Why Movie Science is SO Bad! (and why it probably won’t ever get better)

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Photo Credit: Luc Viatour

By: Will Blasingame, Editor

Whether its an action hero doing flips that defy the law of gravity or a nonsense ‘scientific’ explanation that supposedly gives credibility to movie magic, you can always count on screen writers to throw in science-like terms for the sake of the plot. Even movies that aim to be as scientifically plausible as possible still fall into this trap (like the shape and deadliness of the tidal wave on the water planet in Interstellar). The question is why is movie science garbage and will it ever get better?

There are many possible reasons why this may be, but this news site is named Hidden Philosophy for a reason, so I will use Plato’s most famous work, Republic, to attempt an explanation. Plato claims that there are three versions of a thing: the idea, the object, and the imitation. Plato uses the example of a bed. The idea of a bed is what everyone pictures in their mind when you say ‘bed’ and is what craftsmen draw from when they create a bed. There may different ideas of what a bed looks like, but those ideas draw on one idea of a more general bed. When a craftsmen builds a bed, he is once removed from the ideal and while the bed contains all the elements of one version of the ideal, a single bed will not have all attributes of every bed. Plato regards the ideal bed as the truth, as established by God, and the craftsman’s bed as less true. The third version, or the imitation, is that which a painter paints of a bed. This bed is two-dimensional and is only what a painter thinks the specific bed that the craftsman made is like. Since the painter is no bed-maker, the nuance of the bed is lost.

Plato regards this imitation as a threat to society, and while I would not necessarily agree, this idea is useful in understanding movie science. In this analogy, the ideal is the object truth of the universe, mostly unknown to man, while scientists are the craftsmen, building what they can by searching for the truth. The filmmakers, on the other hand, are the painters, imitating an imitation. Imitating what scientists do, who themselves are not infallible, adding even more error. The movie science would be more accurate if scientists were the ones to make movies, but why would scientists abandon their field to imitate their field? Even if they did, they would not be as good filmmakers as filmmakers themselves (at least for the most part). Thus we were stuck with half-baked explanations of impossible phenomena.

So next time you think about rolling your eyes at the ridiculousness of a movie science explanation, just remember, the filmmakers are just imitating science, not trying to be accurate. Whether accuracy in movies should be valued is a question for another time.

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