Science fiction: the good and the bad

By Phil Plait | January 22, 2010 2:15 pm

DM_cover_winter2009If you’re out shopping today and happen to pass your friendly neighborhood newsstand, then may I suggest you pick up a copy of the winter special issue of Discover Magazine? The theme is "Extreme Universe", with articles about the Big Bang, quantum mechanics, particle physics, and lots more.

Of course, included in that "lots more " is, well, me. I wrote the introductory essay to the issue, and also have a list of my favorite good and bad science moments in movies. The Hive Overmind Discover Magazine has a gallery up, too, with pictures and my descriptions of the movies.

I was surprised how hard it was to make the list, given a) I’ve seen almost every science fiction movie ever made, and 2) you’d think examples would abound. But finding specific scenes turned out to be tough, also given the criterion that it has to be in a movie lots of people have actually seen; calling out the lava flow sequence in "Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet" (1965) won’t get you terribly far. But I think I did OK.

Got a favorite bad or good scene in a movie? Discuss.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Astronomy, Science

Comments (96)

  1. Travis

    Awesome choices. It’s too bad you couldn’t expound on the other awful science bits in Armageddon but I suppose you could devote a whole book to it. Loved the reference to Firefly and Destination Moon which is an underappreciated work. One I thought I might see on your list, for both good and or bad, was Sunshine. Was it even considered?

  2. And
    III) I see what you did there! [Snicker]
    I’ll have to go pop for one so I can discuss with some semblance of intelligence… I don’t get out to movies too much, though I did see Avatar. I still want to see “Moon”…

  3. Ron

    A favorite scene is from a movie I saw on TV when I was about 7 years old. Mabye someone will rememmber the name of the movie. All I remember is that some astronauts were trying to launch their rocked from either Mars or the Moon. The rocket was in a crooked position and they struggled to straighten it out for launch. Once they finally got the rocked pointing straight up one of the astronauts yelled “We’re perpendicular!” My little friends and me thought that was quite funny and went around saying “Were perpendicular!” for the rest of the day.

    BTW one of the worst movies I ever saw was Nightfall based on Asimov’s short story. It was made in 1988 and I understand Asimov disassociated himself from the film it was so bad. Not even bad enough to be good like Queen of Outer Space starring Za Za Gabor.

  4. Jon B

    Heh heh. This is old news for those of us who picked it up when it came out in December, and it’s a great issues, especially for all us astrophysics fans. It was also nice to get a nostalgic touch of the ol’ Bad Astronomy in the Movies that has been so rare of late. (*ahemn*)

    I also picked up this book at the same time that people might have heard of — Death from the Skies!, I think it’s called. Excellent read, and it goes along great with the Discover Special issue.

  5. Tensor

    The galley was great, although having hung around your website and forum since 2002, I knew most of it. One minor quibble, you should have mentioned Kip Thorne in the “Contact” piece. Sagan sent the manuscript to Thorne and he made several corrections and suggestions that Sagan incorporated. Interestingly, Thorne would later turn those suggestions into several actual papers on the actual viability of closed timelike curves in General Relativity. These are more popularly knows as time machines.

  6. Gary

    Great article and love the commets. Can’t believe Earthstorm didn’t make your list. Granted it was a made for TV movie, but it makes Armageddon look like a Nova Episode.

  7. Brian

    It is not a science fiction flick, but it does have science content.

    I liked the scene in “Full Metal Jacket” when they were assaulting Hue and you would see the explosions in the background and the sound was delayed.

  8. okaasan59

    I’m glad to see my favorite movie, Contact, made the good list.

  9. I just saw a few flicks at my local Sci-Fi Movie Marathon. Gotta say, Moon (2009) with Sam Rockwell actually didn’t set off too many of my “this is crap science” alarm bells, except, well, the super-obvious biological one. The rocky satellite setting was pretty stark and convincing.

    Plus it was entertaining, with an underlying sense of creepiness throughout that just never let up.

  10. There was a Nightfall movie? I’m glad Ron #3 said it was so bad, otherwise, I’d be tempted to see it. I did read the novelization. Not as good as the original short story, but not bad.

    Oh wait, we were supposed to be discussing movies, right?

  11. Pete

    @Ron,

    I’ve seen that movie as well, and can’t remember the title. I’m fairly sure it’s NOT “Robinson Crusoe on Mars”

  12. So all the scenes are from Armageddon and the Core?

  13. DavidB

    One bad one that sticks out in my mind is the scene in Alien: Ressurection where the alien/human hybrid thing gets sucked out of a hole in the spacecraft that is about the size of a quarter, skin first, then flesh, then bones. I think they were decending through the atmosphere at the time, but even assuming a complete vaccum outside and atmospheric pressure inside, the approximately 1 in^2 hole, exerting only 14.7 lbs of pressure, managed to squeeze a 7ft tall muscular alien through a tiny hole!

  14. Ha! I did a lot of the visual effects work on that Bad Movie #1

  15. Oh damn, “Armageddon” is in there too…Sheesh, that’s two. Yes, most of us visual effects folks work on REALLY bad movies (ie 2012). However, I should point out that the science enthusiasts and Bad Astronomy fans among us often raise hell about bad science in those movies. The problem is: by the time we get to work on them, the movie is already 90% filmed. So we just need more quality science enthusiasts among the screenwriting community…hmm

  16. Nemo

    As a Discover magazine subscriber, let me take this opportunity to say, I’m really annoyed by newsstand-only issues.

