BEWARE THE SCIENCE OF THESE TITLES FROM THE
OF THE DAMNED - 1960
Alien invasion stories invariably imagine the invasion to use
methods that are just extensions of our own. The spaceships carrying
the off world hordes are just futuristic versions of Naval troop
ships, etc. But this movie is unique in that it imagines a method
that doesn't involve any physical vehicle or object.
kind of force is projected that allows someone somewhere to manipulate
humans on the genetic level and create a humanoid variant loyal
to that someone. An invasion by proxy, if you will. And I can
no more imagine how it's done than a jungle tribesman of New Guinea
could imagine how television works. Not only wouldn't he know
- there is nothing in his world view that would even serve as
a basis for guessing or extrapolating how the magic picture box
might be made to work.
Which means I have no science objections
to this example of Clarke's Law: "A sufficiently advanced
technology will be indistinguishable from magic."
VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA - 1961
Could the Van Allen belt catch on fire?
The Van Allen belt is a region in the Earth's magnetic field that traps sub-atomic particles from the solar wind (electrons in the inner belt, protons in the outer belt). Radiation is higher than normal inside the belts but it's still the hard vacuum of empty space. There's nothing there to burn.
THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE- 1961
understand the real purpose here is to express the fear people
felt about nuclear testing.
These bombs were huge and scary and
still a relatively new thing. Who knew what the consequences would
be? Before the first nuclear weapon was detonated in 1945 there
was some real fear that the heat of the explosion would ignite
the atmosphere, incinerating all life on Earth (Now THAT would be The Day the Earth Caught Fire!). But
could very large nukes actually change the tilt of Earth's axis
or even change Earth's orbit and send our home world spiraling
into the sun?
Not even close. Not even a little tiny bit.
On a human scale a
nuclear explosion looks like a huge event of immense power, but
from the Earth's point of view it's the tiniest of unnoticeable
pinpricks. The Earth is a huge body and the amount of energy it
would take to alter its axial tilt in a single shove is more than
humanity has ever produced in all of its history put together.
If we tried to do it on purpose and detonated all of the 10,000
or so nukes the Russians and the U.S. own all at once, it still
wouldn't be enough to nudge a body as massive as Earth. And actually
changing Earth's orbit so it was heading for the sun would take
many orders of magnitude more energy.
That being said I will point
out that the movie does a good job of showing the kinds of climate
shifts you'd get if an event like this did occur. The writers
were much better climatologists than physicists. But if the Earth's
axis shifted by 11 degrees as they describe it would be immediately
obvious to even amateur astronomers, because constellations from
the southern hemisphere would suddenly be visible. There would
be no denying it.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE - 1962
Our science today is political science, which is why I want to tell you
about something called the Venona Project.
This was a highly classified
(and highly successful) effort in the 40's
and 50's to break the encryption of Soviet cables.
From these intercepts
(later confirmed after the fall of the Soviet Union)
we know that there were many Soviet agents in the administrations of FDR
and Harry Truman (the best known being Alger Hiss),
that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg really were spying for the Soviets and
that many of the people Joe McCarthy accused of being Soviet agents actually
were Soviet agents*
Keep this in mind when you judge this era.
The Soviet Union took the cold war very seriously and made a strong effort
to infiltrate our government. The few who knew about Venona back
then couldn't mention in public how they knew that there were
communist agents (that would have compromised the operation), which made them seem to the public to be overly paranoid. They were not.
*More details are available
THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE - 1962
Could this really be? Could you remove a human head and transplant it onto another body?
Back in the mid 20th century, Dr. Robert White successfully proved the efficacy of the first head transplant of a mammal. He was able to repeat his method, making it fact. Others were able to repeat his methods, most notably Russian scientist, Dr. Vladamir Negovskii, a pioneer in reanimation in his own right.
Since the 1960s, humanity has had the capability of keeping a decapitated human head alive for days. Which means that any damage to the person's body could be repaired without worry of the damaged body killing the brain.
Which means that millions of people have died needlessly in the past 50 years. So why was this operation stopped? Why didn't the technology advance (repairing the necessary spinal cord between head and body)? The very idea made people squeemish.
Continued at SCIENCE MOMENT: The Brain That Wouldn't Die (Trigger Warning, there are videos of actual head transplants and living decapitated heads).
CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED - 1963
Ah, evolution. Will movies ever get it right?
Not so far and this
one is no exception.
At one point a character theorizes that the
spooky children represent "man, advanced a million years"
in evolution, which perpetutates the myth that evolution represents
a process of advancement or increasing complexity.
It does not.
Evolution is driven by natural selection, a dynamic process that
selects individuals best adapted to a given environment. As environments
change so does the best adaptation. It's perfectly possible that
the best way to adapt to an environment is to become simpler,
less complex, dumber, whatever it takes.
The watchmaker is blind.
LAST MAN ON EARTH - 1964
John of Ephesus chronicled the bubonic plague that hit Constantinople in the late 6th century A.D.
"In some cases, as people were looking on each other and talking,
they began to totter and fell on the streets and at home. It might
happen that a person was sitting at work on his craft, holding
his tools in his hands and working and would totter to the side
and his soul would escape."
He goes on to describe how everywhere one looked were:
"corpses which split open and rotted on the streets with nobody to bury
This plague killed more than a third of the population of Europe and
Asia. My point is that pandemic diseases are not unknown in human
history. They've happened before and will happen again. But a
disease that turns you into a vampire? Unlikely, I'll admit, but
I have no problem with it here. You don't become a superhuman
immortal demigod like Dracula. Instead you become a deranged shambling
pitiful creature that feeds on blood.
OF THE APES - 1968
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PARALLEL EVOLUTION!*
(Read anything by Stephen Jay Gould, but especially Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History).
Of all the reasons why they should have known where they were, the most obvious is life.
Every person, every oak tree, every blade of grass should have been a clue.^ And
let's not even get into the fact that the apes spoke perfect,
20th century English! At the very least they could have made mention
of the idea that perhaps after they left Earth some one invented
faster than light space travel and colonized this world a thousand
years before they got there.
Continued at SCIENCE MOMENT: Planet of the Apes.
THE LOST CONTINENT - 1968
When you want to make a movie about a weird place where interesting
weird stuff happens to topless natives, they're gonna have to be
topless alien natives, because even in 1968 when this movie was
made, the entire surface of the Earth was extremely well mapped.
There are no uncharted islands or hidden valleys or, especially,
lost continents. ("Now where did I put that continent? It was here a minute ago . . . ?")
JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN - 1969
Let's set aside the fact that if there's a planet opposite Earth, why isn't
there an opposite Mars or opposite Venus? I'll do that because the
whole premise, though interesting, is impossible.
A planet that shares
Earth's orbit 180 degrees away is in an unstable position. Perturbations
from the other planets would draw it more and more out of alignment
and there's a good chance it would ultimately collide with Earth.
This would happen quickly on the geologic time scale, which means
if it were there we'd know it by now (there
are more science problems than this, but to tell you more would spoil
the movie -feo)
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