BEWARE THE SCIENCE OF THESE TITLES FROM THE
1990 - 1999!
TREMORS - 1990
Okay, you remember how I was complaining about the bad science in
movies like this? Well, I've got no complaints here because TREMORS,
very wisely, doesn't even try!
They never explain where these
strange creatures came from or how they got here. They're just
here and the people of Perfection have to deal with it as best they
can. Rhonda, the scientist character, makes some accurate observations
about how these creatures are unprecedented and there's nothing
like them in the fossil record but when pressed for the answer to
their origin she shrugs her shoulders.
Sometimes, "I don't know" is the right answer.
TOTAL RECALL - 1990
There are a dozen things I could quibble about here but the one item that's
just flat out wrong (and that's kind of a spoiler so proceed with caution) is how unbelievably fast a breathable
atmosphere is established on Mars.
Providing a whole planet with a thick atmosphere is a process that should take decades at least, centuries
more likely, but it happens literally within seconds. If that much
gas was released that fast (pause for fart joke) it would be the equivalent of the shock wave from a tremendous explosion
and would scour Mars clean down to the bedrock.
TERMINATOR 2 - 1991
Kudos to Cameron for doing an atomic bomb right.
So many movies don't understand that the speed of light is MUCH faster than the
speed of sound, so that if a nuke goes off over a city, first would
come the brilliant, blinding heat flash and then (seconds
or minutes later, depending on distance) comes the blast.
OF DESTRUCTION - 1991
None of the tech presented here is impossible, just really difficult.
Humanoid robots are a very popular sci-fi "what if" but
actually building anything like this isn’t even on the horizon yet.
PARK - 1993
goes on at some length about how all their safeguards in regards
to keeping the dinosaurs contained are doomed to failure because
evolution shows that it is the nature of life to break free, to
find a way: and that is true. Evolution is all about life taking
on new forms to handle new situations, if you give it a million
years or so! Later that afternoon? No.
Ian is supposed
to be the "responsible" scientist warning everyone about
the dangers of technology, which is why I'm so angry at Spielberg.
He makes great movies but he feels the need to toss in this pop
psychobabble and neo-luddite fear of innovation in a lot of them,
in spite of the fact that most of his movies couldn't be made at
all without using the very latest cutting edge technology! I wish
he'd either entertain me or go live with the Amish, but STOP
PUPPET MASTERS - 1993
I'll mention here is that like the alien in ALIEN,
creatures like this cant evolve naturally.
to be artificial given the unlimited variety possible in alien forms,
chemistry and neurology. Assuming that they are artificial also
allows me to skip over any discussion of how a parasite could evolve
intelligence in the first place. Brains are metabolically expensive
and they dont evolve without very good reason.
BODY SNATCHERS - 1993
created by the pods in all three movies seem to be sort of bio-androids,
which is fine. But they also have the all the memories and knowledge
of the people they duplicate. I have to compliment this movie for
showing tendrils extending into the heads of victims, implying some
sort of brain download, rather than the implied telepathy of the
Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN - 1994
Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, was completed in 1818. That was the year that Sir John Ross was the first to try and find a Northwest passage through the Arctic. At that time, no one was sure that the icecap didn't sit on land, though many were reasonably sure, but for unscientific reasons. Unlike the fictional Captain Robert Walton, Ross wasn't a murderous dick to his crew, and in fact, inspired a few of them to go on and attempt to find a Northwest Passage on their own when Ross failed (our ancestors knew the meaning of the word, quit. They knew it meant "Loser").
The Northwest Passage was finally navigated by Roald Amundsen in a sloop in 1903-1906. That's right. It took three freaking years because the boat kept getting stuck in ice! The North Pole wasn't discovered until 1909. We didn't sail under the icecap, proving once and for all that it wasn't attached to land, until the USS Nautilus under Commander William R. Anderson, did just that in 1958.
SPECIES - 1995
So in 1974 we send out a message that includes a diagram of our DNA and
about 20 years later we get an alien description of their DNA back.
Now let's examine this idea.
It is true that Arecibo beamed such a message into the void in 1974 (as part
of an equipment test / dedication). However, they sent it
toward a star cluster 28,000 light years away, which means we won't
get an answer anytime before AD 57,974. And the message included
only a very rough sketch of the shape of a DNA molecule, not the
kind of detailed info you'd need to do genetic engineering
research. Even today (1999) we couldn't send such a message, because the Human Genome Project (the
mapping of the human genetic structure) isn't done yet.
DEATH MACHINE - 1995
The tech concepts here are actually very realistic.
AI technology is advancing must faster than most people realize. There are robot servants in your immediate future and of course if you can build such things it's
natural for some to wonder how well they'd do on the battle field. Human soldiers will be obsolete in a few decades.
