Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Read the words, guys!

No, not this Gravity.
I was slightly disappointed though not at all surprised to see that the BBC has given the movie Gravity (no relation to the excellent book of that name) a plug by entering that hoary old debate, 'Can science fiction ever get the science right?'

The article points out that while 'many critics' (who, of course, are mostly scientists?!?) have praised the film for its scientific accuracy, US astronomer and science promoter Neil deGrasse Tyson has 'several issues with the accuracy of Gravity's portrayal of space.'

Frankly, most of the issues Tyson raises (satellites usually go west to east, but the debris goes east to west; Sandra Bullock's hair doesn't float around in microgravity - never heard of gel, Neil?) are trivial, though there is a more significant point that somehow you get the ISS (at 250 miles up) and Hubble (at 350 miles up) in line of sight of each other.

To be honest these issues are pretty trivial compared to what happens in many sci fi extravaganzas. The article refers to an asteroid in Armageddon that appears to have full Earth gravity, while one of my favourites is the Star Trek TNG movie (can't remember which) where the saucer section of the Enterprise crashes on a planet with no power. Now this thing weighing megatonnes would glide like a brick. Yet the structure remains in one piece, and all that happens to the crew is they get bounced around a bit (as they still hadn't seen the road safety film about wearing seatbelts). No metal structure like that could stay in one piece after a crash like - and they would all be splatted. End of story.

However, I don't generally moan about this (or the time travel issues in Looper) because of a pretty obvious reason that I've mentioned before. Just read the words. 'Science fiction.' Get it? It's fiction. Made up. A story. Now it's perfectly reasonable to expect moviemakers and authors to do their best with the science. But there comes a point where the storytelling is more important. If the science gets in the way of the story, then it's fine to tweak reality, as long as you are then consistent with your tweaking. Story has to win over scientific accuracy in fiction.

Of course a lot of these errors aren't for the benefit of the story they are just laziness or bad research. And in that case it's really a matter of degree. It's reasonable to expect a basic consistency with reality, but you really can't expect moviemakers to get every last detail right. (The third nut from the left on the Hubble is gold, not silver!!!) Otherwise you become the nerdy person who points out that in the episode of Downton, the locomotive shown would never be seen in that part of Yorkshire (or whatever). Sorry, yawn, yawn, yawn. Don't care. It's not significant. Nothing to see here. Let's get on with the story...

No comments:

Post a Comment