Five Science Fiction Movies That Get the Science Right

Recently we praised the latest sci-fi blockbuster Iron Man for including so many real-world technologies.

It makes a change, since all too often Hollywood's use of science involves shocking blunders: including spaceships making whooshing noises in Star Wars to the journey to the center of the Earth in The Core.

So, to give credit where it's due, we have picked out five more sci-fi films that go against the grain, and contain some accurate, plausible science. They may not be completely realistic, but they get it right when it matters most.

Be warned: this article inevitably contains a number of spoilers.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

"Open the pod-bay doors, HAL."

Despite being made before the first moon landing, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke's masterpiece is a strikingly realistic depiction of space travel.

It envisions interplanetary spaceships that use a variety of techniques to allow people to exist in zero gravity – some sections rotate to generate artificial gravity, others have walls covered in Velcro (or something similar) so that crewmembers wearing suitable shoes can walk across them.

Among the film's neater details:

All scenes in outer space are silent – sound does not travel in a vacuum The stars do not move past the ship – for there to be a visible motion of the star field, the ship would have to be travelling at close to the speed of light The crew eat paste-like food and only drink liquids through straws.

Additionally, crew members are shown coping with the boredom and routine of a long, straightforward trek across empty space.

Newtonian physics is strictly obeyed in the behaviour of the ship and little "pods" that the astronauts use to travel outside it. Trouble only starts when a carefully-aligned radio transmitter, the crew's lifeline to Earth, begins to drift out of position.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

"I walked out the door. There's no memory left."

The central character, Joel, discovers that his girlfriend Clementine has erased her memories of their relationship. Heartbroken and embittered, he goes to the company that performed the procedure and asks them to erase his memories as well.

However, as the procedure gets underway, he realises that he wants to keep the memories after all, and begins to resist.

This sort of selective memory erasure is well beyond our current technology, but there are good reasons to think it may not be impossible. Several forms of dementia affect particular types of memory – for instance semantic dementia, which targets only factual knowledge about the world, and not "personal" life memories.

Sensibly, the film depicts memory as essentially a network of links. In its frenetic second half, Joel is asleep while the technicians "operate" on his mind. We follow as he careens from recent memories of his relationship to those of his earliest childhood.

As he encounters each memory, it is identified by the technicians and erased, leading to spectacular sequences of him running through bookshops while books disappear from the shelves and escaping from a house that is disappearing one wall at a time.

Alien (1979)

"I can't lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathies."

This sci-fi horror has a number of realistic touches, such as the use of suspended animation to keep the spaceship's crew alive during decades-long interstellar travel (no implausible faster-than-light travel for these astronauts).

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