That's not necessarily a bad thing as long as someone remembers to program them with Asimov's laws of robotics.
Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics -
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
A robot soldier programmed with Asimov's three Laws would effectively become a packaged paperweight.
2: AFTERSHOCKS - 1995
Well, they had to do it. The thing that made TREMORS so cool
the fact that they never explained where the monsters came from
just wouldn't be believable here because by now the
world has reacted and scientists would be crawling all over each
other to investigate the appearance of an unprecedented creature
like this. So there just had to be some exposition here to explain
the monsters. Their explanation? The graboids are "Precambrian
life forms". Ta da!
Just what the
hell does that mean? The Precambrian era was more than 550 million
years ago. Are they saying these creatures were . . . I dont
know . . . dormant? Frozen? Really, really sleepy? They dont
say. They just keep repeating "Precambrian", like that
explains everything. And of course it doesnt.
era was when life was first making the transition from single celled
bacteria to multi-cellular life forms. The first animals were simple
and small (trilobites, early fishes, etc.).
There was no life on the land only in the oceans. So how
would a big underground predator manage to evolve when there would
be nothing for it to eat, then go undetected for so long and suddenly
start eating people? Why would its above ground form seen here detect
its prey by body heat when mammals didnt appear for many hundreds
of millions of years after the Precambrian era?
Why dont people
in Hollywood care that mistakes like this make them look like morons?
My theory is they smoke too much crack.
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED - 1995
Rather than humanoid children created by genetically manipulating
human DNA (as in the first movie) Carpenter
goes for the much more formula aliens-crossbreeding-with-humans
idea which is much harder to swallow.
There isn't a single animal
on Earth - not even chimpanzees - with which humans can cross breed.
Humans crossed with a species from a completely different planet
(and therefore completely different biology
that uses something other than DNA) seems astronomically
ARRIVAL - 1996
believe single-celled life is common and will be found through out
the galaxy. Multi-cellular life (plants / animals
/ us), on the other hand, requires a very narrow range of conditions
and is probably very rare (see Rare Earth
by Ward and Brownlee). Intelligent life is such an absolute
fluke (see almost anything by Stephen J. Gould)
that it's orders of magnitude rarer still. What I'm getting
at is that I don't expect us to meet anybody once we invent warp
drive. I think we're alone.
said I must say that the aliens here are portrayed believably enough
for me to suspend my disbelief. Their motivations and actions are,
shall we say, within acceptable limits. That's high praise
ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU - 1996
genetic engineering is going to absolutely change the world, something
any science fiction fan has known for a long time.
What most people dont
realize is that the technology to do this kind of thing is mostly
available now, and what isnt available will be by next Tuesday.
A lot of good will come out of it, like the end of all inherited diseases
and, yes, you can do things like make people smarter, stronger, better.
But what is rarely talked about and what I have to give this movie
kudos for showing are the side effects. If I add the genes for gorilla
muscle tissue to my genome, it would probably make me the strongest
man on Earth. But it might also cause a wide variety of metabolic
problems, increased cancer risk, who knows what? You wouldnt
know until you tried.
In other words, the only way to use genetic
engineering technology to create a superhuman race is to experiment
on people. That trial and error process will certainly have failures
and mistakes and other bad things that make it morally indefensible
to experiment on people in the first place.
WORLD: JURASSIC PARK - 1997
all the lip service being paid to security procedures meant to keep
these dinosaurs contained on the island, it makes you wonder why
the final scene includes a pterodactyl.
"Uh, yeah, our security
is absolutely air-tight. Well, except for the dinosaurs that can
RELIC - 1997
given for the monster going after people, is it turns out there's
a nutrient found only in human brains that is essential for the
creature's health. This results in torn apart bodies and sucked
Now the essential nutrient idea is fine but c'mon! This
is a very active big predator. He needs protein and plenty of it.
A tiger can chow down more than 100 lbs of meat per day and this
thing is like a tiger the size of an elephant. So it would NOT daintily peel open skulls looking for the tasty nutrients. It would
eat people whole, and lick its plate clean. It'd probably take
ten or twenty people a day just to maintain its physique.
TROOPERS - 1997
Or maybe just a logic moment, since my main complaint (there
are many more) here is an inconsistency within the movie's
pathetic attempt at real science.
At one point characters begin debating
whether or not the bugs are "smart."
This literally happens
at one point, as two "experts" debate the idea of bug intelligence
on a FedNet TV show. In other words these people weren't sure
if the bugs were a sentient species.
