TV, films boldly go down scientific path

Some of those same advances enable special effects that almost demand help from scientists to explain, Emmerich says. "Audiences are jaded and cynical these days. If they see something that is not credible, they will shut it off."

So how good is the science in today's films and shows?

"Occasionally, you will get a glimpse of real science, ideas being tested by experiments," Kirby says. One problem is that sitting at a lab bench piping cells into glassware isn't all that entertaining, he adds. "For the most part, audiences want the answers quickly."

'It can't all be science'

"There still has to be that fantastic element. It can't be all science," says Emmerich, whose 2004 film, The Day After Tomorrow, featured an instant Ice Age that climate scientists say stretched past the tipping point of reality. "We had a real scientific worry, and we just packed it into a few days instead of decades or centuries," he says.

More broadly, how science appears in entertainment can change how people see scientific problems, says Plait. The 1998 film Deep Impact featured some shaky science in its plot to divert a massive asteroid from Earth with nuclear bombs, he notes, but is widely credited by astronomers with raising public awareness of the threat from "Near Earth" asteroids and helping secure funding for asteroid surveys.

"I would say some representations of science can significantly impact public understanding," for better and for worse, Kirby says. He views 2000's Mission to Mars as "harmful," perpetuating a bogus idea in the public mind because the film depicted as real the geological feature known as the Face on Mars, which actually is an optical illusion.

"Who knows? The trend toward science in entertainment may fizzle," Kirby says. "But I would argue that it is here to stay. The heavy focus on science in films and TV has been cyclical, but always there. People only think it is new."

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...