Science fiction movies should be allowed only one major transgression of the laws of physics, according to a U.S. professor who has won backing from a number of his peers after creating a set of guidelines for Hollywood.
The proposals are intended to curb the film industry’s worst abuses of science by confining scriptwriters to plotlines that embrace the suspension of disbelief but stop short of demanding it in every scene.
The guidelines are by Sidney Perkowitz, a professor of physics at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and a member of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, an advisory body run by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
Prof. Perkowitz said he liked Starship Troopers, but criticised its giant insects, saying if you scaled up a real bug to that size it would collapse under its own weight. He hated The Core, in which a team of scientists travel to the centre of the Earth and detonate a nuclear device to start the planet’s core spinning again.
The Science and Entertainment Exchange is backed by Dustin Hoffman, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker and Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Prof. Perkowitz said: “The hope is that it will get better science into film while still making them interesting.” Most recently, the exchange has advised on the Watchmen movie and the TV series, Heroes.
“I am not offended if they make one big scientific blunder in a given film,” Prof. Perkowitz added. “You can have things move faster than the speed of light if you want. But after that I would like things developed in a coherent way.”
“If you violate that you are in trouble. The chances are that the public will pick it up and that is what matters to Hollywood. The Core did not make money because people understood the science was so out to lunch,” he added.
Ron Howard’s 2009 production of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons also fared poorly among scientists. In it, Tom Hanks’s character, Robert Langdon, has to protect the Vatican from being destroyed by an antimatter bomb that is confined in a glass vial by a magnetic field produced by a small battery.
“The amount of antimatter they had was more than we will make in a million years of running a high-energy particle collider,” said Prof. Perkowitz. “You can’t contain it using an iPod battery.”