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!!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!!
BEWARE THE SCIENCE OF THESE TITLES FROM THE
1980s

 

1950s - 1960s - 1970s - 1980s - 1990s - 2000s
1980
THE GODSEND
HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP
CONTAMINATION
FLASH GORDON
 
1981
ALTERED STATES
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK
 
1982
 
1983
 
1984
FIRESTARTER
TERMINATOR
 
1985
LIFE FORCE
 
1986
ALIENS
CRITTERS
THE FLY
FROM BEYOND
1987
ROBOCOP
HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN
 
1988
THE BLOB
ALIEN NATION
 
1989
DEEPSTAR SIX
THE FLY II
PREDATOR
EUREKA! 20 MOMENTS OF SCIENCE AND COUNTING!


1980 - 1989!

Godsend
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
THE GODSEND - 1980
EUREKA!
Horror movies often borrow horrible realities from nature and imagine what it would be like if they were applied to humans. In this case the innocent looking cuckoo is the model.

The female cuckoo lays her eggs in unattended nests of birds of other species. The baby cuckoo doesn't look at all like the other chicks but birds identify each other by voice, not appearance and cuckoos are talented mimics. The unknowing adoptive parents feed the baby as if it were their own. And just to maximize its parental attention, the cuckoo waits until the parents are away and then pushes the other chicks out of the nest to their deaths.

What if there were some human variant or sub species that used a similar strategy?

Humanoids From The Deep
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP - 1980
The reasoning here is evolution. Dr. Drake explains that the growth hormone enhanced salmon were eaten by coelacanths (a primitive fish once thought extinct but rediscovered alive in the 1930's). In the coelacanths the growth hormone had the effect of speeding up their evolution such that they've reached a humanoid state. I guess they thought making the humanoids evolved coelacanths was more believable than making them evolved salmon.

Two things come to mind. First, people who don't understand evolution often assume that humans are the "pinnacle" that all other species are evolving towards. No. Humans are just lucky primates that became smart enough to build a civilization. Evolving intelligence was a fluke of environment, climate and timing. If becoming dumber rather than smarter would have aided our ancestor's survival then evolution would have made brains smaller instead of bigger. There's nothing special about our big brains or us as far as evolution is concerned.

And second, Dr. Drake, "coelacanth" is pronounced "SEE-LA-KANTH", not "KO-EL-LA-KANTH". So there.

Dr. Drake's explanation for why the humanoids (turns out there's a bunch of the critters) are killing the men and raping the women is because the humanoids "want to continue their evolution by mating with us."

I won't even dignify that with a response.

Contamination
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
CONTAMINATION aka ALIEN CONTAMINATION - 1980
There's a lot I could say about people exploding and how it's not easy to make people explode because we have so many orifices, which makes it hard to build up that much pressure. But I'll skip that and address the statement the movie makes about these being “silicon” life forms. All life on Earth is carbon based in the sense that the large organic proteins that make up living things are only possible because carbon atoms can form so many molecular links. In fact “organic” doesn't mean “living” it means “carbon compound.”

Silicon is directly below carbon on the periodic table, which means that its properties are similar. This is why science fiction writers have often speculated about silicon-based life forms. However silicon chemistry takes place at much higher temperatures than carbon, which makes cold Mars an unlikely place of origin. But it's a big universe. Who knows?

Flash
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
FLASH GORDON - 1980
EUREKA!
The movie was far more interested in being true to the comics and the old Flash Gordon serial than in being modern science fiction. By that I mean that there’s no attempt to get the science right here (it’s almost as bad as the science in Star Wars). But that doesn't bother me because I can offer a perfectly reasonable explanation: when Zarkhov’s rocket traveled into orbit in an utterly scientific fashion, it passed through a portal to an alternate universe – a universe with very different physics. That's why the moons of Mongo being within the atmosphere of Mongo and thus reachable by rocket cycle or by winged hawkman – an astronomical atrocity in our universe – is just fine here.

1981

Altered States
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
ALTERED STATES - 1981
EUREKA!
What? A drug that alters your state of consciousness in such a way that your thoughts become reality? Why, that's not entirely preposterous!

There is an interpretation of some of the more bizarre results of various experiments in quantum physics that say that the act of a sentient being observing a quantum event can affect the outcome of that event. I personally don't agree with that interpretation but who knows?

There was an experiment profiled on Nova (PBS) that showed that a bunch of people staring at a Geiger counter could affect when it went off (the decay of a radioactive atom being a quantum event). The science in this movie isn't entirely outside the realm.

Escape From New York
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK - 1981
The science today is economics.

Consider that a mega-city like New York is a sizable fraction of our economy. A mere 400% rise in crime doesn't even come close as a good reason to abandon trillions of dollars in infrastructure and real estate represented by that huge city. Something else must have happened. Maybe a terrorist bio-attack or radioactive dirty bomb made most of the city uninhabitable. But even then it would still make more economic sense to clean up and rebuild rather than just walking away. My guess is some kind of revolution was taking place in their version of the late 80's (because of, or leading up to, our involvement in WWIII) and the rebels took control of Manhattan. What began as a siege of enemy-held territory became a permanent situation.

