Graphic: Bad Science in Movies. Credit: Io9
Graphic: Bad Science in Movies. Credit: Io9

Science

Bad Science in Movies

28 Dec , 2010 by

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If you’re finding the time to watch a few movies during the holidays, you might want to make your choices based on this “report card” put together by the website io9 a while back. They rated 18 movies based on how many laws of physics they mangled. Star Trek is not included just because there is too much of it (bad science and movies!) to fit all in one graphic.


Hat tip to Nate!

By  -        
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.


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Question
Member
Question
December 28, 2010 2:28 PM

It’s always disappointing to see how many of them use sound in space, although I do accept sound when the camera (and viewer) is passing through some sort of medium, such as the thrusters of some giant ship. It rarely fades in the correct fashion as we exit the medium.

In regards to “2001: A Space Odyssey”, there has actually been some controversy in the Nerd World as to the scene where Dave is in the vacuum. Some claim that the representation is somewhat accurate, based on a number of factors. Others claim that it’s completely unrealistic.

lookingbeyond
Member
lookingbeyond
December 28, 2010 2:49 PM

Well, movies will be movies. (i.e: Escape from reality) grin

But i’ve always wondered about the “Nearby Asteroids aren’t drawn close by gravity” in real life situations.
Would a hypothetical spaceship, say the size and mass of 2 large navy battleships combined, draw an asteroid towards it due to gravity? Is there a threshold of mass to make this happen?

Niolator
Member
Niolator
December 28, 2010 4:18 PM

I don´t know if I agree on faster than light travel is being bad science as it isn´t proven to be impossible.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
December 28, 2010 4:36 PM

Faster than light travel devices are known to be impossible in the same way that perpetual motion devices are, they would break physics in a bad way (relativity vs thermodynamics) and none has been observed.

For some arguments, ftl would make:
– relativity break down, so physics breaks down
– the light cone of gauge theories (general physics theories) unstable, so physics breaks down
– time travel possible, so the algorithmic tower of computer science breaks down by way of using time travel of data to solve any problem (which in turn breaks physics)

TonyInTsv
Member
TonyInTsv
December 28, 2010 6:56 PM

It should be noted “Physics as we know it”. There are all sorts of ways to get around the current constraints of physics, some of which are part of serious investigations. Star Trek uses what is essentially an extra dimension, aka Sub-space, where traditional physics don’t apply.

Aspleme
Member
Aspleme
December 30, 2010 3:47 AM

It should be noted that FTL only interferes with relativity when it is in normal space. FTL travel using currently unknown ‘levels’ of space (subspace, hyperspace), or folded space technologies are actually NOT defied by current physics… merely improbable.

Furthermore, physics theories have been changed before, based off new observations… it doesn’t break physics if we have to change them again.
As for your last comment relating to NP-Complete problems… There is nothing about it that has any credence. It doesn’t have any impact on physics… it merely relates to problem complexity and the time it takes to solve a problem. A computer solving a problem faster doesn’t break physics… it only breaks encryption and redefines cryptanalysis.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
December 28, 2010 4:53 PM
Oh, I didn’t see that “proven” at the first read. Well, perpetual motion devices are rejected in as much as thermodynamics is accepted by testing at some ludicrous certainty at this time. The same goes for faster than light devices, rejected by having to accept relativity to high certainty. You can’t actually prove anything outside of math. Which is a good thing, because math can be consistent but not complete (or vice versa) by way of Gödel’s theorems on axiom systems. But physics must be able to be both on observations, which is accomplished by way of testing. [You can’t always test of course, but the assumption is that if you can observe something it is due to… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
December 28, 2010 8:58 PM
The Alcubeirre warp drive is a solution to the Einstein field equation. The problem is that the energy E = T^{00} < 0 for the matter-field source of the spacetime. This is shared by related solutions, such as wormholes. The problem is that eigenvalues of the quantum field are not bounded below, which results in a UV catastrophe. A ladder of infinite states decending to -infinity means there exists a gush of infinite energy from this quantum field source. That is clearly a disaster or something we don't want in physics. Also warp drives and related spacetimes violate the laws of thermodynamics. These are not considered as a result to be very physically realistic. Quantum gravity will end… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
December 28, 2010 4:22 PM
Unfortunately there is bad science in the “bad science” lists. Mostly because they don’t accept suspension of disbelief (SOD) inherent in fiction, but also because they accept suspension of tested science inherent in bad science. The movie view with its cuts isn’t what a real person would see for a general example. As for many scifis one could have, and indeed is IIRC told by its canon (aka suggested world view) sounds in space ships when diverse fields and weapons rattle it. The suggestion that a “camera observer” wouldn’t be a “microphone observer” as well (not necessarily in the same position) is a pet peeve of mine. Poor SODs! Speaking of world views, I’m confused by the Stargate… Read more »
Aspleme
Member
Aspleme
December 30, 2010 3:52 AM

Wormholes have long been a part of actual physics. Einstein’s theories not only allow them, but actually imply them. This is not to say that stable macro wormholes shown that appear in science fiction are possible… merely that the underlying effect is possible.

