Hollywood Science: Special Effects -The Best & Worst
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August 28, 2007

Hollywood Science: Special Effects -The Best & Worst

2001 Costas Efthimiou, a physics professor at the University of Central Florida has had it with all the ridiculous physics blunders running rampant in cinema.

Remember the scene in Spiderman where the Green Goblin is standing atop a bridge holding M.J. in one hand and a rail car filled with passengers in the other?

Efthimiou realizes it's “just a movie”, but it still really irritates him that the Green Goblin holds the two objects as if M.J. and the train are the same weight (an inference I’m sure Kirsten Dunst doesn’t appreciate). 

"You are going to move toward the force that is stronger," he said. "In the movie, it shows the Green Goblin standing still. That's not possible."

Personal annoyances aside, Efthimiou contends that there is a more serious reason for Hollywood to stop making movies with wildly distorted science concepts. He contends that these inaccuracies are making viewers dumber.

"Some people really do believe a bus traveling 70 mph can clear a 50-foot gap in a freeway, as depicted in the movie Speed," notes Efthimiou.

Perhaps common sense should dictate that people know the stunts in movies are completely fake and implausible, but the professors say that’s unfortunately not the case.

“Students come here, and they don’t have any basic understanding of science,” he said. “Sure, people say everyone knows the movies are not real, but my experience is many of the students believe what they see on the screen.”

According to the the Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 report, only about one-third of all students tested were proficient in science. Like many scientists across the United States, Efthimiou believes that if science and math education doesn’t improve, society will eventually pay the price.

Physics major Caroline Caplan, offers a less serious reason for making more realistic movies. She says she personally enjoys a flick more when the events depicted are theoretically realistic.

"I think the filmmakers should research what the film is about," she said. "The way filmmakers depict things, physics is scary—it makes the general public afraid [that] all physics is destructive."

"I think the filmmakers should research what the film is about," she said. "The way filmmakers depict things, physics is scary—it makes the general public afraid [that] all physics is destructive."

But Hollywood doesn’t seem to care how dumb or misinformed films make us—at least not as long as we’re entertained in the meantime. Bob Jones, an associate professor of film at UCF, responded to Efthimiou's concerns with, "These are fiction films. Not documentaries. Tell these guys to get a life."

Even so, Efthimiou believes filmmakers should be more responsible in how they contribute to a culture that fears and misinterprets real science. Here are a few of his opinions on the accuracy of movies' depictions of the physical universe.

The Absolute Worst:

"The Core," 2003, starring Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank. "The worst ever."

"Armageddon," 1998, starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Ben Affleck.

The Best Ever:

"2001: A Space Odyssey," 1968, directed by Stanley Kubrick. "No dialog. The students hate it. Myself, I don't like it. However, Kubrick had a lot of advisers."

"Contact," 1997, Jodie Foster and Matt McConaughey. "Carl Sagan wrote the novel. Everything is right."

At Least They Tried:

"Day After Tomorrow," 2004, starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. "It's about global warming, so it has a nice goal. On the other hand, the science is not that good."

"Deep Impact," 1998, starring Robert Duval, Tea Leoni and Morgan Freeman. "This is an alternative version of 'Armageddon.' Both movies were released at the same time; 'Deep Impact,' has better science. Unfortunately, the students love 'Armageddon.' They don't like 'Deep Impact.'

I suppose that’s why Hollywood keeps pumping out the mind-numbing nonsense we’ve come to know and love. Sure, we’re all a little bit dumber for having watched Bruce Willis goofing around on an asteroid cracking jokes, but hey, the man gave his life to save us from that asteroid—doesn’t that call for a little respect?

Posted by Rebecca Sato

Related Galaxy posts:

James Cameron & Arthur C Clarke on 2001 A Space Odyssey

Links:

http://news.ucf.edu/UCFnews/index?page=article&id=002400412e120743011469b630a7007ffe

www.arxiv.org/abs/0707.1167

http://jupiterscientific.org/sciinfo/armageddon.html

http://jpl.nasa.gov/news/profiles/williams/williams_index.html

Comments

Plus the world is once again plunging ever deeper into religious war such as the extremists of the Middle East believed. In the United States the Christians pushed ever harder for their teaching of creation to be included inside the classrooms. As you all already know Christians do not like Darwinism, and so on... According to the fact that I read, I believe that more peoples of the world of today take religions way more serious than the sciences that they read, study, and learned in the classrooms. Hollywood can only make this matter get worst.

Hollywood has a history of sacrificing scientific accuracy for fancy, socko, special effects. " 2001 " was fairly accurate, except for the hallucinatory " light - trip " sequence toward the end where Dave Bowman finds himself in a Louis XV suite. If most sci - fi movies spent time explaining how a space ship / starship could travel from point A to point B, or how a transporter, Stargate, etc, worked, most movies would be twice their current length. I liked the movie " Stargate ", but the nuts & bolts of how a Stargate worked weren't touched on until the " SG - 1 " series.
Most movies & series explain scientic inaccuracies in " Nit - Pickers Guides " & similar publications.

" Carl Sagan wrote the novel ( Contact, 1997 ) so everything is right ". O - Kay.... " Contact " was no more & no less fanciful than " 2001 ", " 2010 ", " Blade Runner ", " Planet of the Apes ", " I Am Legend ", & several others. I just had to mention the exception of " Contact ", because Dr. Sagan was responsible for the novel, & I believe he was a consultant.


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