1984

Firestarter
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
FIRESTARTER - 1984
EUREKA!
There is no evidence that any form of psychic power is anything more than wishful thinking.

However I can imagine a scientific basis firm enough to suspend my disbelief. If you assume that there is some as yet undiscovered form of energy permeating the universe and/or existing in some higher dimensional space then that can serve as the power source for Charlie's amazing abilities.

For a more thorough explanation I refer the interested reader to “Waldo” by Robert Heinlein.

Terminator
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
TERMINATOR - 1984
EUREKA!
There is no scientific basis for expecting time travel will ever be possible.

Some theories do allow for it under very extreme circumstances (wormholes), but even those theories make it clear that if you could build a time machine, you could never use it to go back to a time before the time machine itself existed. But I don't consider that an issue here. Time travel is a traditional plot device, like hyperspace, and I'm willing to let it go.

1985

Lifeforce
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
LIFE FORCE - 1985
I'm not sure who it was (my guess is Dan O'Bannon) but somebody involved in this movie was a science geek. I know that because the Churchill maintains the illusion of gravity on board by use of a nuclear engine (properly placed underneath the ship rather than behind) that provides a steady 1 gravity acceleration while the rocket is burning. That would actually work (if you had an engine powerful enough – which we have a pretty good idea how to make) as opposed to magical gravity generators used in so many other movies and TV shows, which we don't have the first clue how to build.

1986

Aliens
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
ALIENS - 1986
EUREKA!
One of James Cameron's many talents includes a good working knowledge of science and there is little to criticize here or in any of his movies. I will make an observation, however. There is no way a creature could evolve the ability to use alien species as hosts for its parasitic offspring. There are lots of other ways to do what DNA does and if life is common then each planet evolves its own unique solution to biochemistry.

I'm not saying the alien in Aliens is impossible. I'm saying it could only be artificial. It's a biological weapon that clearly got out of hand.

Critters
E.C.McMullen Jr.
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
FEO AMANTE
CRITTERS - 1986
EUREKA!
You don't have to be a scientist to realize that these varmints are part of a highly advanced intergalactic race of beings. And anyone technologically advanced enough to traverse the galaxy on a single tank of fuel would likely have the tech to alter their physiology in such a way as to survive on a wide range of xenoforms (alien life).

Such technology would likely be as common as dental fillings for a space faring race. And why not? It would be a hell of a thing to travel all the way to the other end of the galaxy, start feelin' a mite peckish, and know that yer 100,000 light years from the nearest alien equivalent of a convenience store. Besides which, survival favors the omnivore.

What's more, CRITTERS shows the existence of such biotechnology among the aliens in the form of the Warden, whose body appears to be an integral part of his flying chair, and the two bounty hunters who can physically alter their faces at will, on the fly no less - strictly outpatient. Humans are already well into a technology period of body altering in cyber (artificial parts / replacements), bio (surgical alterations / replacements), and genetic (body alterations at the DNA/molecular level), so it ain't hard to think that a far more advanced life form would be "light years" ahead of us on this.

The Fly
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
THE FLY - 1986
EUREKA!
Making teleportation a workable concept is not easy but I must say this movie does a great job.

Less is more as Seth plays down his genius by saying he has outside experts build the various parts and he just puts them together. This is mixed in with glorious philoso-babble like only Jeff Goldblum can do. And when the fateful moment comes and Seth teleports himself and his unseen little passenger, the result is not instant switched body parts like in the original movie. Instead the confused computer (exhibiting intelligence and computer power far beyond anything achievable today) decides to genetically merge the two subjects into one.

Continued at the !!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!! on the full THE FLY franchise: THE FLY SCIENCE MOMENTS

From Beyond
E.C.McMullen Jr.
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
FEO AMANTE
FROM BEYOND - 1986
Perhaps the biggest science plot hole to all of this is the fact that (according to the story), the otherworldy varmints are always there in our own reality, just invisible to us - and we to them. But when we fire up the old Sonic Resonator, we can actually see each other. This should mean that if the varmint has you in its slimy grip, then it should still have you even though you turned the machine off. Not so with this trashy cheesy flick.

Y'all know that I love trashy cheesy flicks, right?

RoboCop
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
ROBOCOP - 1987
EUREKA!
It's both interesting and frustrating to compare and contrast this movie, where Verhoeven did an excellent job with all the science leaving me no room for complaints, and his later film, STARSHIP TROOPERS, where everything that could be wrong was wrong.

Was ROBOCOP a fluke? I don't know, but I do know that even the implications of the advancements shown are considered, like the fact that if this kind of prosthetic tech existed its use would be widespread, but we already saw evidence for that in the TV commercial for the artificial heart.

Hell Comes To Frog Town
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN - 1987
I know I don't need to tell you that no amount of radiation will turn humans into frog people. But I will mention that radiation does lead to both sterility and the kind of inherited mutations that make you wish you were sterile. So rebuilding your population after a nuclear war would be a real concern.

But would that involve making fertile men wear chastity belts with "Property of Provisional Government" written on them? And would the largely female military really prefer to drive around in pink armored cars? And why would the mutation that makes you a frogman also make you over act?

