Nowadays one doesn't need to have a degree in physics to notice that there is precious little science in big screen science fiction!


battlest.jpg (4920 bytes)ERROR: SOUND IN OUTER SPACE
Forget about Han Solo in Star Wars referring to parsecs as a unit of time (it is actually a unit of measurement!) but the Star Wars Trilogy's biggest legacy is sound in outer space. All those roaring engines of spaceships may be very exciting but the fact remains that sound doesn't travel in a vacuum (like outer space).

BIGGEST TRANSGRESSORS: Well, most of today's sci-fi. Anything from Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica to Lost In Space.

RARE EXCEPTION: A very rare exception indeed is 2001: A Space Odyssey where the soundlessness of space is used to unnerving effect. All you'll hear in the outer space shots in this movie are the occasional strains of The Blue Danube . . .

In Star Trek they have something called "sub-space signals" - whatever that may be! But it guarantees instantaneous radio communication between space ships that are thousands of light years away from each other. Very handy. But most sci-fi movies don't even bother to explain why radio signals, which travel at the speed of light, should provide real-time communication between objects that are enormous distances removed.

BIGGEST TRANSGRESSORS: Most sci-fi movies. Notably Capricorn One in which an astronaut on Mars has a real-time conversation with his mother back on earth. In reality even communication between Earth and the planet closest to it would be a long-winded affair. Radio signals from Mars would take about  twenty minutes or so to reach the earth, so there would have been considerable pauses between questions and replies.

RARE EXCEPTIONS: Contact makes good use of the fact that (as Carl Sagan used to sagely intone) "space is very big". In its opening shot, as the camera zooms away from Earth, we soon realise that the radio transmissions emanating from it are getting older and older. Soon there is complete silence - even at the speed of light radio and television signals haven't penetrated that far beyond our planet into outer space! Designed to make one feel small - that is if audiences in the cinemas actually know that distances between stars and planets are that huge! It helps if your movie is based on the work of a noted scientist like Sagan . . .

And of course, 2001 again. An astronaut listens to a pre-recorded message from his mother as they near Jupiter. Real-time communication would have been impossible by then!

This is a biggie. Even assuming that something like "artificial gravity" would have been invented, then how does it work? Does it use some kind of centrifugal force? Then why is it that when people leave a space ship to clamber about on its outside in a space suit that they suddenly find themselves in zero gravity conditions? Doesn't this "artificial gravity" extend beyond even a fracture of a distance beyond its hull?

Also, distant planets (even known ones such as Mars) would have people on it moving about as if it has Earth-like gravity. Ever watched those astronauts on the moon bounce around in the old footage? This is a budget talking: it would simply cost too much to actually imitate the real effects of gravity in space . . . but still!

Another interesting question is how it is that when space ships confront each other in outer space, both are always inevitably "the right side up"?

BIGGEST TRANSGRESSORS: Most sci-fi movies. In Star Trek - First Contact, there is gravity inside the Starship Enterprise E, but none on its immediate exterior. Actually Captain Picard makes use of near weightlessness in one scene to float right across some attacking Borg baddies. Finally, the Borg floats off into outer space . . .

If you apply logic you'll find that in Event Horizon gravity also seems to be working very selectively.

In Total Recall Arnold Schwarzenegger moves about on Mars (where gravity is about a third of ours) like he would on Earth. A strong man like Arnie would have no doubt have careened around all over the place like a beach ball out of control . . . Native Martians (people born on that planet) would have been a whole lot taller as well because of the smaller tug of gravity . . .

RARE EXCEPTIONS: 2001, again. Pens float from the pockets of shuttle passengers in zero g. People wear magnetised shoes to create a semblance of gravity and not fly all over the place - sometimes they still do in any case.

Apollo 13 also went to great lengths to accurately depict weightlessness in the ill-fated space capsule . . .

2001a.jpg (13125 bytes)ERROR: EXPLOSIONS IN OUTER SPACE
What would an explosion in outer space look like? Well, for one there wouldn't be any flames (fire needs oxygen - a substance missing in outer space) and there wouldn't be any "boom" noise.

BIGGEST TRANSGRESSORS: Most movies. In Starship Troopers the huge starships orbiting over the bugs' home planet explodes and actually catches fire - with the fires licking upwards! Something similar occurs in the climactic battle between the Enterprise and the baddies in Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan . . .

RARE EXCEPTIONS: The scene in 2001 in which astronaut David Bowman re-enters the Jupiter 2 space ship by exploding open an airlock should give you an idea of how an explosion in a vacuum should be like. Also, the scene plays out in complete silence . . .

starship2.jpg (15513 bytes)ERROR: LOTS!
How can aliens always speak English or learn it so quickly (StarGate)? Why are UFOs are always saucer shaped when most of the time their journey would be spent in outer space (Independence Day)? How do they manoeuvre so nimbly in an atmosphere in any case (Close Encounters of the Third Kind)? Why does a clone contain memories of the person it was cloned from (Alien Resurrection)?

Most sci-fi stuff are impossible in any case: time travel (Back to the Future), shrinking (Innerspace, The Incredible Shrinking Man), mutating into monstrous size because of radiation (Godzilla), the effects of relativity upon space flight, aliens resembling humanoid forms (Star Trek, Alien), cross-breeding between alien life forms (Spock), etc. And so forth . . .

RARE EXCEPTION: Having a scientist like Arthur Clarke as close advisor on 2001 helped a lot. Now how about more Hollywood execs taking this on board some real scientists instead of those so-called "technical advisors" they usually do?



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