Bad science at the movies: fun for all the family

spaceship image

That rocket's way too big!

I love films with a bit of science. Especially if it’s really, really silly science. So I’m a bit worried about the recent news that scientists in America are advising film-makers to break just one law of physics per movie. That’s no fun for nerds who adore spotting mistakes and pointing them out to everyone else.

Professor of physics Sidney Perkowitz is behind the new guidelines. He’s a member of the Science & Entertainment Exchange, an offshoot of the National Academy of Sciences in the US. The Exchange “provides entertainment industry professionals with access to top scientists and engineers to help bring the reality of cutting-edge science to creative and engaging storylines”.

Sadly the ‘reality of cutting-edge science’ can sometimes be a bit underwhelming, so I thought I’d make a list of my top 10 stupid science movie moments that definitely add a little something (even if it’s just unintentional comedy).

  1. Superman: Turning back time by reversing the rotation of the Earth – Superman romantically does this to save Lois Lane’s life. But then he is Superman… maybe he knows something we don’t.
  2. Alien: ‘molecular acid’ supposedly this runs through the alien’s veins in Ridley Scott’s awesome film. I’m not sure what it is but it sounds cool. And sometimes that’s all you need.
  3. Any film where something loudly explodes in space: Sure, you wouldn’t actually hear it. But at least they got this right in the tag line for Alien: ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’.
  4. Star Trek movies: The stars blurring as they go into warp drive. Probably unlikely that it would look like this even if you could travel faster than the speed of light. But I like it because you can set your screensaver to ‘Starfield’ and pretend you’re on the Enterprise.
  5. Star Wars: ‘You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?… It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.’ So says Han Solo, who really should know that the parsec is a measure of distance, not time. But since he’s such a charmer I’ll forgive him. And apparently he wasn’t wrong, just misinterpreted, according to Wookieepedia. Unfortunately I can’t let the grammatical error go (it’s ‘fewer’, Han!!)
  6. Signs: This is a really terrible film, but it is quite comforting to know that when extremely technologically advanced aliens invade Earth they can be defeated by being shut behind a door. Tricky things, doorknobs…
  7. Waterworld: Kevin Costner’s gills may be evolutionarily very unlikely, but they’re just so cool! Shame he didn’t evolve to act better.
  8. Any film with big fiery explosions (often Bruce Willis is involved in some way): “That’s a petrol explosion!” shouts my dad every time something that’s not filled with petrol is blown up in a ball of flames. Apparently it’s inaccurate or something… No, I don’t think Bruce Willis cares either.
  9. Speed: I’m sure the fiery explosions come in at some point, but my favourite bit is where the bus manages to leap across a huge hole in the raised section of road it’s driving along. Yes, we’ve all shouted ‘that would never happen!’ at the screen, but if it didn’t then Keanu and Sandra Bullock would never get together!
  10. Species: This film features an ‘empath’, someone who can feel the emotional residue left behind by a major event. Building on the stupidity of that particular concept, he proves his worth to the audience by walking into a small room containing an eviscerated body, and saying ‘something bad happened here’. Thank god for experts, eh?
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