  17. Where is Apollo 13, I guess maybe because it could be a history movie.

  18. Duane

    There was a scene in Avatar where a character emerges briefly into Pandora’s atmosphere without his mask. From the amount of time he was out there, he should have passed out, staggered, or at least his eyes should have glazed over. A brief opportunity to add a little scientific realism to a scene was missed, in my opinion.

  19. K. Signal Eingang

    I see you mentioned Firefly as an aside… I remember once scene, can’t recall if it’s from the series or the movie, where the characters are having some kind of discussion aboard ship as they lift off from some planet or another. As they’re talking the ship is rattling and rumbling around them and then suddenly everything goes deadly quiet… It took me a second to realize this wasn’t anything ominous, just the ship leaving the planet’s atmosphere. What makes the scene particularly effective is that the characters don’t remark on or react to the change either, as of course they’d already know what was going on.

    As for the seismic bombs in whichever Star Wars movie, I took that as Lucas having a laugh. He’d already established there’s plenty of sound in space in *his* universe, so why not weapons that harness the destructive force of a Pete Townshend power chord?

  20. Tom

    No comments concerning the recent Supreme court decision on corporate control of all things American….? Very sad.

  21. Tom

    Good luck America.

  22. Piotr

    I know what you mean, by mentioning more popular works only. I don’t have access to magazine, but from comment I reckon I wouldn’t be familiar with your picks.

    I want to share my favourite scene from sci-fi. Ghost in The Shell (directed by Mamoru Oshii). The final fight scene, where Motoko “Major” Kusanagi is forced to take on a heavy tank by herself. You see, she is a cyborg with military-grade specifications. But she overestimates power of her body. As she tries to tear tank’s hatch open (in a squatting position), you clearly start seeing artificial muscles on her back begin to tear, beneath her synthetic skin. Then, the fragments of ceramic/metal joints break off and pierce epidermis, tissue fluids flowing out. Joints dislocate and tendons start snapping, revealing high-performance cybernetical components. She strains her body even further, and then- in most violent way her body literary shatters into pieces, shards of metal, wiring and service fluids shoot into the air- severed torso falling limply to the ground.

    The concept of having a body almost capable of such feat, and a mind able to consciously push it beyond its mechanical durability… No superhero comic or book EVER depicted combination of mental and physical power in such graphical way.

    Oh, and during the whole scene Motoko was naked. In this version she had no sexual organs, but her skin acted as optical camouflage. She took off her combat gear mid-fight to take advantage of this.

  23. Garfield

    Re Mission to Mars – absolutely right that astronauts exposed to vacuum won’t instantly freeze, but haven’t vacuum chamber accidents established that people really will swell up like balloons? Certainly not to the extent shown in Total Recall, but I’ve seen photos of a vacuum chamber accident victim, and his face was a cross between Jabba the Hutt and the Pillsbury Doughboy. (It wasn’t permanent.)

    I think the effect was first noted by Joe Kittinger when he made his famous parachute jump from more than 100,000 feet. His right-hand glove had a leak and his hand swelled to twice normal size.

    Another great sci-fi writer, Geoffrey Landis, has an article posted on his site talking about Bowman’s helmetless space walk in 2001: A Space Odyssey. He quotes from a NASA bioastronautics data book about the effects of vacuum on the human body: “This evolution of water vapor will cause marked swelling of the body to perhaps twice its normal volume unless it is restrained by a pressure suit.”

    For me, though, what was even worse in Mission to Mars than Tim Robbins turning into an instant astronautsicle, was that when the astronaut trying to reach him shut down her maneuvering rockets, she stopped moving. Considering that later in the movie, she turned out to be someone who had apparently memorized the entire human genome so she knew a few base pairs were missing from the alien code, I’d have thought she’d have a firmer grasp of the fundamentals of inertia.

  24. Daffy

    Enjoyed the galleries immensely; and finally—finally!—someone held Star Wars to the same standards as other movies. Bravo!

  25. Jeffersonian

    As always, I will tout PRIMER.
    If you haven’t seen Primer, just Google Primer Timeline and have a peek at the websites dedicated to it. In attempting to explain the hard science behind the film, they all make the film even more intricate.

    The other end of the spectrum from mainstream dumb-downed, generic schlock.

  26. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    It’s like I’m shouting in a vacuum and BA doesn’t listen: cameras perspectives are fictional! There is no actual person there. Tests: Scene cuts. Perspectives that need you to be a cockroach to make. Or be able to swim under water in the snugly confinement of water closets (that could be rats too), or be able to breath vacuum, et cetera ad nauseam.

    This belief that cameras are actual persons is the reason, and the only reason, that one can construe the folk physics that movies depicts sounds in vacuum. Movie or canon physics doesn’t suspend disbelief quite that much. IIRC, the Star Trek canon explains sounds as interactions between fields and vessel. I.e. the sound perspective (not necessarily the same as the viewing perspective, for that matter) is from within a vessel of any kind, if not a vessel in the movie, so some sort of fictional spectator’s.

    The same principle as for blog comments should apply, the least malicious explanation is the simplest. And this is consistent with SW II seismic charges, which for all we know could be “force field” charges.

    As for Mission to Mars, I can remember Tim Robbin’s character becoming blue and still from anoxia. I dunno about the astronaut freezing, did one actually see ice on the body? That would be wrong.

  27. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Duane:

    How do you know the characteristics of that atmosphere? Was it instantly toxic or oxygen deprived? Pandora had life, so a priori it shouldn’t be too bad.

