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Science on the silver screen

Festooned with jiggling eyeballs, threatening skeletons, and impaled floating heads, Feo Amante's horror thriller linkurl:website;http://www.feoamante.com/ seems an unlikely place to catch up on science. But sandwiched between the "Scary Top 10" and "Big Horror," movie and science buffs alike can check out "Science Moments," short critiques of the use, or lack thereof, of science in film. In 1998, Eddie "Feo Amante" McMullen Jr. started the website as a platform for struggling horror and thrill

By | July 10, 2008

Festooned with jiggling eyeballs, threatening skeletons, and impaled floating heads, Feo Amante's horror thriller linkurl:website;http://www.feoamante.com/ seems an unlikely place to catch up on science. But sandwiched between the "Scary Top 10" and "Big Horror," movie and science buffs alike can check out "Science Moments," short critiques of the use, or lack thereof, of science in film. In 1998, Eddie "Feo Amante" McMullen Jr. started the website as a platform for struggling horror and thriller writers like himself to publish online and build name recognition. Kelly Parks, McMullen's brother, joined the fray as a movie reviewer, and his first critique was of the 1998 flick linkurl:The Faculty.;http://www.feoamante.com/Movies/DEF/faculty.html Parks found himself unable to resist mentioning a part of the film where a normal-sized human morphed into a "giant mother linkurl:alien;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/21521/ monster:" a clear violation of the Conservation of Mass. That review was the birth of the "Science Moment," a linkurl:collection;http://www.feoamante.com/Movies/science.html of about 150 critiques on the website, primarily written by Parks.
"I'm a lifelong science geek," says Parks, whose analyses range from why there can't be sound in space (tisk tisk Star Wars) to why a linkurl:virus-infected;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/54041/ zombie should die if you blast out its heart (why should you have to shoot it in the head?). Thanks to a background in aerospace engineering and an insatiable appetite for biology literature, Parks rarely finds himself lacking the requisite knowledge for a critique. But he claims to be nothing more than an "educated layman" who occasionally consults online resources. "But not Wikipedia," he adds. After ten years of "Science Moments," McMullen and Parks are experts on the science faux paus that plague movies. "There are so many movies that seem to think linkurl:evolution;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/54714/ is a mystical force that makes life forms work their way up the ladder, steadily higher until they become intelligent," Parks laments. He cites X-Men as an example. "[The narration] keeps referring to the 'next stage of evolution,' like it works to make life more advanced, more complicated," he says. "That's not the case at all." McMullen agrees, pointing to another common error; a lack of appreciation for the time it takes for evolution to occur. In linkurl:Jurassic Park,;http://www.feoamante.com/Movies/JKL/jurassic_park.html a scientist, played by Jeff Goldblum, warns his companions that the dinosaurs cannot be controlled; "The history of evolution has taught us that life will not be contained. Life breaks free. It expands to new territories." His warning comes only hours before the dinosaurs escape. "Jeff Goldblum's character keeps saying, 'Life will find a way.' By this afternoon?" McMullen wails. "Maybe if you give it a couple hundred thousand years," adds Parks. Parks says that another recurring problem with movie science is the physical impossibility of fully-functioning, linkurl:giant animals.;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/14145/ "There's all these giant insects, giant reptiles," he says, "I frequently have to invoke the linkurl:square-cube law.";http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/52865/ If a lizard suddenly grows to ten times its size (thanks to chemical radiation or some toxin), its body wouldn't work anymore, Parks notes (see his review of linkurl:THEM;http://www.feoamante.com/Movies/STU/them.html for more). McMullen interrupts his brother's description to defend linkurl:Godzilla.;http://www.feoamante.com/Movies/Godzilla/godzilla_1956.html After a few moments of rapid-fire arguing, the brothers reach a compromise: The radioactive reptile is "totally exempt from all laws of nature." Although Parks rarely finds the opportunity to applaud film science ("Maybe one movie every three years," McMullen guesses), he is quick to point out that bad science doesn't affect a movie's ranking on the website. Star Wars is a good example, he says. "The science is wrong from beginning to end--[George] Lucas doesn't know a galaxy from a hole in the ground--but he's still a great story teller." And Parks doesn't write "Science Moments" for movies like Lord of the Rings, which are fantasy from beginning to end. As long as a movie is internally consistent, he says, it's fine. Similarly, if today's science is not sophisticated enough for a movie, says Parks, a little futuristic hand-waving is OK. "Star Trek makes up technical sounding terms all the time to compensate. I have no idea what they mean," he laughs, "but at least [the writers] acknowledge the issue." So which flicks do these film buffs recommend for both scientific accuracy and entertainment value? Five Million Years to Earth (also titled linkurl:Quatermass and the Pit),;http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062168/ a 1967 British film about an alien spacecraft discovered in London, is Parks' choice. Without giving away the ending, Parks vouches that the film's references to evolution "tie in with the supernatural in a believable sci-fi way." McMullen recommends John Carpenter's 1982 linkurl:The Thing,;http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084787/ a horror/thriller in which a shape-shifting alien assumes the appearances its victims after they're dead. "It's an awesome movie," agrees Parks. "The science is just right." Photo credit: Florian Stadler
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Comments

Avatar of: Scott Freeman

Scott Freeman

Posts: 4

July 10, 2008

!!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!!:\nThere are four obvious questions that come to mind when you see Iron Man in action. My first was, ?Where are his fuel tanks?? He flies half-way around the world and back and that takes lots of reaction mass. Where is it? Answer: He doesn't use jets ? he uses repulsor beams, which constitute magical handwaving but as long is the issue is addressed I'm fine.\n\nNext question: ?Where does the power for the repulsor beams and all the other amazing technology come from?? Answer: Arc reactors. More handwaving but also kind of cool, that the power of a nuclear reactor could be reduced to a glowing, hand-held gadget.\n\nThird question: ?How can he fly level?? Answer: He can?t. Planes have wings for a reason and this is a mistake. When his propulsion system is directed backwards, thrusting him forwards, then nothing is fighting the pull of gravity (like the lift force created by wings) and he?d drop like a rock.\n\nFinal question: ?I know his suit is super-bulletproof but how does he avoid being reduced to jelly by the high acceleration from impacting the ground?? Answer: He can?t. I wish they?d done just a bit more handwaving, like mentioning that his suit included an ?arc technology powered repulsor field? that absorbs inertia. Oh well.
Avatar of: heather gleason

heather gleason

Posts: 1

October 16, 2009

The Thing is one of my favorite Sci Fi movies...It still makes me smile and freak out everytime i see it :) Good choice guys :)\nAlso I love Godzilla and I love this.....\nThe radioactive reptile is "totally exempt from all laws of nature." \n\n

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