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Never-before encountered aliens that just happen to speak English and laser guns.
January 4, 2011 4:48 PM   Subscribe

The NASA list of "silliest" science fiction films outlines some complete horseshit offerings but is sci-fi meant to be realistic? Fans of hard sci-fi might argue it is the core of that place where dreaming and science combine, but shouldn't the dreaming part allow an amount of creative freedom in the hopes of getting at some larger truth? Some would say there is a point where you've gone too far. But what if our current impossible dream later becomes plausible, possible or reality?
posted by Raunchy 60s Humour (100 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you don't want to do science right you should just call it fantasy.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 4:53 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


But what if our current impossible dream later becomes plausible, possible or reality?

Like the moon really being made of cheese?
posted by nola at 4:55 PM on January 4, 2011


It interests me that most of the films on the "least realistic" list had to do with natural disasters (something that we can know a lot about, because they actually happen on Earth), while many of the films on the "most realistic" list had to do with alien life (something we can't even verify the existence of).

Also, a lot of the "realistic" films seem to deal with themes of an overclass and an underclass, for instance Gattaca and Metropolis.
posted by Sara C. at 4:58 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somebody made the conscious and very deliberate decision to leave 2001 off of these lists altogether.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:01 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I really have a soft spot for The Core despite/because of its silliness.
posted by brundlefly at 5:01 PM on January 4, 2011


Again I'm going with the fuzzy gradient when it comes to what is-and-isn't Science Fiction.
posted by Artw at 5:01 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somebody made the conscious and very deliberate decision to leave 2001 off of these lists altogether.

Weirdly it seems to be given frequently as an example of hard SF in film despite the presence of massively hand-wavey woo aliens.
posted by Artw at 5:02 PM on January 4, 2011


how did my favorite film do? Independence Day 1996.
posted by tustinrick at 5:03 PM on January 4, 2011


All their "least realistic" are very recent; most of their "most realistic" are classics. I wonder if their reviewers were inadvertently conflating "realistic" with "good"?

And What the #$*! Do We Know? should be top of that list because it presents its woo-woo pseudo-science as fact -- which I think is a lot more pernicious than 2012's fictional silliness.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:09 PM on January 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Faint of Butt: Somebody made the conscious and very deliberate decision to leave 2001 off of these lists altogether.

See the earlier quote by OverlappingElvis: If you don't want to do science right you should just call it fantasy.

Except there is a definition between really fictional SF and the more technically accurate (or potential) stuff, which is often called hard science fiction. Anyway, everyone knows "fantasy" is elves and magic and such. /hamburger
posted by filthy light thief at 5:13 PM on January 4, 2011


Is Zardoz Sci-Fi? Because it's pretty silly.
posted by cell divide at 5:13 PM on January 4, 2011


Were it not for the what-the-fuck-just-happened third act, I think Sunshine could have been a pretty good contender for most realistic.

Because, while I love me some spaceships zooming around dogfighting each other, it was really refreshing to see a film that dealt with space as a silent uncaring vacuum capable of creating perfectly terrifying problems all on its own.
posted by quin at 5:19 PM on January 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


It interests me that most of the films on the "least realistic" list had to do with natural disasters (something that we can know a lot about, because they actually happen on Earth), while many of the films on the "most realistic" list had to do with alien life (something we can't even verify the existence of).

I don't think that "realistic" is the correct word: scientifically accurate is more like it. It's just because we know so much about natural disasters that science can reliably say that the way in which Hollywood depicts them is full of horse manure, and it is just because we don't know anything (yet) about alien life that scriptwriters can let their imaginations fly without necessarily offending our intelligence...
posted by Skeptic at 5:20 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is Zardoz Sci-Fi? Because it's pretty silly.

What? No. That's ridiculous. Zardoz isn't the least bit silly. Go on, try and name something silly from Zardoz. See? You can't. It's completely normal.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:20 PM on January 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


Note to Our Web Visitors: London Sunday Times Error

The article in the London Sunday Times on January 2, 2011 “To Absurdity and Beyond: NASA damns flaws in sci-fi films” incorrectly attributed a top-ten worst sci-fi films list to the Science & Entertainment Exchange. We were not involved in creating the list.

posted by aspo at 5:21 PM on January 4, 2011


This post would have been useful BEFORE I played today's round of QRank.
posted by eugenen at 5:21 PM on January 4, 2011


PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN IN THE NAPPY!
posted by Artw at 5:22 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyway, everyone knows "fantasy" is elves and magic and such. /hamburger

Didn't someone do this in aphorism format? SF tells a story about something that could exist tomorrow, or a hundred years from now, whereas fantasy tells a story about something that will never exist, but is true. -- I don't remember exactly.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:22 PM on January 4, 2011


tustinrick, sadly Independence Day didn't make it.