  28. Duane

    The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (based on clues given in the movie) means the atmosphere is toxic almost immediately to humans. You’d be able to breathe, but your lungs would fill with CO2 causing suffocation, even if the atmosphere contained oxygen. Remember, CO2 is a waste gas to Terran animal life.

    Thoughts, Phil? Am I off the mark here?

  29. 3. Ron: That was George Pal’s “Conquest of Space,” part of his big space trilogy (Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide and Conquest). It’s not well regarded because of the overtly religious overtones that were done so badly. I have a chapter on it in “Spaceship Handbook.”

    BTW, Phil, a third “got it right” entry, which is actually the first, is “Die Frau im Mond” (The Woman in the Moon) by Fritz Lang, 1929. Hermann Oberth was the advisor on that one and the “Friede” (the spaceship) was based on his research in “Ways to Spaceflight” (1926).

    - Jack

  30. PG

    The thing that always nags at the back of my mind when watching science-fiction that tries to be technically realistic is that they usually gloss over the whole gravity in the spaceship issue (e.g., “Sunshine”). I mean, I could accept that a way to manipulate gravity has been invented (a la Star Trek), but if they have THAT technology, then why do you need engines or rockets??

  31. Michael Suttkus, II

    There is so much bad science in “Mission to Mars” that you could choke a creationist with it.

    My personal favorite is when they decode the transmission as a few base pairs of DNA. One of the scientists looks at it and says, “That’s human DNA!”

    Recognizing “human DNA” from that small sample would be like seeing the word “The” and realizing it comes from “Moby Dick”. Worse, she then adds a few base pairs onto the end to “complete” it, and says something about “a few chromosomes”… ugh. Just ugh.

  32. What if you have a subscription? Will I get one in the mail?

  33. Garfield

    If we’re going to add time travel movies to the mix, I agree with Jeffersonian – PRIMER is one of the best.

    And let’s not forget another time travel movie that got the logic right (if not the notion of people in the past speaking different languages) — BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.

    Another good time travel movie – RETROACTIVE, with Jim Belushi. Very tight story that does not go for the expected ending.

    Bad time travel movies – TIMELINE, and DEJA VU with Denzel Washington. Both movies commit the unforgivable sin of setting up their rules during very good beginnings, and then not following them.

    Worst time travel movie – MINORITY REPORT.

  34. John Paradox

    You wrote an article?

    hehehe

    J/P=?

  35. Rory Kent

    You put Star Trek in the good section?!

    I love the entire Star Trek franchise, I really do, but that film was pants when it came to science.
    They fell “through” a black hole!
    Does that not make you want to flail your arms around in the air, screaming “why did JJ Abrams ruin science?!”?!

  36. Brian

    Gotta say, Phil — you picked out the one and only example of good science from the Star Trek movie. Yes, the issue of sound in space deserved to be pointed out, but jeez. There was so much ridiculous science in the rest of the movie, it feels a bit like special treatment to let all of that pass unremarked.

  37. John Paradox

    3. Ron Says:
    A favorite scene is from a movie I saw on TV when I was about 7 years old. Mabye someone will rememmber the name of the movie. All I remember is that some astronauts were trying to launch their rocked from either Mars or the Moon. The rocket was in a crooked position and they struggled to straighten it out for launch. Once they finally got the rocked pointing straight up one of the astronauts yelled “We’re perpendicular!”

    27. Jack Hagerty Says:

    3. Ron: That was George Pal’s “Conquest of Space,” part of his big space trilogy (Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide and Conquest).

    Actually, it may be another movie (bad) Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet (or the variant with Mamie Van Doren: Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women). In the footage that is common to both (VTTPOPW simply adds footage to the other), the Cosmonauts (It was made in Russia) also have their ship tipping off angle. They were, in that case, on Venus.
    Oh, years: VTTPP 1965, VTTPOPW 1968, COS 1955

    31. Garfield Says:

    And let’s not forget another time travel movie that got the logic right (if not the notion of people in the past speaking different languages) — BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.

    I enjoyed that the ‘stupid’ B & T were able to work out a fairly complex set of actions by using time loops. They did a masterful (IMO) job of manipulation. Also one of the last movies where Keanu Reeves actually acted!

    RE: Bad Movie #1: The Core
    Look for the movie Deep Core, with Wil Wheaton and Terry Ferrel from ST series, and Bruce McGill from MacGyver and Quantum Leap. It is the same story as The Core… including the ‘quartz sphere’, etc. It was relased in 2000…The Core was 2003!

    RE: Transformers
    Many ‘shapechangers’ have been in SciFi movies/TV and almost always have the ‘variable mass’ problem, including Star Trek:Deep Space Nine, with ‘Odo’ going from human form to a mouse, and vice versa.

    Want some obscure movies, I collect various films (some from local “The Very Bad Movie”, with worse ‘hosts’, others on Saturday Fright Special (syndicated – apparently on ‘public access’ channels). Also, the Internet Archive has full old B/W movies and serials.

    J/P=?

  38. mike burkhart

    I saw your list how about Alien it gets an award for scareing the hell out me when I first saw it on tv when I was 14

  39. mike burkhart

    I also like the planet of the Apes movies but I think Phill would have 3 problems with them 1 Dr Zaehis head Ape sciencetist religous fantic and bigot 2 how can 1 bomb blow the entire Earth up in the 2nd movie?(I found it desterbing the mutants worship it may be my Chirstan thinking but I think it stupid to worship a bomb and also to call it wepon of peace)3 Einstines theorys are atrubted to a Dr Hessline also a bigot

  40. Ari

    Hmmm, while Contact was a favorite movie of mine, it did also feature that cringe-worthy scene of young Ellie and her dad watching a bright meteor shower…..through a telescope.

  41. Jon B

    @31. Garfield: I don’t remember any time travel in Minority Report, unless you’re referring to the Precogs’ ability to see the future — but that’s a whole different kind of bad. And the source was Philip K. Dick. Don’t be hatin’ on anyone named Phil.

  42. AZSkeptic

    Not well known, but the other night “Fortress 2″ was on late night cable–really bad movie with Christopher Lambert about a prison in space.

    Lots of science/space issues with this one, but the most egregious was towards the end where Lambert is out in the vacuum of space for what seemed like 30 seconds. He comes back inside from space with nothing but a bloody nose to show for it.

  43. The Incredible Shrinking Man was one of my favorite films as a kid. I recall it being done very well, but as far as science? Well, there was fairy dust that stuck to his chest in the beginning which made him begin to “small-a-tize.” Also, in the same sub-genre, there was a TV show, “The Land of the Giants,” which started out okay as a premise- but then ran into some writer’s squabble trying to decide the Giant’s world. Do they speak English? Is it Earth or Earth-like? In the end, the beginning made no sense with the later shows.
    Does anybody remember the 60s TV show.. “The Invaders”? Great premise that went absolutely nowhere. A bit like “They Live” without the cheese. I loved how all the aliens, when you killed them burned a black spot on the ground. Today you would have to have a faux-Bruse Willis say something cute like, “You’re toast!”

  44. Jim

    Hey Phil I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this one but I’d submit “Sunshine.” I’m not sure how scientific the premise is (the sun’s not in danger of “dying” anytime soon is it?) but the story is incredibly compelling and it’s very well written and acted. In particular the depiction of the interpersonal relationships of the astronauts stuck on a spaceship with each other for months is very realistic. It also seems like the writers and director did their research on what exactly it would take to send a group of people all the way to the Sun and back. Apparently they didn’t slack at all in this area because they hired someone from CERN to advise on the movie. I forget his name, but he did one of the DVD commentaries and was very entertaining and informative (sorta like you, only more British).

  45. 35. John Paradox Says: “27. Jack Hagerty Says: 3. Ron: That was George Pal’s “Conquest of Space,”
    Actually, it may be another movie (bad) Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet (or the variant with Mamie Van Doren: Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women). In the footage that is common to both (VTTPOPW simply adds footage to the other), the Cosmonauts (It was made in Russia) also have their ship tipping off angle. They were, in that case, on Venus.”

    The movie where the character shouts “We’re Perpendicular!” is definitely CoS. I just went in and watched the scene to be sure. VttPP was originally called “Planet of Storms” in Russian and was re-cut into the English version with Faith Domergue replacing the original female cosmonaut role (I have copies of both versions). The most interesting thing in the Russian version is when the scientist activates the robot, “John.” He first greets him with “Good morning, John” in English! I have no idea why. The robot wasn’t suppose to be from the US or anything, and no other English is spoken in the film.

    Sorry to say I’ve never seen VttPoPW.

    – Jack

  46. 40. Nomad Says: “Does anybody remember the 60s TV show.. “The Invaders”? Great premise that went absolutely nowhere.”

    There’s a chapter on it in “The Saucer Fleet” (click on my name to go to the store for the full list).

    The reason it went nowhere is that it wasn’t a good premise for a series. It would have been great as a movie, but the idea that there’s one guy who knows the truth and no one will believe him (while he’s trying to outrun the bad guys who are trying to kill him) sort of falls apart after a dozen or so episodes. Either they will get to him and kill (or otherwise silence) him, or there will be so much evidence that there’s no way the authorities could continue to not believe him. The whole show (one-and-a-half seasons) just came out on DVD last year. The episodes are hosted by the star, Roy Thinnes, who’s looking a bit worse for wear.

    - Jack

  47. Chip

    Some of the SciFi films, regardless of mistakes, that I put in the Guilty Pleasures category:

    This Island Earth
    Destination Moon
    Forbidden Planet
    The Thing (from Another World) – (both original Christian Nyby/Howard Hawks version as well as John Carpenter’s)
    Earth vs. The Flying Saucers – (Magnetic cannons on 1950s Dodge pickup trucks defeat advanced alien saucers, but hey, its Ray Harryhausen!)
    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Jack Finney’s veiled indictment of both McCarthyism and communism.)
    The Lathe of Heaven – (The original made for TV movie, not the later made for TV movie.)
    2001 A Space Odyssey
    Andromeda Strain (The original movie)
    Star Wars (The original movie, not the revised one or later chapters)
    I’m sure there’s more…

  48. Naomi

    Awesome, Contact and 2001 in the good list. Those would be the two I would add.

    For the bad list… easy. 10.5, and its dire sequel, 10.5: Apocalypse. PLATE TECTONICS DO NOT WORK LIKE THAT!

    Plus, the shaky camera work in the sequel made me nauseous.

  49. Gebraden Kip

    I must have seen The Core three times in a couple of months after the dvd came out. I just had to show all of my friends how mindbogglingly bad that movie is. I still compare all bad movies to The Core, but they never seem to meet the standard it set.

    Well… until I saw Gigli a while back.

  50. Jim

    I second Apollo 23–that scene w/the engineers having to come up with an air filter with cardboard, duct tape and socks is a great science moment.

    And while I doubt everyone’s seen it and I’m sure the science is shaky at best, I really liked the down-to-earth scientist in Tremors. She was seismologist grad student and seemed authentic, which was great in such a silly, absurd story.

  51. Jim

    Duh: “Apollo 13″

  52. Hal in Howell

    In re: sound in a vacuum, the film “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun” (1969) (AKA “Doppelgänger”), produced by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson of Space 1999, UFO, Thunderbirds fame, depicted the lack of sound in a vacuum very accurately. I believe this was the Andersons’ first live-action film.

    The premise of the film, a duplicate Earth orbiting exactly opposite the “real” Earth (on the far side of the sun, get it?), was pretty lame. However, the technical accuracy, technology, and realistic special effects was sufficient to rate it as an “OK” movie. and worth watching.

  53. LibraryGuy

    What about 2012? As I recall neutrinos from the sun somehow turn into microwaves that was overheating underground water causing some inconvenience. Now my thought was, why weren’t the heros & extras boiling over?

  54. cmflyer

    I’d like to see votes for the best and worst human decompression scenes. Every year I show my freshman Earth science students several during our weather unit when dealing with air pressure. My sequence is: 2001 (Dave re-enters Discovery), Total Recall (Arny’s head puffing experience), Event Horizon (guy lets himself out the airlock), and Mission to Mars (instant head freeze). I’d like to add good and bad ones to the repertoire (are there any good ones?). Some I would like to collect: a Star Trek Enterprise scene where Archer gets beamed aboard after several seconds in vacuum and ends up laying on the transporter floor covered in frost and kind of semi-conscious. The TNG episode where Giordi and Crusher have to decompress the shuttle-bay for some reason and then make it to the control panel before losing consciousness (Crusher barely makes it). Do I recall a scene from Sunshine where they wrap themselves in foil suits? And the unrated version of The Plan (BSG) shows what happens to Leobin after Cara blows him out the airlock. He’s kind of gnarly.

  55. Gary Ansorge

    31. PG

    “they usually gloss over the whole gravity in the spaceship issue

    Have you seen Defying Gravity? They had about the most realistic science I’ve seen in a SciFi movie, even addressing the ship board gravity issue.

    My vote for one of the worst written SciFi movies ever is the recent version of Captain America.(made in 1990).

    Gary 7

  56. Gary Ansorge

    I think it was Heinlien that had a short story where passengers had to be transferred from a dead space craft thru vacuum w/o space suits to a rescue ship. They increased the ship atmosphere to pure O2 to saturate their tissues with oxygen, then jumped across the gap holding a connecting line. Only one person died and that was because he panicked and lost his grip on the line. Heinlien based this on studies done by the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s in which several volunteers were exposed to a pressure drop of one atmosphere to near vacuum. Their results showed one ruptured eardrum, a few nose bleeds and black eyes. The volunteers suffered no lasting effects, no exploding eyes(which are filled with fluid and enclosed within a more or less rigid containment vessel), no puffy skin, or any life threatening disorder.

    Granted, the volunteers were exposed to vacuum for less than a minute but it does suggest the very idea that people would explode in vacuum is ludicrous.

    GAry 7
    PS: It’s really not possible to conduct this experiment on animals, since you can’t tell them not to hold their breath.

  57. Dan

    Jim – that is a great science moment, because it is actual science in a movie that reenacts events that actually happened. The fact that Apollo 13 isn’t remotely science fiction kinda rules it out on the whole “accuracy in science fiction” front.

  58. Kevin F.

    Phil, some of these movies are over a decade old – I remember your first posts about them. Plenty of bad sci-fi since and might entice new, younger readers.

  59. Gary Ansorge

    Here’s a link describing US experiments.

    http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/atmosphere/q0291.shtml

    I note that consciousness is lost after 10 to 15 seconds and some swelling does occur after a minute or two but these were accidental exposures(for humans), so my previous post about volunteers may have been in error.

    Good thing I checked this link. My memory of those early efforts is over a half century old.

    Gary 7

  60. John Paradox

    46. Jack Hagerty Says:

    The movie where the character shouts “We’re Perpendicular!” is definitely CoS. I just went in and watched the scene to be sure.

    Okay, I just happened to remember that the other film also had the ship going ‘off the vertical’ and didn’t bother to check – yes, I have both, and many other ‘bad movies’.

    (cont’d)
    VttPP was originally called “Planet of Storms” in Russian and was re-cut into the English version with Faith Domergue replacing the original female cosmonaut role (I have copies of both versions).

    Yeah, that’s like another Russian SciFi, First Spaceship On Venus, originally Silent Star, which I recall seeing as a child, then on MST3K (wanna talk bad movies?) ;)

    (cont’d) Sorry to say I’ve never seen VttPoPW

    I think my version comes from a set of about 50 ‘bad movies’ where both movies are on the same DVD. Don’t worry, the only difference is what I call the “Playboy Scenes” where MvD and the other ladies are in fur bikinis, either laying around or swimming most of the time. All the scenes are obvious inserts into the original movie because the only thing they have in common is a final scene where the robot “John” replaces their ‘god’ after “John” is caught in the lava (and apparently is disabled, but the shell remains intact).

    51. Jim Says:

    And while I doubt everyone’s seen it and I’m sure the science is shaky at best, I really liked the down-to-earth scientist in Tremors. She was seismologist grad student and seemed authentic, which was great in such a silly, absurd story.

    Tremors was a great fun movie, and they apparently got sufficient viewership to not only make 3 more (all include Michael Gross only from the first), but there was also a short-lived and really bad series based on them.

    55. cmflyer Says:
    The TNG episode where Giordi and Crusher have to decompress the shuttle-bay for some reason and then make it to the control panel before losing consciousness (Crusher barely makes it).

    Don’t recall the episode title, but the reason they voided the bay was because some ‘unpronoucabilium’ was burning (similar to an underground fire.. ) and would reach a point where it would (surprise, surprise) blow the ship up or some such.

    J/P=?

  61. BigRuta

    Two of my sci-fi favs from my childhood: Silent Running, with Bruce Dern and the 3 proto-R2D2s Huey, Luey and Duey; and Phase 4, with the great ant photography. Bad science with rather heavy handed ecological messages, but still fun to watch. And the ship models from Silent Running ended up being used as part of the ‘rag-tag fleet’ in the original Battlestar Galactica.

    And let’s not forget the classic Dark Star. That movie made me look twice at beach balls!

  62. Scottynuke

    Phil;

    You’ll be glad to hear my daughter’s science teacher showed her class the first 15 minutes or so of “The Core” — and then had them do an assignment to see how many science errors they could spot!!

  63. CoolHandl

    There were so many things wrong with that scene from Mission To Mars, I wonder how you seized on the helmet. You can just about assume that when someone is exposed to vacuum in a movie something stupid is going to happen.
    Unless I have the wrong bad Mars movie, the setup was that their rocket engine had a catastrophic failure when fired to brake for orbit, so the crippled spacecraft would overshoot Mars. Fair enough, but their solution was to abandon ship an make for a supply satellite already in orbit. Sorry, but NO WAY! That is about 4 orders of magnitude worse than jumping off a bullet train onto a bicycle. Maybe 5. Exiting the spacecraft wouldn’t change their trajectory. That’s why they needed the big rocket and all that heavy fuel. Even without the going-downhill-way-too-fast problem, assuming they really could get enough delta-V off their hand-held thrusters, an orbital rendezvous is not a seat-of-the-pants maneuver. That’s why people invented small but powerful computers. (From ThumbWars: “Use the targeting computer Loke…Advanced technology designed to hit small targets. That’s what it is there for.”)
    All that aside, after the guy missed, depending on his velocity and the length of the tether the rest of the astronauts were using, there might have been a way to make a rescue attempt. Too bad they were all too involved in the emotional drama for anyone to work the problem.

  64. DaveS

    How can we forget “Capricorn One”, for feeding the tin-hat crowd.

  65. Hmmm, while Contact was a favorite movie of mine, it did also feature that cringe-worthy scene of young Ellie and her dad watching a bright meteor shower…..through a telescope.

    They don’t watch the meteor shower through the telescope; it’s just standing there on the deck, next to where young Ellie is watching the sky. For all we know, they had been using it to explode grapes earlier that afternoon.

  66. T.E.L.

    Gary Ansorge Said:

    “Have you seen Defying Gravity? They had about the most realistic science I’ve seen in a SciFi movie, even addressing the ship board gravity issue.”

    Defying Gravity also has a lot of unmitigated garbage. And the gravity issue? Addressing it doesn’t mean they did a good job of it. Lots of cheap sci-fi movies and TV shows have addressed the issue; few have done more than some token hand-waving. In this case all they did was trade one problem for another. Electromagnets in the floor. How much power does the Ship need to deliver to assure that anyone standing on any patch of floor will accelerate? How much total energy does that come to for a six-year flight? It’s a gawd-awful lot.

  67. Moon didn’t really stand on ceremony when it came to science–I think the small-scale story was the only reason it didn’t venture into “Mission to Mars” territory.
    1) Sound in vacuum
    2) Space suits with >3 days of life support capability
    3) Ping pong in 1/6th G? Think about that.
    4) Real-time communication from the moon (isn’t it about one light-second away, plus any delay from relay satellites?)
    5) Numerous appearances of Earth in the sky from “the far side of the moon” (at least they didn’t say “dark side of the”)
    6) He3 as an energy source, stored in rock from solar energy. Really. At least Avatar had the cheek to call its Mcguffin “Unobtainium.”

    Bottom line, they almost never took the opportunity to depict life on the moon accurately. Great story and I loved the flick, but I wanted them to do better at it.

  68. Shadowen

    I think my most favorite recent bad one has to be the bit at the climax of GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, where ice sinks.

  69. Luis

    PRIMER is the greatest, most realistic science-fiction film since 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Maybe ever.

  70. luke

    Contact is an excellent movie, however, the one big problem I have is the listening to radio waves with headphones. It just doesn’t happen. The signals are digitized and recorded on magnetic tape or hard drives and then analyzed after the fact.

  71. Ari

    61: I could only track down the spanish version on youtube, but she totally takes a peek through the telescope during that scene (around 3:20). Granted, it *was* a clear night. Who’s to say she wasn’t also doing some stargazing between meteors? :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N89iZYmo0D8

    Gah, and now I have to fight a strong compulsion to track down an english version and re-watch.

  72. Jon Hanford

    You can’t go wrong with “Santa Clause Conquers the Martians”. Bad science meets a mythical figure. Brilliant!

    SCCTM: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus_Conquers_the_Martians

  73. Redstar

    I give credit to “Pitch Black” for even attempting a plotline based on a trinary star system… even if they did blow it pretty much completely. In their system orbit model, planets move between the stars’ orbits – what? Also, there was a giant planet with stacked layers of rings – one on the equator, and one more or less over a northern Tropic. Weird. Despite how hard it fails at science, I still love that movie like crazy.

  74. 61. John Paradox Says: “…that’s like another Russian Sci Fi, First Spaceship On Venus, originally Silent Star, which I recall seeing as a child, then on MST3K (wanna talk bad movies?)”

    Actually, “Silent Star” is a Polish/East German co-production from 1959. The version that made it to the US (re-cut by Crown International distributing company) was called “First Spaceship on Venus.” That version is ripe for ridicule, but the original, released to DVD a few years ago, is a whole ‘nother story. Watching it is jaw dropping in contrast to the cut version. It was done to show the west that socialist companies could also do high-quality sci-fi “message” films with state of the art special effects.

    First off, it was filmed in 70 mm ultra wide screen in whatever their equivalent of Cinerama is called. The sound is in stereo and the music is completely different being a mixture of experimental late ’50s techniques (including some all-electronic scoring). The story is based on Stanislaw Lem’s first novel, “The Astronauts.” This release is in German with English subtitles.

    The thing that really impresses you when watching the film as intended by the producers is that it’s a grown-ups movie compared to the kiddie version released here. This comes mostly from the slower pacing (with like 40 minutes of footage restored) and the cinematography, which is really quite good. The cartoony nature of FSSoV comes from Crown just chopping the outer edges off (about 50% of the picture, they didn’t even bother to pan-’n-scan) and cranking up the saturation on the release prints.

    I would recommend seeking this out and giving it another go.

    - Jack

  75. 69. Shadowen Says: “I think my most favorite recent bad one has to be the bit at the climax of GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, where ice sinks.”

    Anyone remember the original “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” movie with Walter “Morbius” Pidgeon as Admiral Nelson? At the beginning of the movie, the (recently discovered) Van Allen belts “catch fire” and start heating things up. The Seaview is on mission beneath the Arctic ice cap when it starts breaking up and the sub is pummeled by iceberg sized chunks raining down on it from above. That’s right, falling into the water. Even as a 9-year-old watching it originally I wondered what had been keeping the ice up before it broke apart.

    71. luke Says: “Contact is an excellent movie, however, the one big problem I have is the listening to radio waves with headphones. It just doesn’t happen. The signals are digitized and recorded on magnetic tape or hard drives and then analyzed after the fact.”

    In the novel Sagan mentions how Arroway just liked to listen in on the primary feed because it kept her “connected” to the task. I think that was the purpose of Zemeckis putting her out at the array, isolating her from her dorky co-workers.

    - Jack

  76. 64. CoolHandl Says: “From ThumbWars: “Use the targeting computer Loke…Advanced technology designed to hit small targets. That’s what it is there for.” ”

    YES! My favorite line from a brilliant guilty pleasure. Well, that and “I escaped somehow.”

    - Jack

  77. TSGTKenny

    Dreamking00 said
    6) He3 as an energy source, stored in rock from solar energy. Really. At least Avatar had the cheek to call its Mcguffin “Unobtainium.”

    But Helium 3 can be used for fuel in a FUSION reactor mixed with deturium(sp) from the ocean. Look at books by Ben Bova and other more science correct writers. And He3 does come from the sun and can be harvisted from lunar regolith. The TV movie “Plymouth” had that as part of the plot.

    As far as bad science movies, “Mission Mars with dareen McGaven i think from 71 They wear skin tight pressure suits on the martian surface. Later on, they find a russian cosmonaut frozen to death on the planet. They bring him back and he revives when he THAWS out. At the end he helps darren McGaven take-off from mars. Plus there was this alien plant, they called a SUN Flower i think, it focused sun light and burned one if the astronauts. Is not sun light too weak to do that on mars?

    TSGTKenny

  78. Bruce

    Any scene from “An Inconvenient Truth”. That whole movie is science fiction.

  79. Time travel: in the end I was rather disappointed by “Primer”, but enjoyed “Time Crimes” very much, and of course “La jetée”.

    Are they SF? “Solaris” and “Stalker” by Tarkovsky, Kubrick’s “Dr Strangelove”.

    What about the science in “Alien” and “Blade Runner”? The Iron Giant? “WALL-E”?

  80. John Paradox

    75. Jack Hagerty Says:

    Actually, “Silent Star” is a Polish/East German co-production from 1959. The version that made it to the US (re-cut by Crown International distributing company) was called “First Spaceship on Venus.” That version is ripe for ridicule, but the original, released to DVD a few years ago, is a whole ‘nother story.

    Apparently, wherever I found that claim (FSOV=SS) didn’t know that, but I have seen both the regular and MST3K version of FSOV. Silent Star is…[new tab/NetFlix] available on NetFlix (though they also have Silent Star /n First Spaceship On Venus so I don’t know for sure that it’s the Original). Instant or DVD…. now for some time to stream it….

    J/P=?

  81. Gary Ansorge

    67. T.E.L.

    I guess you missed the reference to the floor magnets being super conductors. Once current flow is initiated in a superconductor no further energy input is required, so it would have been quite cost effective. Of course, their super C magnets are room temp, which we don’t have,,,yet.

    ,,,and then their living quarters were rotating, to provide acceleration without their fero magnetic suits.

    I con’t think of anything else that went against known science. Granted, their venus surface suits were a stretch but not impossible. We have deep immersion suits for ocean exploration that might be extrapolated to such a suit for Venus.

    Gary 7

  82. Gary Ansorge

    One disadvantage of ANY steady state, uniform field effect, either electromagnetic or true gravity, is that the further you are from the source, the less effect you feel and that follows the inverse square law. While the effect of a mag field close to the floor might feel like one G, by the time you get to the upper body, it would be minuscule. Granted, one COULD have a variable effect by having less fero-magnetic material close to the mag. field source, and more such material as you move further away but you’re still left with the inner ear problem,ie, just because your feet and body feel one g, your inner ear would still be saying “OMG, I’M IN FREE FALL,,,”. That might generate some confusion.

