Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

I am not a number – I’m a statistic

May 29, 2012
Number nine

Today’s post is brought to you by the number 9 (it’s my favourite)

It’s very annoying being treated impersonally, as ‘call number 18 in a queue’, or as a poorly defined Amazon customer (no I don’t want more baby toys, I only bought one for my friend). But we all exist as impersonal datapoints on many, many spreadsheets all over the place.

I’ve ranted with my friends about the strange decisions taken by insurance companies: why is insuring my car against fire and theft MORE expensive than comprehensive cover?? How is Catford classified as a flood plain?

But gradually I achieved (for me) a zen-like level of calm – I remembered that really I’m just a statistic. In this particular case, a woman in her twenties with a very old Ford Fiesta. And my friend is simply a Catford resident whose neighbours have made several claims for flooding (probably burst pipes, rather than Biblical inundations of south London). We’re all statistics. (more…)


Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow

May 21, 2012
UFO galaxy - image from Hubble Space Telescope

The UFO galaxy (NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope)

I’m soooo looking forward to seeing Prometheus, the new Alien (it’s definitely not a) prequel. I’m expecting a beautiful, scary, portentous film about the idea of human life being seeded by an alien race – I can’t wait!

But I stumbled across Men in Black on TV this weekend and I realised that some of my favourite science fiction moments come from a rather silly comedy featuring giant cockroaches and Will Smith.

Take this beautiful exchange between James Edwards (Will Smith) and Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), as Kay explains how the Men in Black exist to police the many unnoticed aliens who make Earth their home.

Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.
Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

I can’t convey the way Tommy Lee Jones delivers this onscreen, with his world-weary, cynical and yet wondering tone (watch it here). But what a great quote! “Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow” should be the tagline for the whole of science. (more…)

The sound of science

January 26, 2012
Sound waves

The sound of science?

Do you remember the strange and mysterious noise of dial-up internet? My memory of that sound is as vivid as those images that come flooding back when you smell the scent of something long-forgotten. Remembering that dial-up noise – expressed in a tweet I saw this week as ‘beep boo beeeep ejwlekl’ – takes me straight back to the 90s when we used to put up with horrifically ugly webpages that took literally seconds to load (how were we ever so patient?).

I think I got a bit overexcited about this noise at the time – when we finally got the internet at my house, I used to pick up the phone just to listen to the sound of the data streams whizzing back and forth. The image I had in my mind was something like that green symbol cascade from The Matrix.

Typing this post over my wireless broadband, I feel like some of the magic has gone (even though invisible broadband in the air is a hell of a lot more ‘magic’ than an old-fashioned cable). So I started wondering what other ‘sounds of science’ are out there – things that our children will laugh at when we’re old, and that we’ll have a hard-to-explain nostalgia for?


Wall-E: science, art and the meaning of life

January 1, 2012
Avocado plant seedling

An important discovery

The end of the year can be a bit depressing. It’s dark, grey, the holidays are nearly over and the rest of winter awaits. Luckily, this evening Wall-E has nudged me back onto the right track.

I thought I understood the message of this beautiful film about a little robot that saves the garbage-covered Earth of the future. It’s all about environmentalism, right? But then I remembered a conversation I’d had with my sister – we both go gooey-eyed at the thought of Wall-E, but for rather different reasons. Almost unconsiously we realised that Wall-E is about much more than looking after the planet. (more…)

Mammoth excitement

December 10, 2011

A slightly inaccurate but cute mammoth

The film Jurassic Park came out in 1993 when I was ten. It’s one of the few films I vividly remember seeing in the cinema – I was totally riveted. I even shed a few tears when Dr Grant and Dr Sattler finally see their first ‘real’ dinosaurs (what’s worse is that I still cry when I watch that scene).

Back then I was convinced that within my lifetime there would be cloned dinosaurs walking the Earth. I remember being impatient for this to happen, but realising that we probably weren’t quite there yet.

So I was unreasonably excited to read the news this week that scientists from Russia and Japan are planning to clone a woolly mammoth. Seriously. A mammoth. I’m sure it’s still a long way off, but THIS IS WHY SCIENCE IS COOL. (more…)

Chuck Norris vs Science: science wins

November 10, 2011

Science is impervious to nunchuks

It’s a tragic day. I have lost respect for Chuck Norris. Despite the ‘fact’ that the Big Bang only happened because Chuck Norris kicked it in the face, it appears Chuck has challenged science to a second round. But since his only weapon is the assertion that vaccines cause autism, I’m thinking science will win.  (more…)

Sending a warning 100,000 years into the future

September 27, 2011
Radiation danger sign

What would this mean to future generations?

The accident at Fukushima in Japan has made the problems of nuclear power seem much more immediate. But in reality the main issues are very very VERY longterm. Thousands of years longterm. The real question isn’t whether we should forget nuclear energy (not really an option), but what to do with nuclear waste.

Nuclear power is generally very safe, but as Jim Al-Khalili said on Horizon recently, ‘what’s so special about nuclear power is our dread of radiation’. We’re horrified by the idea of an invisible, harmful force that we can’t control. And this was exactly what fascinated me about a documentary I saw recently – Into Eternity.

If you’re wondering what the world is doing about all that nuclear waste, then this film is really worth a look. It focuses on the world’s first permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel – a deep vault cut out of solid rock. It’s called Onkalo. (more…)

Reasons to be cheerful – a Disney chameleon!

January 10, 2011

January is a pretty depressing month, but I’ve found at least one ray of sunshine. Disney’s new movie Tangled has, in the role of cute animal sidekick, a chameleon. And he’s called Pascal! Watch the video and see if you can resist him…

Chameleons are up there with some of the weirdest and most adorable animals – which makes me wonder why Disney never thought of this before. We’ve had cute robots in Wall-E, a cute crab in The Little Mermaid, and even a cute firefly in The Princess and the Frog.

Pascal seems quite fast and feisty compared to real chameleons – I think a big part of their charm is their worried expression and the way they often move as if they’re very old and infirm. And their crazy turret-mounted eyes, swivelling around in different directions, also give them an endearingly nervous look.

By steffen (fRedi); andreas (andi.vs.zf) (originally posted to Flickr as the modern pet) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By steffen (fRedi); andreas (andi.vs.zf) (originally posted to Flickr as the modern pet)

But can chameleons growl like Pascal? Or is this a special Disney characteristic? Judging by posts on, this isn’t normal. Pascal might even have a respiratory infection if he was doing this in real life. But every Disney sidekick needs a voice, and it’s great to see these lovely little reptiles getting some fame!

Do you believe in magic?

August 11, 2010

I love this picture. But it's not the 'real' thing...

Would you say you’re superstitious? Or that you have magical beliefs?

a)      Of course not!

b)      Maybe a bit, but not really

c)       Only on Friday the 13th!

I would want to answer (a) to that question – but I’d have to admit that I was lying. It’s not as if I believe in fairies (or even God), but I still touch wood and wish people luck. I even read a horoscope every now and then (just for fun, I tell myself).

But there are far more unconscious, unquestioned magical beliefs than this. I really did think I was a fairly rational person until I heard a lecture by Dr Bruce Hood, at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre. He asked the married people in the audience a simple question – would you exchange your wedding ring for an exact replica?

Of course not, we all thought (whether we were married or single). What a stupid question. But the next one left us stumped. Why not? (more…)

Bad science at the movies: fun for all the family

March 9, 2010
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). (more…)