1988

The Blob
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
THE BLOB - 1988
The explanation given here is that the blob is a single huge bacterium and the meteor wasn't a meteor but a crashed government satellite.

How did the bacteria get so big?

By being "exposed to space."

Now in 1958, when only a couple of satellites had been orbited and space was still very mysterious, maybe you could get away with that. But in 1988 it was the commonest of knowledge that the only thing that happens to bacteria "exposed to space" is that they die.

Alien Nation
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
ALIEN NATION - 1988
20th Century Fox
I do not believe in humanoid aliens. There are too many solutions to the engineering problem of designing an intelligent being for us to ever encounter a species designed like us. Form follows function arguments not withstanding. That being said, I understand that truly alien aliens are very difficult and thus rarely seen in movies (
the bar scene in Star Wars being one of the few examples).

Not as forgivable is the idea that simple salt water would be stronger than the strongest acid to the Newcomers. Saline is very weak on the ph scale. It's about a 7.8 where 7.0 is completely neutral (like distilled water), which makes seawater a base rather than an acid. Rainwater is farther from neutral (at about 5.5) than seawater. This is a popular idea in science fiction, that some aliens are destroyed by water. Any life form that could live on Earth must have evolved on a planet similar to Earth. In other words, lots of water, including oceans. True, the Newcomers were genetically engineered slaves and perhaps their masters put this weakness into them to keep them from… what? Swimming away? Does a race with interstellar technology really need such a bizarre form of security? Plus, if they are slaves, this weakness truly limits where they could work. Would a slave master risk his entire workforce melting away in a sudden rainstorm? Foolish.


E.C.McMullen Jr.
SCIENCE MOMENT BY
FEO AMANTE

FeoNote: You may disagree with Kelly over this. I do all of the time. The idea that aliens from another planet, would have a culture and a logic that makes sense to us, when most of the cultures, and logic based upon human cultures - earth cultures - do not?

It's ridiculous.

What Kelly and I agree on though is this: Assuming the movie's logic that these aliens are in mortal danger from sea water, for what possible reason would they choose to live and raise their families in a coastal city like Los Angeles - right next to the largest body of acid on earth? The very air they breathe should be eating their lungs and skin!

Witchita, Kansas. That's where I'd live if I had such a problem and a smattering of survival instinct.

1989

Deepstar Six
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
DEEPSTAR SIX - 1989
The idea here is that some truly huge underwater cavern is broken open, releasing the monster. Not impossible, but think about the details.

The “cavern” would have to be big enough to support a breeding population of these very large predators. Predators like this sit at the top of a big food chain and this means the cavern would have to contain a complete self-sustaining ecology. That's one hell of a big cavern. On top of that, the bulk of life in the deep ocean depends on a steady rain of nutrients from above, consisting mostly of dead plants and animals from near the surface. This cavern would be cut off from the rain of food, making its existence even more problematic.

The Fly II
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
THE FLY II - 1989
Martin is the son of a human woman and a half-human half-fly mutant, thus making him one-quarter fly on his father's side.

Let me just mention here that humans and chimpanzees, which share 98% of the same genetic material, can't cross breed, so the idea that Brundle-Fly and a human female would successfully reproduce is extremely unlikely. Be that as it may, if such an offspring were produced you would expect him to have certain fly-like characteristics. For example, the great strength Brundle-Fly displayed in the first movie is fine, since pound for pound insects are many times stronger than mammals.

But superior intelligence? No.

Cocoons? No.

That'd make a good spoof title: "The Caterpillar! Very scary, kids! Watch out! He'll . . . eat your rose bushes!" The writers need to spend some time watching the Discovery channel.

Continued at the !!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!! on the full THE FLY franchise: THE FLY SCIENCE MOMENTS

Predator
Kelly ParksSCIENCE MOMENT BY
KELLY PARKS
PREDATOR - 1989
EUREKA!
When I first heard about this movie I feared the worst.

The title implied this creature was here to eat people, a common mistake in science fiction. If an alien monster had you for lunch it would probably ruin your day, but you'll at least get the satisfaction of killing him right back. There are an infinite number of ways biochemistry can establish itself (DNA is just one solution) and every planet will have a unique chemistry. What that means is there is no way the alien monster will be biologically ready for your proteins, which will almost certainly be deadly poison for him.

Thus I was relieved to discover the Predator was here for trophies, not dinner.


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FROM
E.C. McMullen Jr.
WILLOW BLUE
Willow Blue

PERPETUAL BULLET
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"'Some People' ... may be the standout story in the book."
- John Grant, Infinityplus

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Starring
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FEO ON THE 'NET!
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Matt Jarbo's interview with Feo Amante at The Zurvivalist.

James Cheetham's Q&A with Feo Amante at Unconventional Interviews.

Megan Scudellari interviews Feo Amante and Kelly Parks (of THE SCIENCE MOMENT) in The Scientist Magazine.

Check out our interview at The-Scientist.com.

Anthropologist Gretchen Bakke, PhD, references my UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT as an expert resource in her 2010 Anthropological Quarterly essay @ Johns Hopkins University and Academia.edu.

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