Summer 2010: Of Note

Reel Science

At the Movies

In a series of videos, Emory faculty members take on some of the most popular summer blockbusters—looking at the history of romanticized Hollywood vampires, the roots of Sex and the City, and the underlying spirituality of Avatar.

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By Mary J. Loftus

Charles Howard Candler Professor of Physics Sidney Perkowitz wants to make a new rule: filmmakers can break only one scientific law per movie. Science in films is often wrong and nearly always sensationalized, says Perkowitz, author of Hollywood Science: Movies, Science, and the End of the World. “If you convey faulty information to that many people, you are doing science and society a big disservice,” he says. “A little bit of fooling around is fine, as long as I can still enjoy my popcorn without getting too irked.”

Starship Troopers (1997)

Premise: In the movie, based on a book by Robert Heinlein, soldiers fight a race of giant alien insects.

Problem: The big bugs from Klendathu that menace the future of humanity are so large, says Perkowitz, they would collapse under the weight of their own exoskeletons.

Volcano (1997)

Premise: A volcano threatens Los Angeles, Pierce Brosnan, and Anne Heche.

Problem: The San Andreas fault can produce only earthquakes, not volcanoes, making a flood of lava on Rodeo Drive highly unlikely.

X-Men (2000)

Premise: A band of unique power-possessing mutants fight other mutants who want to change all of humanity.

Problem: “Most mutations in nature are harmful,” Perkowitz says. “The X-Men have too many powers, and they are always beneficial somehow.”

The 6th Day (2000)

Premise: In the year 2015, a man (played by Commencement speaker Arnold Schwarzenegger) returns home on his birthday to find that a clone has replaced him.

Problem: “Cloning is not about Xeroxing an adult; all it does is create an embryo.”

The Core (2003)

Premise: When Earth mysteriously stops rotating, a team of “terranauts” detonate a nuclear bomb in the center of the planet to get it spinning again.

Problem: In reality, anyone who came close to the Earth’s core would “instantly vaporize.”

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