The bugs have interstellar
space travel, are able to attack space ships in orbit, and can target
asteroids at Earth cities. They're so obviously a sentient species
that the very idea of a debate is stupid even within the movie's
IN BLACK - 1997
I'll skip over all the things I could say about aliens in general
- there's not enough room to open that can of worms (but
read "Rare Earth" by Ward and Brownlee).
I just want to comment on something K says about how the Men in Black fund themselves. He implies that many of the great inventions from the last few decades (microwave ovens, computer chips, etc.) were actually alien technology. This idea is taken directly from the UFO mythos of the MiB, and as a technophile and a science geek, I
find it insulting. In spite of the evidence to the contrary, humans are pretty smart. We invented all that stuff on our own.
ANACONDA - 1997
This isn't a mutant, giant snake, it's just a really big anaconda and snakes this big, although very rare, do exist. And it is true that there have been many recorded cases of large snakes like this eating people, so I have no objection to any of that. But snakes are reptiles and like most reptiles they have very slow metabolisms. A big snake like this will typically eat one big meal a month. So after it ate the first guy on the boat it would have curled up somewhere warm and taken a long nap.
I also must mention that the one thing about big snakes like this that makes them truly dangerous was never really shown.
The creatures don't
chase their prey (not much stamina that slow metabolism again). The way they kill is by slowly sneaking up on
you and then, in a move so lightning fast that your eye can't follow, suddenly they're wrapped around you, holding you "tighter than
your true love", to quote Sarone (Note: If you want more details, the next time you run into Feo at a Horror Convention,
ask him about the time a boa constrictor almost killed him. Be sure to specify "boa" because he's got a
lot of stories like that).
TREK VIII: FIRST CONTACT - 1998
World War III in the Star Trek universe is what prevented humanity
from ending up like the Borg.
It was a battle between those who adopted
the new cybernetic and genetic technology that we are developing today
and those who chose to remain human. The normals won and there was
such a backlash against genetic enhancement that even centuries later
genetic defects (like Picards baldness)
exist. Maybe this is more of a psychic moment than a science moment
because I have a prediction: World War III will happen, it will happen
this century (2000 to 2099), and the
normals will lose. But dont feel too bad. Unlike the Neanderthals,
we have the opportunity to become our own replacements.
DEEP RISING - 1998
Oh, they came so close! This is a fun movie and the last thing it
needed was a liberal arts major's feeble attempt to provide
science exposition. It was almost another TREMORS (don't explain the monsters just
deal with them). But they just couldn't resist.
ship, we are told, happens to be over a very deep part of the ocean
and the creatures must be from the ocean floor. Because they live
in the tremendous pressure of the deep ocean they are therefore
super tough and tremendously strong.
subs to the very deep ocean and occasionally brought up living creatures
from the depths and you know what they do when they reach the surface?
They die. They are adapted to the conditions of the deep water.
If you take them out of their natural habitat of course they die.
SPECIES II - 1998
a valiant attempt at the science in science fiction.
Of course all
the familiar mistakes are there, like sound in space (God
Damn it, when is a movie besides 2001 going to be made that gets
that right? Space is a vacuum! No air and thus NO SOUND).
The worst mistake is the communications between the Mars astronauts
and Earth, which is portrayed as instantaneous. Even at its closest,
Mars is more than 50,000,000 miles away. Now as we all remember
from High School science, the speed of light is 186,282 miles per
second. That means radio signals would take a minimum of four and
a half minutes each way (You say something
and eight minutes later you hear the answer). Oh well.
SECOND ARRIVAL - 1998
care if you are a 12th level hacker with a +1 slide rule, you are
not gonna hack the alien mainframe.
Forget about the fact that all
the code would be utterly meaningless to you, although that's
a pretty good reason. You won't be able to do it for the same
reason an ENIAC programmer from the 1950's couldn't hack
into my PC. My desktop is so vastly more advanced and so completely
different from the computer he worked on that his skills simply
don't apply. And that's a mere 50 years of difference.
A culture that builds starships would be orders of magnitude more
THE FACULTY - 1998
Somebody (I'm not saying who) in this movie turns out not only to be an alien, but a giant mother alien monster. In a sense this represents the same kind of physics problem as with the Hulk: how can a normal sized human being transform into a creature that looks like it weighs about a ton? This isn't a matter of cell
growth because cells (or any mass) can't appear from nowhere. Does that mean it's impossible?
No, if you assume the extra mass / alternate form is stored in an alternate dimension (Read "Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions" by Edwin A. Abbott). Short version: Imagine a flat plane - a two dimensional universe. The beings that inhabit this plane ("Flatland") are 2-D shapes like squares and circles.
Now suppose a 3-D object like a sphere passes through Flatland. What would Mr. A. Square see? (Keeping in mind he can't perceive the mysterious third dimension and can only see things in his plane of existence). He'd see a dot appear from nowhere, expand into a circle, contract back to a dot and disappear. If he told anyone about it they'd think he was crazy.
