Draft #1, 04/24/2015
The topic for Project #2 that I discussed with Prof. Belli in our meeting asks the question “Does Scientific Accuracy Matter in Fiction?”, and if it does, why? Let me explain.
Many times in stories we are presented with a set of facts. Depending on where the work falls on the Science Fiction Scale of Hardness the audience can either interpret the facts as just an invention of the author as a plot point, or as a representation of real life science. In some cases it’s pretty obvious what has been made up by the author, such as light-speed space travel, or matter-disintegrating lasers, or something like that. However, in more “serious” works that feature topics that fall under ‘real life’ scientific theory, like genetic engineering for example, the facts presented in the work can be so convincing that it may lead the audience to take that made-up ‘fact’ as a representation of actual scientific thought.
The matter becomes even more complicated when a work actually blends the latest research on a certain topic into its narrative, and becomes a stellar example of the theory at the time of its creation, but becomes an issue when science marches on. In other words, because of either technological advancements or new discoveries in the field, the knowledge presented in said work becomes outdated. However, that “knowledge” already made a lasting impression in the minds of the audience, even more so if the work was successful enough to reach a wide audience and became a cultural icon.
When such arguments are brought up, many individuals who identify with said work and hold it dear to their hearts (aka fanboys/fangirls) argue:
WHO CARES?? IT’S FICTION!! IT’S JUST THERE TO DRIVE THE PLOT OF THE STORY!!1!
What these individuals fail to notice, however, is how that “knowledge” presented in the work has become so entrenched in pop culture that the majority of the audience (who, let’s face it, don’t keep up with the latest research in the field) take it for granted, and keep passing on the made-up or outdated views presented in the work onto others, which go on to become the inspiration and basis for other stories, merchandise, toys, etc. All based on what is basically false or outdated knowledge.
For the project itself, I’ll try to find examples of popular movies/stories that have skewed the audience’s perception of certain facts. I already have one in mind, which is one of my favorite all-time movies, but since I’m aware that my tastes are… different, I’ll try to find at least two more good examples to make the paper/presentation stronger and less biased towards my own preferences.
Draft #2, 04/30/2015
I was told to be more specific about what movies I plan to analyze, so here it goes.
As some may know, Jurassic World is coming out this year in June, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to address an issue that has been a topic of conversation within the paleo-community (that is, the community formed by scientists that work on prehistoric organisms, artists that specialize in creating reconstructions of said organisms, and members of the general public that have a personal interest in the field).
The original Jurassic Park came out in 1993, based on the novel of the same name by author Michael Crichton. It is a science fiction & action/adventure movie whose plot revolves around the revival of dinosaurs through genetic engineering, and the consequences of using science for basically entertainment purposes by manipulating nature. At the time before the movie came out, dinosaurs and other prehistoric organisms were perceived by the general public as giant, sluggish creatures that lived in swamps, doomed to extinction. The filmmakers of Jurassic Park worked in collaboration with scientists and artists to incorporate the latest science regarding dinosaurs (the so called “Dinosaur Renaissance”) into the movie, and the result was a film that challenged the views of dinosaurs at the time, portraying them as the active, agile and intelligent creatures that they actually were. To add to that, Jurassic Park became an iconic movie of the 90’s, with it pioneering advancements in special effects.
Although the science presented in Jurassic Park was top-notch at the time of its release, further discoveries in the field of paleontology (dino-science) have proved that dinosaurs were even stranger than we ever imagined. One of the main aspects that have come to the forefront is the fact that they were all not just scaly giant versions of lizards, but that many of them had some form of covering on their body (what is known as integument), consisting of feathers, fur-like fibers, spines and quills. Adding to that, when we look at animals today we realize that their skin doesn’t lie snugly against their skeletons and muscles, they have all sorts of tissues that give them their unique appearance. This all has lead to what some people call the “Feather Revolution”, which is a movement that tires its best to break the mold of the old scale-face monsters and portray dinosaurs and other extinct organisms as living, breathing creatures as accurately as possible with the data available.
When the trailer for Jurassic World, a sequel 22 years in the making, was released a couple months ago it was revealed that, unlike the creators of the original movie, the filmmakers decided to keep the dinosaurs “retro”, portraying them not only using the inaccurate science from 1993, but also incorporating or prolonging common misconceptions regarding dinosaurs.
The response from the paleo-community was one of dissapointment, as can be seen in this article by artist John Conway, whereas some folks outside of the community find the scientists’ concerns a matter of ridicule.
SO HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO SCIENCE FICTION?
The goal of my project is to raise the question of why it is important for creators in sci-fi, whether they are authors, screenwriters or filmmakers, to present current scientific thinking within the context of their work, and I will be using the Jurassic World conundrum as a springboard for discussion. In addition, I would also like to have examples of other films/works that have been criticized for portraying science in an incorrect manner. I might talk about the movie Gravity, which although I haven’t seen it, I’ve heard that it also portrays many misconceptions regarding space travel and physics. I’ll have to watch the movie and conduct further research of course.
Also, while thinking about other examples of incorrect “facts” being portrayed in movies I came across this video where they demonstrate a common misconception portrayed in movies: the supposed fact that humans only used 10% of our brain capacity. The narrator is a little annoying, and you can stop watching at 2:22, but it basically makes the point.