There are a few rules of thumb about making a good fictional movie. “Introduce character, introduce conflict, show resolution” is common when it comes to structure. Avoid excessive exposition (using dialogue as a shortcut for explaining background) is another.
Now a physics professor has a proposal for another rule: only break the laws of physics once per movie.
Sidney Perkowitz made the comments as part of a panel discussion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual convention. It followed on from the 2008 launch of the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program designed to help writers make their work more scientifically accurate.
The panel members mentioned several particularly prominent blunders, but by far the most criticized movie was 2003’s The Core in which the Earth stops spinning and scientists travel to the center (without breaking a sweat) to detonate a nuclear bomb which somehow restarts its motion. Perkowitz almost believes “it’s almost deliberately wrong just to irritate the scientists in the audience” and adds “Ignorance is excusable. Contempt is not excusable.”
Another film which is the subject of regular criticism is Starship Troopers in which bugs are scaled up to 10 feet tall. Perkowitz notes the creatures would then weigh more than 100,000 pounds, almost certainly meaning their legs would collapse.
Perkowitz has even written a book on the subject: Hollywood Science: Movies, Science, and the End of the World, though for attention-grabbing titles, it can’t compete with Tom Rogers’ Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics: Hollywood’s Best Mistakes, Goofs and Flat-Out Destructions of the Basic Laws of the Universe.
The San Diego Union-Tribune makes an important point about the power of Hollywood: while An Inconvenient Truth grossed $49 million, The Day After Tomorrow took in $544 million. Whatever your view on the climate change debate, it’s probably fair to say the latter, seen by far more people, took more dramatic license.
Incidentally, the story has been a wonderful example of the different approaches taken by varying media sources. While the New York Times went for the bland-but-functional “Make Science-Fiction Movies More Scientific, Says Scientist”, I09.com opted for “Scientist To Hollywood: Stop Making Shit Up”