Ed. Note: We’ve got a special piece written by friend of the Junkyard, Maria Ramos. Maria originally brought the idea of a piece on the intersection of science and art to us a little while ago, and I obviously loved the idea. The Junkyard has talked about this topic endless times because the two are intrinsically linked, with countless opportunities arising to make more conversation. We hope you enjoy Maria’s take! – Lauren
Science educator and entertainer Neil deGrasse Tyson has recently pointed out scientific inaccuracies in films such as Titanic and Interstellar – and his words were so influential that James Cameron had the night sky adjusted in the 10 year re-release of Titanic when Tyson stated the positions of the stars over Kate Winslet’s head were wrong. In fact, there are now other sites arguing over whether even Tyson was correct in his evaluation (complete with technical schematics and software).
This influence comes as no surprise considering his work in bringing various issues to light, including concerns about the environment, effectively shutting down climate-denier arguments in his Cosmos episode, and the incorrect categorization of Pluto (which he has helped demote to a dwarf planet). However, this isn’t to say that scientific discrepancies alone can’t wholly undermine artistic merits. We are riding a fine line between what is real and what is fun to watch.
One of the most scientifically accurate films to date is the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey directed by Stanley Kubrick. This 1960’s film explores technology and science far into the future and this is all because of author (and legend) Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke not only collaborated with Kubrick on the script for this film, but was also a renowned science writer and futurist, famous for making predictions about technology in the future. One example of his predictions is shown in 2001: A Space Odyssey in the form of a Newspad, which is eerily similar to the iPad we have today. His knack for scientific realism gave the film incredibly accurate details, from showing astronauts eating real space food and explaining artificial gravity.
Gene Roddenberry created a whole world of technology and alternate lifeforms when he wrote the Star Trek series. We are just now learning that warp drives might be possible, but no one knew that when the show first came out. Flip phones, holograms, and touch screens were all once just of a writer’s imagination, using current scientific knowledge and pushing it beyond what had been though of before. It was because of Clarke, Roddenberry, and the futurist and sci-fi writers like them that science and film are such a universally loved pairing in the theaters.
Of course it goes both ways. Some films on the other side of the spectrum of 2001: A Space Odyssey include the long-forgotten film 2012 and I Am Legend. Both films depict some sort of apocalypse that wipes out the human race, however, in reality, global floods and blood-hungry vampires are just…not probable, and is rather artistic liberty that often takes place in Hollywood films. That said, the two marry so well, even if situations can be problematic.
The filmmakers who create inaccurate portrayals of science are not necessarily hurting their audiences, though. People can look up the accurate information in the movie theater on their phones if they like. That being said, unless audiences are really paying attention, these scientific inaccuracies aren’t going to make such a huge difference in their lives. Let’s be honest, who other than Neil DeGrasse Tyson noticed the stars in the sky in Titanic? The truth is, most people are going to know these films are simply fiction and won’t care if they’re accurate or not. Though by making film entertaining for audiences and actually teaching them about science , it may help better the audience’s understanding of the subject, whether it be in school or in everyday life, and potentially enhance the viewing experience. The best part is that they would be able to learn without even knowing it.
Films that did nothing but portray what true science looks like would be so, so boring to the public. Scientists often sit in their offices or labs for weeks trying to think of what the next step is in their research. No one wants to watch that on film, and the truth is often more boring than fiction. To find a way to make science fun in film may or may not be the answer, though Neil deGrasse Tyson is working on this with his television show Cosmos and his podcast Star Talk (now a TV show on NatGeo).
In the end, there is a middle ground in film that we could all reach if we are willing to be fair with each other. Scientists need to know that all films will not be completely accurate and not overreact over minor infractions. Filmmakers are never going to get every part of a film right, and scientists know that, though perhaps there’s room for screenwriters to work more closely with scientists to better understand their topic and assure accuracy. Ed note: and viewers may want to take a chill pill and just enjoy a movie without tearing it apart over minutia! Of course, as the old saying goes, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Scientists, Artists, and the like.
Written by Maria Ramos for Junkyard Arts. Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889