William928
Member
William928
December 28, 2010 4:33 PM

Having seen 10 of the films listed here, including Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff, I’d have to agree with the assessment that only Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff adhered to proper science and physics. However, as lookingbeyond said, they are movies, and in some respects, an escape from reality.

Manu
Member
Manu
December 28, 2010 5:17 PM
Although I’ve seen these films a loooong time ago, I’m a bit surprised about some items for 2001 and Solaris. 2001: “slow motion in zero-g” Was it that much worse than in ISS footage? it seems to me real-life astronauts move rather slowly, out of care for unwanted consequences of inertia. Solaris: “all planets have Earth-g” and “one climate planet-wide” But there’s only one planet in that movie (aside Earth), and all the action happens inside a floating station: there’s not much climate shown at all and supposedly in one spot only. And there’s nothing wrong with that planet being Earth-similar in many respects, for it to have a global ocean. Still, I’m very happy Tarkovsky made it… Read more »
JLGuagliardo
Member
JLGuagliardo
December 28, 2010 5:58 PM

I have observed problems with many of the listed movies but one my main objections to many movies in genre is not listed. In some movies the spacecraft have “engines” that obviously would provide thrust vectors which are not aligned with or behind the centers of mass of the vehicles. Such a craft would have a tendency spin around when the engines were fired or would need some sort of massive attitude thrusters to correct for the misaligned main engines. I think this spacecraft design comes from trying to make futuristic spacecraft look like 1950’s automobiles.

Quasy
Member
Quasy
December 28, 2010 6:36 PM

And no mention of Marooned ?!?!?!
What kind of space enthusiast’s movie list is this anyway? sad((

TonyInTsv
Member
TonyInTsv
December 28, 2010 6:38 PM
Question how is a laser a “faster than light weapon”? Laser is light and therefore lightspeed. Also if the spacecraft is capable of faster than light travel, surely it is capable of dodging a faster than light weapon. (remember in we are talking about Fiction here) PS. Where are the StarTrek movies in the list? PPS. What is the circumstances used to decide “sound in a Space” Several of the listings where there is “sound in space” the person “hearing” the sound is touching or attached to a solid object. Vibrations throught the solid object cause the air molecules in the healmet/spacesuit to vibrate creating the seaming situation of sound in space. Eg. Space Cowboys. The PAM’s on… Read more »
Jon Voisey
Member
December 29, 2010 11:10 AM

@Tony: Regarding vacuum effects – There have been numerous experiments and incidents relating to vacuum effects and explosive decompression in the literature. During the gearing up for the Apollo missions, an extensive investigation was conducted involving animals. Additionally, several accidents occurred while testing space suits in vacuum chambers with humans.

Here’s an excellent review of the field:
Emanuel M. Roth, Rapid (Explosive) Decompression Emergencies in Pressure-Suited Subjects, NASA CR-1223, November 1968.

Quasy
Member
Quasy
December 28, 2010 7:07 PM

Are you kidding? Armageddon receives the same bad science rating as Mission to Mars or Deep Impact? This is one of the worst bad science movie lists I’ve seen (the criteria are far from relevant for space related movies)…

lars
Member
lars
December 28, 2010 7:43 PM

“Dodging faster-than-light weapons (e.g., lasers)”

LOL , lasers aren’t ‘faster than light’, they are light !
[a little ‘bad science’ in the bad science check list ! lol]

How about a little ‘bad science’ checklist for Mainstream Astrophysics:
Like:
Black Holes
Magnetic Reconnection
Frozen-in Magnetic Fields
The Big Bang
an Expanding Universe
Redshift being caused by recessional velocity alone

Mainstream Astrophysics – Guilty on all counts of bad science in the above list.

The Null Dragon
Member
The Null Dragon
December 28, 2010 8:08 PM
You know.. I was always amazed by all this It is science FICTION, it is suppose to be entertaining escapism. If we wish science FACTs (well theories anyway) then lets all sit in a Physics class and listen. Shakespeare, Homer, and other greats wrote plays and literature that strayed from “facts” Historical drama versus historical facts. Oh, I do seem to remember that NASA was contacted on the effects of vacuum for “2001: A Space Odyssey” so the depiction should be accurate. Where did the info come from that it was not? Finally, where oh where have you ever heard a music sound track following you as you go about your daily business?
ProfMOZ
Member
ProfMOZ
December 29, 2010 12:07 AM
you are right on When lecturing I never heard music in the background, with the exception of someone’s mobile phone going of with some tune, haha. In other words, we cannot just this argument about the scientific realism of movies. Movies are mostly the result of one ore another form of inspiration, either by a real event, or by applying creativity based on experience. God gave us a mind capable of imagination, and ALL imagination has some root in realism. There is so much science cannot prove, so many unanswered questions and so much to learn, including the possibility that there is more than one reality. God bless you all. As AE said, “Imagination is more important than… Read more »
Captain_Mal
Member
Captain_Mal
December 28, 2010 8:18 PM

