Hollywood isn't known for paying attention to accuracy, but there are some films where the lack of science is just too much.
Well, this isn’t much of a surprise, isn’t it? If you think of the big productions in the history of cinema, particularly those created in Hollywood, we could argue that no matter how glamorous, or how much money they invested on these films, they lack a particular sense of accuracy. Just see how history has always been distorted to create a greater effect, or how cultures are often portrayed so badly that sometimes they’re close to being ridiculous. Now, you could argue that we’re talking about fiction and that audiences must make a sort of pact with the story for the two hours the movie lasts to believe in the setting they’re presented. In this way, these stories aren’t really based on scientific accuracy but on a fictional supposition we must accept to let the story develop.
However, we shouldn't trust filmmakers so blindly. Take for instance science fiction, the genre that bases most of its content on scientific grounds. Here, no matter how fictionalized or unreal the situations might seem, the idea behind it is that there must be an accurate scientific proposal to question the possibility of this happening. If that scientific ground isn’t well sustained or seems too far-fetched, the story crumbles, losing all the essence of the genre. Of course, we’re not going to focus only on science fiction mainly because there are many stories belonging to other genres where creators just deliberately decided to do whatever they wanted with scientific laws. Here are some of the movies that based their plots on who-knows-what rather than science, posing quite funny and interesting questions to discuss.
Armageddon (1998) - Dir. Michael Bay
The movie about the deathly threat of a huge asteroid coming directly to Earth is one of the most popular films from the last decades. Most of us have seen it at least once while being on the edge of our seats. Now, although the NASA allowed the film to use their name, they didn't care too much to check the scientific grounds of the movie. One of the main issues of the plot, which sounds quite unlikely and, honestly, a bit stupid, is the fact that they realize a massive asteroid is heading to Earth just eighteen days beforehand. I mean, they claim that the freaking asteroid is the size of Texas (by the way, there aren't asteroids of such dimensions). Then again, creators didn't put a lot of effort while researching the topics they would portray, since they claim that the power of the asteroid that vanished dinosaurs was equivalent to 10,000 nuclear bombs. Not that it isn't scary enough, but scientists estimate that it would actually be the equivalent of 800,000. So, if this is such an immense and destructive threat, why didn't they see it before and try to stop it when it was farther from our planet?
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) - Dir. Joe Johnston
I love this one, not only because I saw it multiple times when I was a kid (including its not-so-great sequels), but because the creators really missed one of the most important scientific principles: the conservation of matter law. We’re basically taught this one in elementary school and we’ve recited it tons of times: matter is neither created nor destroyed, it's only transformed. So, the story of the inventor who accidentally shrinks his own kids and his neighbors’ with his unpatented electromagnetic shrinking machine has a huge and serious flaw, no matter how hilarious the movie is. Assuming it could be possible to change the dimensions of a human being so dramatically and that, in fact, the mass of their bodies “transforms” (although it doesn’t really work that way) or reduced, we’re missing our friend Albert Einstein’s most important formula (one that we all know by heart, even if we don’t really get it): E=MC^2. So, where did all the energy of their mass went when this guy shrunk them? Someone actually did the calculations with an average weight of the kids and the energy that this would create would be equivalent to 125 times the one of the atomic bomb. So, nope, not so believable after all.
Jurassic Park (1993) - Dir. Steven Spielberg
I know what you’re going to say: this is one of the greatest movies of all times, and it’s obvious that it doesn’t follow any scientific reasoning. But it actually does. The movie states that these researchers found some dinosaur DNA in some mosquitoes concealed in amber. Let me tell you that this really freaked me out when I was a kid and for so many years that idea sounded quite plausible. I mean, there were mosquitoes while dinosaurs lived, and they most likely bit some of them and drank their blood. But sadly, DNA doesn’t work that way. Let’s say it has some expiration date, and even though it’s quite long, it’s impossible for it to survive so many years, regardless of how well-preserved the sample was. Sorry guys, it’s never going to happen.
The Day after Tomorrow (2004) - Dir. Roland Emmerich
Another disaster film that fails to give a logical plot and explanation. So, basically, a scientist discovers that global warming is real and actually progressing quite rapidly. Soon after he presents his research at the UN in New York, many places all over the world start presenting anomalous weather changes. Now, it’s a fact that global warming is real and we’ve seen how rapidly it’s changing the conditions of the planet, but it’s not in the way the film portrays it. I know, it’s supposed to be dramatic and catastrophic to create an impact on the audience, but even leaving that aside, there are so many inaccuracies that make it just hard to believe. To start with, we can see helicopters flying really close to storms, as if the wind had no effect during natural disasters. Then it’s basically impossible to run from a tsunami, even if you’re Usain Bolt. The list continues and ends up with a pile of very unlikely and non-scientific moments.
Lucy (2004) - Dir. Luc Besson
Finally, let’s go to a less catastrophic film, at least in terms of natural disasters and end of the world stories. Besson’s movie poses the question of what would happen if someone could actually use and control all the functions of the brain. You know that theory stating that we only use 10% of it, so matter how advanced we are, we’re still far from becoming superhumans with brain powers. Well, according to Dr. David A. Kirby (University of Manchester) that’s absolutely nonsensical. To start with, that’s a huge myth that has prevailed and that has been debunked too many times, so he claims that making a movie based on that principle only encourages people to believe in lame theories. But, as he explains, that’s not the worst part of it. Lucy, this superwoman, so to speak, takes a pill that allows her to access all the functionality of her brain, thus proving that there’s the possibility of evolving into superhuman beings. For Dr. Kirby that only shows a complete ignorance of how evolution works. There’s no such thing as “spontaneous evolution,” because it’s a matter of adaptation that takes time.
We’re not asking much, just more attention to facts and details so that the story doesn’t become a joke.
Here are some other movies you can enjoy and analyze: