Whiplash

By Sean Carroll | December 18, 2009 8:36 am

My favorite example of a recent Hollywood blockbuster that scientists should like is Iron Man. Yes, it’s implausible that a prisoner in a cave in Afghanistan could build a lethal flying suit out of scrap metal, etc. But plausibility should never be the criterion for judging a science-fiction/fantasy scenario; sometimes you just have to bend the rules of the real world to get the required dramatic effects. Consistency, on the other hand, is crucial; the non-real world you invent should follow some set of rules, even if they veer away from the actual world. (Nobody complains that the Enterprise travels faster than light, but there are plenty of complaints about the bizarre use of time travel in the Star Trek franchise.)

Even better is when a film does a decent job at reflecting the practice of science. And that’s why I loved Iron Man — the whole second act revolves around Tony Stark in his lab, engineering designs and using trial-and-error to determine experimentally what works and what doesn’t. It makes for compelling viewing, which should be a lesson to people.

So we’re all excited about Iron Man 2, right?

The Science and Entertainment Exchange had a small hand in this one — apparently they needed a particle physicist to help get some of the scenes right. I don’t think it was the scene with the whips.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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