Uh, the planets in “Serenity” had very explicitly been terraformed, and this is explained in both the movie and the TV series that inspired it. So, if you’re going to obnoxiously attack the movie for having “bad science,” question the presence/plausibility of terraforming, don’t act like the movie doesn’t have an answer for why other planets have atmospheres and gravity similar to that of Earth. The movies listed might use bad science, but you come across as fairly stupid when you raise objections that the movies clearly address, especially when the particulars of a certain foreign planet’s atmosphere are so clearly explained in “Serenity…”

Another Drew
Member
Another Drew
December 28, 2010 9:31 PM

Terraforming will never increase the gravity of planet (or moon, in the case of Serenity), and it is hard to believe with our current understanding of climate science that terraforming could create one consistent planet-wide climate. On the other hand, Serenity (and Firefly) never gave us much of a view of whole planets. We only ever saw one or two cities on a planet. We don’t know what the poles looked like, for instance. So it’s a little unfair to consider Serenity guilty of this bad science…

Some other movies that might be fun to dissect for bad science:
* Sunshine
* The Fifth Element
* Supernova
* Wing Commander
* Starship Troopers
* Dune
* Independence Day

Aspleme
Member
Aspleme
December 30, 2010 4:07 AM

“Terraforming will never increase the gravity of (a) planet or moon.”
That entirely depends on what you are doing when you are terraforming a planet. If you do not introduce additional matter to the planet, you are right… but there is no reason why you couldn’t introduce additional matter. In fact, one might even say that you have to introduce additional matter.

Question
Member
Question
December 28, 2010 9:06 PM

Lars, why do you consider magnetic reconnection to be bad science? Also, why is recessional velocity redshift bad science?

jonfr
Member
December 28, 2010 11:07 PM
Few points on Stargate movies, both original and the ones that did follow the tv series. The “aliens” in the movies and the tv shows are humans. Both ancient humans (more advanced, evolved on Earth before the current human population in Stargate, long gone when the series and the movies happen). No alien interbreeding (like Star Trek) has taken place in Stargate. In Stargate Atlantis there was a sub-human population that changed over time due to co-evolution process (see the series for more detail). Also in Stargate communication with aliens is not always easy. But with the human population it is. I don’t know why that is, ask the writers on that one. But other parts make it… Read more »
mrT
Member
mrT
December 28, 2010 11:38 PM
I have to defend 2001 because it has been victimized by a couple of poor observations by the creators of this graphic. The film deserves a clean bill of accuracy. Dave is exposed to near vacuum for a few seconds, which is probably survivable without significant tissue damage (Experimental Animal Decompression to a Near Vacuum Environment, R.W. Bancroft, J.E. Dunn, eds, Report SAM-TR-65-48 (June 1965), USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks AFB, Texas). In that scene, Dave bounces around the airlock in what is decidedly not slow motion. Poole also thrashes around rapidly when he is killed by HAL during EVA. At other points in the film, the characters are seen to be moving very slowly in zero-g,… Read more »
Feenixx
Member
December 29, 2010 4:13 AM
I am a little baffled by the inclusion of the Star Wars series. These movies don’t even _pretend_ to be “Science” Fiction. The prologue says it all – it is pure fantasy entertainment, total escapism, set “a long time ago in a Galaxy far away”… whatever “a long time ago” means, if you are talking about a very distant Galaxy… Other than that: I love Science Fiction for a good well-spun yarn, for the entertainment value. The people who compiled the list, imo, need to lighten up a lot. It’s _Fiction_, right?! I also like watching movies presented as science documentaries, and there I _do_ get narky when I see inaccurate, outdated and just plain wrong presentations… which… Read more »
SteveZodiac
Member
SteveZodiac
December 29, 2010 4:37 AM

If TL OM is right then we are like prisoners in the middle of desert, trapped by the vastness of the universe, the incredibly slow travel speed of some sensible fraction of C and the shortness of our lives. If that is true (and I hope not),.as we see more of the universe we will more and more need to let our imaginations roam free..

clament
Member
clament
December 29, 2010 6:28 AM

Bad science –> Science Fiction
Good science –> Discovery
Both are great visual movies =)

CrazyEddieBlogger
Member
December 29, 2010 10:23 AM

You forgot to list Fantasia.
and Dumbo.

The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
Member
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
December 29, 2010 12:26 PM
Oh…. You forgot Mary Poppins! How about the classic Walter Pigeon “Forbidden Planet”, with the ID, the Krell, Robbie the Robot, and, of course, the very leggy Altaira (Ann Francis)? Still love the last line in the movie; “One has to remind man that, in the end, we are not God.” ’bout sums most of the sci-fi genre methinks. Others include Planet of the Apes, and the sequels. I.e Conquest of the Planet of the Apes even destroyed the world with a cobalt bomb! Others turkeys not mentioned; “Event Horizon”, “Supernova”, and the 1950s films; “Destination Moon”, “This Island Earth” and George Pal’s “Conquest of Space/. The worst of course is “The Core”…. I mean unobtainium (even that… Read more »
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