Movie Science, At Best, Is Not Science

“You’re a scientist, Harry!”

I recently watched Europa Report, the limited release science fiction darling of the year.  It’s gotten a relatively good response from critics, as it currently holds a 77% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  I’m impressed by its ability to catch the public’s interest, as I’ve seen people in my Facebook feed mention their anticipation for this flick who I don’t normally see pay any attention to science fiction.

So, is this the brilliant science fiction film we’ve all been waiting for since 2001? No, wait, make that Bladerunner? Highlander 2: The Quickening? Maybe Sunshine? Or was it Moon? Jeez, science fiction cinema seems to be in a constantly rejuvenating state of decline.

And right there you have my first problem with Europa Report, which–in all fairness–is not necessarily the movie’s fault.  It’s that every time a science fiction movie comes along that isn’t as mind-numbingly stupid as this year’s Star Trek Into Darkness it gets hailed as this brilliant second coming for science fiction cinema that can’t be missed if you’re a real SF fan!  Its supporters are eager to laud its scientific accuracy as the main reason it’s noteworthy, you know, because the producers told them so. (And I’m not about to say that scientific accuracy is unimportant; I did recently kvetch about an unscientific tendency in recent SF cinema.) But if scientific accuracy is the prime indicator of quality (as a science fiction film) then any SF movie should pale in comparison to your average IMAX documentary.

So how was it as a movie?  Let’s put it this way: have you seen the aforementioned Sunshine or maybe The Core?  How about Apollo 18?  Because it plays like those first two with the directing style (found footage) of the last.  People go off to do something and they die off due to a series of unfortunate events ending with some revelation (or a narrowly successful mission.)  It’s been done before.  A lot.  It’s a shame that something so bog standard gets hailed as the big thing in intelligent science fiction.  Sure, it didn’t have (a lot of) explosions, but that still didn’t mean it was good.

How about Robot & Frank?  That was a low-key science fiction film about human interaction with technology.  Nobody gets killed and it’s endearing and funny.  I’ll also point out that it, too, wasn’t wholly original (see Bicentennial Man, the Robot Carnival segment titled “Presence,” or the Twilight Zone episode “The Lonely.”)

But then Robot & Frank was content to be a good movie rather than go shouting to the media how you should pay attention to it because it’s scientifically accurate.  And considering how poorly most of the media understand science, it’s not so surprising they’re eager to nod their heads in agreement.  

(Peculiarly, the same media that assumes no explosion = intelligent are ALSO talking highly about the upcoming Gravity, which kicks off its story with an explosion.)

 Maybe we should just stick a fork in the genre altogether.

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2 thoughts on “Movie Science, At Best, Is Not Science

  1. I quite liked Moon.
    That’s really all I have to say. I basically agree with everything else, though I haven’t seen Into the Darkness yet.

    1. Unfairly, my main complaint of Moon was that it wasn’t what I had expected. It was promoted as the super serious, hardcore science fiction film about a man living on the moon. What I got was a boring version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The 6th Day. What I expected was something that would address the realities of working on the moon: the monotony, the isolation, etc. (although it did touch on those things, which was why I still respect it.)

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