By Thomas Cowley
Acclaimed Astrophysicist and borderline celebrity (come on, how many scientists do you recognize by name other than Stephen Hawking) Neil deGrasse Tyson complained via twitter all day yesterday about the scientific inaccuracies of the recent space film, “Gravity” that released in theaters this past Friday.
His major complaint stemmed from the unreal physics that the movie incorporated that do not truly exist out in space and other fallacies of logic that someone of his intellectual standing is sure to pick up on such as,
“Mysteries of #Gravity: Nearly all satellites orbit Earth west to east, yet all satelite debris portrayed orbit east to west”
This is not the first time that Tyson has lambasted a science fiction movie for lacking actual science as seen by his response to Ridley Scott's “Prometheus” in which he tweeted:
“Prometheus goes 35 light yrs into space, but CharlizeTheron gaffes 'We're a half billion miles from Earth' – Just past Jupiter.”
There are those that agree with Tyson, wishing that such a big film would incorporate real science and not pass off bad information, and there are those who simply do not care. It is true that movies possess a great deal of influence over the general public. Urban legends say that undershirt sales plummeted after star Clark Gable was seen not wearing one in the 1934 hit, “It happened One Night”. That and other examples proposed by scholars shows that films have the ability to affect a population, so a scientist wanting an accurate portrayal of science is a fair claim.
But to play devils advocate, one of the primary edicts of screenwriting is to throw out what doesn't work for the story. By this rule constant rules of physics, nature, and logic are casually thrown aside, some with ill effect such as most slasher movies, and some to great effect like “Jaws”. A screenwriter must make sure the movie is compelling before it is logical, because it is made for entertainment. A
And that to me is the biggest thing. It is entertainment. People ultimately go to the movies to escape reality and to have fun. Personally, while Tyson's stance is respectable, a movie is not exactly the source of accurate information with which we should concern ourselves. Books and school need to be accurate of course, but a movie can get away with fudging the numbers to some degree for the sake of fun. Because if it is not fun, it will not work.
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