Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Sci in our Fi

Mike Brotherton, University of Wyoming Associate Professor of Astronomy, speaks about science in movies at the Summer 2011 Saturday University event in Jackson. Does it matter if Hollywood gets the science right in movies? Entertainment informs opinions about science and scientists and is stealth education for better or worse. Good science is rare in the movies, but perhaps even bad science offers teachable moments. In this talk, he illustrates examples of good and bad science in cinema.

Mike organizes and teaches Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, with the goal of improving the portrayal of science in books and films. This clip is almost an hour long, but full of interesting perspectives.

As a former astronomy teacher/presenter and scriptwriter/producer for planetariums, as well as a movie lover and, like Mike, a member of SFWA, I love a science fiction movie or TV show that makes an effort to get the science right while honoring its paramount obligations to story and drama. Meanwhile, I grind my teeth when science is ignored simply out of laziness or willful ignorance, especially when the choice of respecting the science (and therefore our intelligence) could have honored and even enhanced the story and drama. And there are cases, such as Mike's example of the stars in Titanic, when getting it right is just as easy as getting it wrong, so why not get it right for those of us who notice? J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, as much as I love it, is a case in which my teeth-grinding could have been forestalled with a few pen strokes that simultaneously worked in service to the story's narrative and tension. Oh, if only he'd seen my Star Trek show produced in cooperation with Paramount.

Music: Miklós Rózsa
Near at hand: Oddly inscribed scabbarded short sword that, I swear, came with the house.