Monday, May 12, 2008

Science in the Movies: Science Fiction that Gets it Right?

Michael Marshall at New Scientist has picked out five science fiction movies that "contain some accurate, plausible science. They may not be completely realistic, but they get it right when it matters most." Three of their five choices are based on the biological sciences:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) makes the list for its depiction of how memory is stored.
Sensibly, the film depicts memory as essentially a network of links. In its frenetic second half, Joel is asleep while the technicians "operate" on his mind. We follow as he careens from recent memories of his relationship to those of his earliest childhood.

(1979) gets a thumb up for its depiction of the alien's life cycle, despite it's fantastic growth rate.
Every element of the life cycle can be found in nature, variously in parasites, robber wasps and social insects. Much of the film's suspense comes from the filmmakers' decision to let events unfold without too much explanation – the viewer has to piece the life cycle together for themselves.

Perennial favorite Gattaca (1997) is included for its "grimly plausible vision of a society dominated by genetic prejudice."

The other two on the list are 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), for its depiction of space travel and Solaris (1972, 2002) for its "portrayal of the limits of science and of human understanding."

The great thing about all these movies is not just that (at least some) of the science they depict is plausible, but that they are entertaining. There is no reason why the science has to be awful to make a good movie.

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  1. "There is no reason why the science has to be awful to make a good movie."
    Quite right,Peggy,sf movies must come
    out of the darkness of horror and war themes so often portrayed to woo more audience.
    But scenario is changing fast as serious sf movie lovers are now coming up...

  2. Anonymous10:22 AM

    Doesn't the Alien(s) series loose some points for having sound in outer space? On the other hand, everyone may have finally just thrown up their hands on that one. Maybe I only even notice because I did a paper on the sound design for 2001 when I was in film school.

  3. Most SF movies set in space seem to have that problem with sound. At least the biology wasn't too crap - although the sequels to the series, particularly the most recent Alien v. Predator movie - fail on that account too.


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