check me if I’m wrong- but Interstellar had a famous hardcore astrophysicist professor as a collaborator.
      I think they covered their bases.

      • Thulsadoom

        Have you watched Interstellar? 😉 No offence, but a lot of films have experts dragged in to help make things more believable and accurate, then go away and ignore them, but still quote them so they can claim to be ‘realistic’ or ‘accurate’.

        From everything I read, the astrophysicists they roped in were more involved in the accurate visual portrayal of the Black Hole, and not much else. It doesn’t take a physics degree to see the amount of hideously bad science in Interstellar, with almost EVERYTHING else.

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