    Also, in reference to He3,,,it’s primary benefit is that the fusion reaction is aneutronic. Recovering it from lunar regolith would be about as cost effective as recovering solar created H2 from the same material. Not exactly a high concentration source. Dr. Bussard pointed out that the Boron11+Proton reaction is also aneutronic and there’s a lot of Boron11 readily accessible right here on old earth.

    GAry 7

  83. mike burkhart

    I forgot to mention my two favorate scifi franchies one that start with”space the final fronter” and the other that starts with “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away” THATS RIGHT I LIKE BOTH STAR TREK AND STAR WARS I know I must be weird . warp 1 mr sulu.and may the force be with you

  84. T.E.L.

    Gary Ansorge Said:

    “I guess you missed the…”

    That makes us even, then, because there are some real stinkers in Defying Gravity.

    “…the further you are from the source, the less effect you feel and that follows the inverse square law.”

    That depends on how the mass (or charge) is spatially distributed. For an ideal point-mass it’s always true. For an extended body it depends on if you’re in its near or far-field. It’s why the strength of gravity approaches zero as one approaches the center of the Earth. It’s also why, even in principle, you can’t get two thin, flat, smooth plates close enough to weld together solely by their gravitic interaction. When inside a body’s near-field, the strength of gravity increases with distance, linearly. Once outside the near-field it commences dropping off by the inverse-square law.

  85. RE: Defying Gravity.

    I watched the whole run and wasn’t impressed (the scene explaining the ‘magnetic gravity’ was IMO, ridiculous… magnetic hair spray?). Much better was the aborted series, aired as a movie “Virtuality”. By the end of it, I was wanting more, both to see what was going on in the virtual world and the real mission. Though I’m a great fan of ‘bad movies’, I also enjoy really good stuff (Inherit The Wind, Judgement at Nuremberg, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington).

    J/P=?

  86. Patrick

    The JJ Abrams Star Trek was a spectacular science fail.

  87. Gary Ansorge

    By the way, has anyone caught the latest SAnctuary.

    Excellent sound track.

    GAry 7

  88. cmflyer

    My idea for artificial gravity in a story I never finished was to put magnets in the ceiling and have the crew wear suits made of superconducting fabric. They would be repelled to the floor.

  89. Regarding 2001 – when I was a young lad in 1968 visiting NY with my mother, I talked her into taking me to the just opened “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the Loew’s Capitol Theater. One of the coolest things I remember was getting a handbill as you entered the theater explaining that 2001 tried to be as scientifically accurate as possible. It then explained the decompression scene (Dave reentering Discovery) stating that while most people would think that a human would instantly die or explode in a vacuum, experiments had shown it was possible to survive for very short periods. I wish I had saved that small piece of movie ephemera.

  90. Robert Hale

    Gary @ 57:
    I Think that was an Arthur C Clarke story, not Heinlein. Entitled ‘Take A Deep Breath’, if memory serves.

  91. Darrell E

    18. Duane Says:
    January 22nd, 2010 at 5:38 pm
    There was a scene in Avatar where a character emerges briefly into Pandora’s atmosphere without his mask. From the amount of time he was out there, he should have passed out, staggered, or at least his eyes should have glazed over. A brief opportunity to add a little scientific realism to a scene was missed, in my opinion.

    It seemed clear to me that he simply held his breath. Somebody brought him a mask in less than a minute. Just about anybody can hold their breath that long.

    55. cmflyer Says:
    January 23rd, 2010 at 10:22 am
    I’d like to see votes for the best and worst human decompression scenes.

    Another decompression scene for your list is in the movie “Outland” starring Sean Connery as a Marshall assigned to a mining facility on Io. A drug crazed miner enters a lift that serves the mine, which also functions as an airlock, without a suit. As the lift car descends the atmosphere is removed, and a very messy car arrives at the bottom.

    And yes, there was a scene in “Sunshine” where two or three members of the crew attempt a suitless transfer from ship to ship wrapped in blankets of some sort, similar to Bowman’s in “2001″. One of the crew making the attempt fails and is lost.

  92. OK.. The best __DIALOG__ in a science related (building citizens from dug up parts) clearly goes to

    Frankenstein – in the scene : Frankenstein sees the light

    Urrrrr – arrrrrrrrrrggghhh unnnnngh

    Tops — klatu berrata niktu [sp?]
    meaty

    Makes me wonder what he would have said if noodled into a black hole…

    Urrrrr – arrrrrrrrrrggghhh unnnnngh

  93. tom

    Sorry guys it was not my intent to be a troll. I love this site.

  94. Russell

    I’d like to toss The Man from Earth out their are a piece of excellent SciFi. They really make the movie work well and comes across as educated in the discussion. Enjoyed it greatly.

  95. OK, tearing its way through Krell metal, this horrendous monster (in Forbidden Planet) generated by a mind controlled force thingy intended to do welding & back hoe stuff. Tote that barge… Cool. The monster killer was from the “id”. ooooooooooo

    So now we have these monkeys with Viking helmets wired to a mechanical arm that they control with their monkey minds. .

    NOOOOOOOOOOOO … monkey ids will get you! I envision a monkey lab master throttled by his throat by a robot arm to a monkey looking wistfully out the window wondering what life on the outside has to offer.

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