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Megan Scudellari interviews Feo Amante and Kelly Parks (of THE SCIENCE MOMENT) in The Scientist magazine's online website.
"Magazine of the Year" presented by The American Society of Business Publication Editors.

The Scientist Magazine interview at The-Scientist.com.

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2009

Star Trek
Kelly Parks
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
STAR TREK - 2009
Paramount
Rated: USA: PG-13
Without going into too much detail (
to avoid spoilers) let me just say that if you had a mini-blackhole and you wanted to use it to destroy a planet, you do NOT need to drill a hole to the center of the planet first. All you’d have to do is release it in the general direction of the planet and let nature take its course. The tiny singularity (which, depending on how tiny, wouldn’t exist for long thanks to Hawking radiation) would pass right through the unlucky planet and absorb it in seconds.

And by "absorb", I mean blow up. If a mini-blackhole passed through a planet, matter would fall into the blackhole faster than the blackhole could absorb it and this would result in much of the matter getting compressed so intensely that a sizable portion would get converted to energy. This is why actual blackholes are significant x-ray emitters. So the planet/blackhole encounter would result in a nova-level energy release, not the simple implosion shown in the movie.

Speaking of “shown", I’d like to suggest that Mr. Abrams take a look at the sky and answer the question, "If Mars or Venus were destroyed by a blackhole, how much of the event would you see with the naked eye?"

The answer (
in his implosion scenario) is not much, because planets are pretty far apart. If they appeared as big or bigger in the sky as our moon does to us, that implies they’re as close as our moon is to us. Get it? Good.

 

Terminator Salvation
Kelly Parks
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
TERMINATOR SALVATION - 2009
The movie never goes into detail about how the AI technology works so I can't analyze that. Instead, I'll just point out a common mistake in most (but not all) computers-taking-over-the-world movies. There is no theoretical upper limit to how smart an AI can be, which means that once it's capable of improving itself it would quickly (as in later that afternoon) be so vastly smarter than us that the idea that we could do anything to stop it is ridiculous. Can the ants in your yard stop you from eradicating them at your whim?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to continue my AI research.

 

District 9
Kelly Parks
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
DISTRICT 9 - 2009
EUREKA!
I was going to take issue with human/alien sex (have you seen these aliens?) which simply makes no sense to me
*. But I don't get foot fetishes either so whatever melts your butter. I was also tempted to talk about the term "Alien DNA". Taken literally, this is contradictory. DNA is the genetic blueprint for every living thing on Earth because here on Earth as life evolved DNA was life's answer to a specific chemical problem. There are, however, a great many possible chemical answers to that problem and the odds that alien life would also end up using Deoxyribonucleic Acid are very small. However, I can accept the fact that the movie was using the term "DNA" in a generic sense as in "the alien equivalent of DNA", so I can let that go too.

It's the conversion process itself I'd like to call to your attention. Wikus first notices what's happening to him at the site of an injury, which makes sense. If your genetic structure was being radically changed you'd notice it first where new cells were appearing. You also have to assume that the strange black fluid contains some advanced form of nanotechnology that carefully and intelligently plans his transformation. Otherwise he'd certainly have died. Kudos to the filmmakers for showing just enough tech to make this plausible but not so much as to give science geeks like me reasons to criticize the process.

*
FeoNote: Or for that matter, the sexual crush fetish, where no intercourse actually takes place between partners, but employs the stomping to death of insects or small animals by one person while another watches and pleasures themself. Seriously! WTF?

 

Pandorum
Eddie McMullen Jr.
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
E.C.MCMULLEN JR.
PANDORUM - 2009
Science and technology aren't always the same thing. Science can be about theories and ideas that have no real world applications. Technology on the other hand, deals with solving scientific engineering problems that produces actual material results. I'd like to focus on a major plot device in PANDORUM which employs the ever present use of Chem-lights.

Chem-lights or Chemiluminescence (
chemically created light), patented by Omniglow and manufactured in 1986 under such names as Cyalume and Snaplight (to name a few), is an old technology based upon chemical reaction. You break a chemical containing capsule, which is floating in another chemical, and when the two touch they produce light for a short period of time (
the atoms get excited upon meeting each other, but eventually lose interest). Eventually when the chemical reaction stabilizes and becomes inert, the light goes permanently "off".

Would this old tech still be around in 175 years? Unlikely as the tech is already moving into obsolescence by recent advances such as Electroluminescence, from companies such as CK Krill light sticks. Krill take up no more room than chem-lights, and produce illumination that can last as much as 27 times longer than chemlights - and you don't break anything. But even those will soon be obsolete due to the type of old fashioned battery it uses.

Modern advances in longer life battery storage (
since 2005 we've had batteries that can be ink-jet printed onto paper), ever advancing nanotechnology, and even the ability to genetically and safely make animals produce their own light, makes the idea of future astronauts, nearly two centuries from now, having to rely on something as quaint as a chem-light, amusing in a mocking-your-movie kind of way.

Imagine watching a movie about the ISS space station. The power goes out and the researchers onboard have to rely on light from a... whale oil lantern? Seriously, wouldn't it still seem out of place for researchers on a modern day space station to rely on candles or the more relatively modern tech of a kerosene lantern? And yet in PANDORUM, there they are, almost 2 centuries into the future, aboard an intergalactic starship, and running around with something as anachronistic as Snaplights.

It made sense in DESCENT, but that film takes place in the now, not the nearly 200 years from now.

