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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Searching for realism in popular culture

I have written before that one of my pet peeves is the woefully inaccurate portrayal of lawyers and the legal system in popular culture, to which others have pointed out that the problem is one of having specialized knowledge. Thus, physicists are similarly likely to be bothered by gravity on the Starship Enterprise.

On that note: After the jump is a handy chart evaluating major sci-fi films are their scientific accuracy (or lack thereof). Star Wars and The Last Starfighter get it most wrong; Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff get it most right.





Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 28, 2010 at 07:03 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


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Even from a hard science perspective, some of the criticisms aren't well founded in the context of the premises of the science fiction works. Consider "easy interbreeding between humans and aliens," a ding for the Stargate and Aliens movies.

In the Stargate movies, the ancient astronaut premise of the movie is that the "aliens" have a common ancestry as subspecies of homo sapiens. In the "Aliens" movies, "interbreeding" is something of a misnomer for the practice of using the bodies of prey as host incubator for their eggs, a bit like some wasps do in real world biology.

The "All Planets Have Earth Gravity" objection likewise seems a bit misplaced when the actual fictional premise is that all planets that humans decide to settle on in a society where faster than light travel exists have Earth gravity, a quite plausible selection criteron.

The objection to "Sounds in Space" in contact is also off base. Computers translate radio waves from space into sound at first, and the "space" in which sound appears at the end of the movie is more inner space than physical space-time, and communication with the aliens (at first anyway) turns out to be less than easy, requiring sophisticated efforts to decipher their code.

Many of the conventions, of course, are like legal fictions, simply tropes associated with the conventions of the genre and not at the heart of the stories that the movies are trying to tell, which often are really about issues on Earth told via allegory.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Dec 31, 2010 5:33:36 PM

Yeah, Apollo 13 & The Right Stuff are sci-nonfi.

Posted by: anymouse | Dec 29, 2010 12:30:39 PM

Bit odd to put Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff on a list of sci-fi movies since they aren't sci-fi, they're dramatized versions of historical events.

Posted by: Patrick | Dec 29, 2010 12:45:58 AM

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