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Science of TRON

Listen to audio from the "Science of TRON" panel, featuring director Joe Kosinski, producer Sean Bailey, and science consultants Sean Carroll & John Dick. Learn More

Science in the Movies

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Representing Robots: Theater First, Film Later

When I made a list of the all-time ten best science fiction films for my book Hollywood Science (2010), I was surprised to find that three of them feature artificial creatures: machine-like robots in Metropolis (1927) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and human-like androids in Blade Runner (1982). Artificial beings are big in other science fiction films too. A keyword search on “robot” in the Internet Movie Database yields hundreds of feature films, from The Master Mystery (1920) through Westworld (1973), RoboCop  (1987) and A. I. (2001) right up to Real Steel (2011) and this year’s Prometheus, with more in production.

“Anything Is Possible”….which might be the problem

There’s a saying that’s meant a lot to me for quite some time.

It’s nothing new, it doesn’t change your life when you hear it and it’s not a wise observation on the complexity of life or an enlightening insight into our culture.

It’s very simple.

“Anything Is Possible”

I love that saying probably more than any other. 

One of the first movies I remember seeing when I was young was Star Wars.  I was just a kid but I could still appreciate the enormity of the world Lucas created.  Of course I had no clue how he made that world come to life but neither did a lot of people in the room much older than me.  Suddenly, space seemed real, it seemed that this might actually be going on in a galaxy far, far away.   Space finally seemed possible.

How I Stopped Worrying (about science accuracy) And Learned to Love The Story

When I was a kid – and who am I kidding; when I was an adult too – I made fun of the science in movies. “That’s so fakey!” I would cry out loud when a spaceship roared past, or a slimy alien stalked our heroes.

Eventually, my verbal exclamations evolved into written ones. Not long after creating my first website (back in the Dark Internet Ages of 1997) I decided it would be fun to critique the science of movies, and I dove in with both glee and fervor. No movie was safe, from Armageddon to Austin Powers.

I was right; it was fun. It was surprisingly easy to deconstruct Hollywood accuracy, or lack thereof. Any mistake was fair game; a flubbed line with bad math was just as likely for me to mock as a plot device upon which the entire movie rested. Blowing up a giant asteroid? Pshaw. Saying “million” instead of “billion”? Please. Shadows moving the wrong way at sunset? Let me sharpen my poison keyboard.