As for the beginning of PANDORUM and our earth having too many people and so, running out of resources?

Consider that the film makes plain from the very start that in the future, we are flying all over the solar system.

All Over It.

Continued at
/Pandorum Science Moment.

 

Avatar
Eddie McMullen Jr.
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
E.C.MCMULLEN JR.
AVATAR - 2009
The word Unobtanium (please tell me you get it) is an old joke scifi staple used in SF satire and comedy. To find it actually being used in what is supposed to be a serious SF movie fraught with social commentary only serves to further demean any attempt at intellectual or moral depth. But that's not the only problem AVATAR has.

For those who don't know, James Cameron has made his mark in making hard-core science fiction movies. In The Terminator movies, time travel is a theory, possibly unlikely, but it isn't fantasy masquerading as science. Everything else was scientifically possible. In ALIENS, Cameron expanded on the hard core science fiction of ALIEN and ran with it. This gave a logic and sense of realism to a futuristic movie. That feeling of place and unforgiving reality allowed audiences to seamlessly plug in to what was happening on another planet, because there remained an order to everything despite the unknown.

Continued at /Avatar Science Moment.

2010

Daybreakers
Eddie McMullen Jr.
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
E.C.MCMULLEN JR.
DAYBREAKERS - 2007 - Released in the U.S. 2010
As writers and directors, the Spierig Brothers made DAYBREAKERS as a science fiction film.

So let's consider the modern source. Bram Stoker never had his vampire getting killed by the sun. Dracula walked in the sunlight as a normal man. But it was as a creature of the night, that Dracula regained his supernatural powers and strength. Vampires and their issues with sunlight were created by Director F. W. Murnau, who came up with that in his vampire flick, NOSFERATU. No one at the studio could figure out how to end the picture, so Murnau just had the creature fade away in the sunlight. Since then we've had vampires in sunlight decaying to dust (Hammer), boiling away (SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM), turning into a demon, catching fire and burning to death (VAMP), exploding (NEAR DARK), and burning to death (BLADE). The Spierig Brothers went for burning to death in the sun and exploding if staked.

Okay, sure, why not? I don't know what could cause that, but I know it has a cousin among the viruses. May I introduce, the Baculovirus.

However, since the movie never makes clear how the vampire epidemic came about in the first place - it just happened - I'll leave it alone.

This is what I can't leave alone in a science fiction movie: Vampires and mirrors.

In DAYBREAKERS, vampires can't see themselves in mirrors, so they have to use video cameras and look at themselves in a monitor.

No way.

A mirror, regardless of what it is made of (glass, plastic, polished metal) reflects light. As to its use and function, that's all it does and can do. Count Dracula didn't reflect in a mirror because, as Bram Stoker wrote him, what we saw of him was not his true form. There are also many moments in DRACULA where he becomes a wolf, a bat, and mist. It's never certain that he really was any of these things, these appearances may have been spells cast upon the human mind to make the characters think so. Bram alludes to this many times.

Some try to explain that a vampire can't be seen in a mirror because it doesn't reflect light. But if that were the case, the vampire wouldn't be invisible, but pitch black. The absence of light is no light, which is dark. If light passes through the vampire because it is invisible - and only visible to humans because it is playing tricks on our minds - then a video camera can't see a vampire either. It doesn't matter what kind of future camera technology they may have. The cameras in DAYBREAKERS pick up all the background light, dark, and shadowed. What's more, as we see from the vampires on the news, the studio uses lights to brighten the on air TV reporters. So their camera's electronic optics work the same as ours today: electronically excited by light and transmitting light. And that's all a mirror does - only without any extraneous power source.

 

The Rig
Eddie McMullen Jr.
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
E.C.MCMULLEN JR.
THE RIG - 2010
The varmint in THE RIG is supposed to be a creature that lives at the bottom of the ocean its entire life. we did something to piss it off, and so it comes out of the water to kill all humans.

Howzat again? There is a reason why fish can't live in the sands of the dry desert. It's the same reason why polar bears aren't native to the Amazon river. Watching the deepsea varmints leap about with their acrobatics, having full knowledge of how doors work, and having no problem at all with breathing air, even someone with just an elementary school education would be saying, "What the heck?" (yes, "heck". It's elementary school! You know a lot of foul-mouthed first graders? Sucks to be you, then!).

With the exception of certain mammals and giant squid, deep ocean fish varmints, like the kind that live on the bottom of the ocean and look like these critters, cannot withstand even the pressure change of being brought up to the surface. They die. And no ocean life form can spend long hours out of water breathing air and running about, swinging from place to place like a monkey, all lightening quick. There is nothing in it's natural environment to enable it to develop such muscles.

Anyone who has broken a bone, can attest to how quick muscles atrophy when not used for even brief periods of time. So you can easily imagine how difficult it would be for a creature, who has little understanding of its weight in the water (
because water provides bouyancy), to use or even have the awesomely powerful muscles of a land creature that spends its entire life supporting itself without the aid of water.

We have all evolved for our environment. Some of us are more adaptable than others, but no multicellular life forms can be as fast as cheetahs on land and live at the great pressures found at the bottom of the ocean. This head-bangingly stupid plot device greatly derailed the suspension of disbelief in this movie.

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SCIENCE MOMENT
Kelly Parks and E.C.McMullen Jr. Interviewed by the prestigious The Scientist Magazine.
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