Now imagine that a square resident of Flatland has a huge rectangle attached on "top" of his body - in other words this other part of himself is above him, in the third direction no one can see. When the mood strikes this odd square he "moves" himself in that third direction and everyone else sees him morph into the monstrous rectangle. Very scary! But no violation of Conservation of Mass and Energy is required.
SPHERE - 1998
There are several points where these "scientist" characters
say things important to the plot that are just plain wrong. For
example, when Dr. Fielding, the astrophysicist, theorizes that the
spaceship traveled through time when it "inadvertently flew
through a black hole."
hole is an object so massive and dense that it's gravity is strong
enough to warp the space around it such that even light cannot escape
from it (that's why it's "black").
We're pretty certain (from indirect measurements)
that these objects exist but space is vast and black holes are few
and far between. Never in a million, billion, trillion years could
you accidentally fly into one. Furthermore, if you somehow did the
only result would be your messy death, as the tides near most black
holes are so intense that you'd be torn atom from atom long before
you reached the black hole itself.
is when some explosives near the alien ship might go off and Dr.
Adams worries about all the liquid hydrogen on board exploding.
No. It's really
hard to keep liquid hydrogen liquid because it needs to be very
cold (-400 degrees F). The shuttle
burns up its liquid hydrogen during launch so it doesn't need to
store it long, but even so they have a heavily insulated tank and
they have to vent the boil-off right up to the last minute. Storing
it for 300 years is a stretch but you could wave your hands at it
with "futuristic/alien" technology, which is fine. The
real problem is that it would NOT explode. Hydrogen mixed with oxygen
will explode (which is why the space shuttle's
other tank holds liquid oxygen). But hydrogen mixed with
seawater would do no such thing. It would just make bubbles.
BLADE - 1999
A science moment in a vampire movie just doesn't seem right, does it? But it's perfectly acceptable when the people who make the movie add a bunch of scientific-sounding exposition explaining their version of vampirism.
Karen the Hematologist describes vampirism as a disease caused by a blood-borne virus which sounds halfway logical until you think about it.
A virus that makes its host tremendously strong, able heal from almost any injury and effectively immortal
but which causes you to explosively disintegrate if exposed to sunlight.
That is one hell of a virus!
Impossible? Not necessarily, but like
the alien in ALIENS, it could never
Continued at BLADE_SciMo
DEEP BLUE SEA - 1999
The science is mildly plausible.
The idea here is that sharks have a brain chemical that's a cure-all for Alzheimer's disease.
Since bigger sharks have bigger brains, that explains why they use big sharks (although whale sharks and lemon sharks
both harmless are even bigger). But that doesn't
produce enough brain stuff, so the sharks are genetically engineered
to have larger brains and, as they say in the movie,
". . . as
a side effect, the sharks got smarter."
pointed out that was like saying, "I threw a lit match in my
car's gas tank. As a side effect, the tank blew up.")
It's not quite that straightforward.
Intelligence has as much to do with
brain complexity as brain size, but for a two hour suspension of
disbelief it's fine. The moron part came when Jackson's
character hears about the enlarged shark brains and is worried at
first that his scientist-employees had violated an international
agreement against genetic engineering. They assure him they didn't
do any such thing, but of course, later, we find out they did.
How the hell else would you make sharks with bigger brains! Hooked on Phonics?
Of course! Hooked on Phonics! It all makes sense now! And to think: the answer was there in front of us, all the time!
THE MATRIX- 1999
This is a great movie in so many ways. But when I watch it I always
fast forward through the scene where Morpheus explains to Neo about
how the AIs use humans as batteries because the idea is SO
FREAKING STUPID! It's the simplest of most obvious physics
to demonstrate that you'd get more energy by taking the food
you're feeding these people and burning it. That way you wouldn't
lose the calories wasted by the incredibly inefficient heat engine
known as the human body.
On top of that the movie repeats the lame catch phrase "scorched the sky" to explain how humans, who were losing the war, tried to cut off
the AIs solar energy supply by making the world permanently cloudy. But even the dim daylight shown in the movie would produce more solar energy than an equivalent mass of human beings. Plus, the AIs clearly have a high technology which means they'd be perfectly able to launch solar power satellites into orbit, providing
all the energy they'd ever need.
That's not to mention a long list of other energy sources readily available.
Did humans deplete all the geothermal energy? That would take a
billion years. Take all the energy humanity has produced in its
entire history, then take that number times a trillion and you still
wouldn't be close to how much geothermal energy is contained
within the Earth.
I'm not sure what the AIs were doing with all those people, but using
them to generate electricity was not it.
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