The Appliance of Science

Posted: 9 March 2014

Putting the science into science fiction
Putting the science into science fiction

“Fiction stimulates science as it points to a future we should strive for” – Siddhartha Srinivasa. 

How much science is there in science fiction these days?

When working on sci-fi stories many moons ago, the attention would usually stay on the drama, before worrying about the scientific subtleties later. Yet watching some prominent movies in the genre, it looks like nobody else bothered to research the basic laws of frizbees physics either!

As these words are being meticulously crafted, the reboot of Cosmos is about to be aired. The original, with Carl Sagan, is fondly remembered as such a masterly blend of enlightening education and engaging entertainment. Its knowledgable and charming host has sadly departed, so it would be difficult to find a personality strong and smart enough to take his place. Hopefully, a new generation of scientists can be inspired by this venture to advance our knowledge further.

Thre are various movies praised by scientists for their effectiveness at presenting science in a good light, such as: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Andromeda Strain (1971) and Blade Runner (1982).

Nevertheless, there are those celluloid offerings which can only be the work of dreamers, bereft of any cosmological concerns or, for that matter, devoid of any essential logic. 

Some more gravity in sci-fi movies would be nice
Some more gravity in sci-fi movies would be nice

“Some cause must have created all this, but what caused that cause?” – Dr Hans Reinhardt.  

The very first movie that Bradscribe watched at the cinema was The Black Hole, Disney’s first jump onto the Star Wars bandwagon. At such a young and impressionable age, it seemed like a mesmerising romp with a big spaceship, a coterie of droids large and small, and that gargantuan terror itself: a perpetually swirling masterpiece of late-’70s visual effects.

Unfortunately, the benefit of hindsight and acquired cosmological knowledge has put this old fave under scrutiny. Everyone can walk, run and fire blasters, even when the integrity of the USS Cygnus is breached, even blasted open! Let’s face it, grown accustomed to stock footage of real astronauts free-floating inside the orbiting ISS, how can people in any space movie still stick to the floor when their spacecraft is literally breaking up? Considering this year’s Best Picture is entitled: Gravity, let’s have some more of it!

And how is everyone all able to breathe? Honestly!

What about that Black HoleV.I.N.CENT and his human buddies get sucked in, swirled around a tad, then spat out, apparently unscathed – a likely story!

The Core (2003) is often included in Most Implausible Sci-Fi Movies lists, but then, it is defeated at the outset by the absurd Earth-stopped-rotating premise. Loved Stanley Tucci’s performance, although that doesn’t defend its multitude of mistakes. For instance, when a colossal diamond breaches the hull of their amazing tunnelling machine, the crew complain how hot it’s getting. Ha! Most likely, magma would flood in and melt them all within seconds. The End. 

Probably the most cringe-inducing of these accursed misfires is Armageddon (1998) in which the implausibilities are too numerous and imbecilic to dissect individually here, so we’ll just move on…

Dark and cramped: Alien helped give a more realistic sci-fi view
Dark and cramped: Alien helped give a more realistic sci-fi view

“… A future where space has become part of the industrial fabric. It will be a commonplace working environment, sometimes boring, sometimes dangerous, like an offshore oil-rig – not an exotic lab” – Tom Jones (the astronaut).

One of the top sci-fi films highly regarded amongst the scientific community is Alien (1979).

Most significantly, the commercial towing spaceship Nostromo is slow, dark, cramped and prone to tech glitches, most unlike the zippy lightspeed spacecraft of more fanciful interstellar fare.

And it’s gratifying to see the three members of the landing-party trudge around in bulky, cumbersome spacesuits, rather than be “beamed” down in nothing more than an ill-fitting pair of pyjamas and combat boots to a planet with a miraculously breathable atmosphere…

But the Alien itself, albeit seen for the most part in fleeting glimpses, is not only a wonder of conceptual design, brought brilliantly to realisation by Swiss surrealist: H. R. Giger, but, as any bioengineering researcher will tell you, its xenomorph life-cycle is apparently derived from parasitic wasps on Earth.

Here and there, someone deems creative licence necessary to enhance the science in science fiction movies.

Somehow, methinks Carl Sagan would definitely not have approved.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Appliance of Science

  1. Cinema exists to project our dreams. Science-fiction cinema exists to project our most creative dreams—time-travel, alternate worlds, expanded consciousness, and more. That’s why we’re science-fiction maniacs.Matrix, terminator, star wars, ET, Solaris, Gravity and so on being some of my favorites in this genre.

    • Science fiction is such a great genre because the possibilities are endless. You’ve got some v good faves there! For its 30th Anniversary, am working on a blog about The Terminator – will let u know when it’s posted! Thanks for your Comment.

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