For the click-adverse:

Worst Sci-Fi Movies

1. 2012 (2009)
2. The Core (2003)
3. Armageddon (1998)
4. Volcano (1997)
5. Chain Reaction (1996)
6. The 6th Day (2000)
7. What the #$*! Do We Know? (2004)

Most Realistic Films

1. Gattaca (1997)
2. Contact (1997)
3. Metropolis (1927)
4. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
5. Woman in the Moon (1929)
6. The Thing from Another World (1951)
7. Jurassic Park (1993)

posted by BeerFilter at 5:22 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


massively hand-wavey woo aliens.

On the very off chance that we're ever visited by alien creatures, i bet the crazy woo-woo ideas end up being closer to the mark than any kind humanoid alien we come up with.
posted by empath at 5:22 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think that "realistic" is the correct word

1. That's why I put it in quotes.

2. It is the correct word, in that it is the word that was used in the post that we are all referring to.

3. Yes, that was my point.
posted by Sara C. at 5:25 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Funny, a lot of the films I love to hate are on the worst list, and a lot of the films I love to love are on the best list.

Until 2012 came out, Armageddon was sort of my personal standard for bad movie. Good production values, great talent, beautifully shot*, really nothing wrong with it - except it's stupid.

2012 was the perfect storm of awful, though it was fun to see lots of stuff get destroyed.

*that's actually a beef I have with it, it's shot like an AT&T commercial, lots of slow motion dolly shots of people in the streets with the sun low in the sky giving it the mandatory suffused orange glow.

The original Day The Earth Stood Still was and always will be a huge film. Especially considering when it was made, though of course the social commentary was relevant to the time. Klaatu barada nikto.
posted by Xoebe at 5:25 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sunshine is alright, but come on - they're on a mission to bomb the sun.
posted by Artw at 5:26 PM on January 4, 2011


If you're wonder how he eats and breathes, and other science facts...

**la la la**

Just repeat to yourself "It's just a show, I should really just relax."
posted by hellojed at 5:26 PM on January 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


You say that like you've never seriously considered it. I mean, look at it, it's so fucking smug, all bright and glowing up there...
posted by quin at 5:29 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the bad movie physics "report card" at the io9 site: Solaris (1972), meaning Tarkovsky's Solaris, gets dinged for "sound in space," "all planets have Earth gravity," and "all planets have one climate planet-wide."

It seems somebody saw a different movie than the one I did, which in its entirety takes place on Earth and in orbit above Solaris. Also, there's but a single scene even resembling space travel, and it is a fevered montage of a starry sky and a sweat-covered, spinning face.
posted by Nomyte at 5:32 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Moon"
posted by clavdivs at 5:34 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I personally know people affected by the sincere belief that the end of the world will, in fact, occur in 2012. I think some journalists may have recently written articles about some people that purchased a ton of crap that promise "No Payments Until 2012" under the assumption that they would never have to pay for it, once the world ends.

It's easy to take the rational route and say these disaster movies are silly, but there are more people out there that are liquidating their life savings under the mistaken belief that human existence will be over in 2012 than you would believe.

The movie 2012 and its promotion has actually fueled this belief. I wish that we, the human race, could better discern the bullshit from the rational truth a lot better, but you don't have to look very far to see that batshitinsane is more of a norm than a novelty. We can say LOL-natural-selection all we want, but that doesn't change the tragedy of it.

Anything we can do to show that the 2012 myth is fake-fake-crazy-silly-fake-stupid is a good thing; this may be one of the best ways to call "Bullshit!" without overtly telling the populace that they're stupid to believe in it.

My take is that the "silliest" films are actually the most dangerous ones, the ones that fuel ignorance of the world-as-it-is, and fear of scientific and technological achievement. (Except that doesn't explain Jurassic Park on the Best list.)
posted by jabberjaw at 5:40 PM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'll agree that the bad science selections have very bad science indeed. Although it's more a list of recent blockbusters with bad science than any attempt at a real list rated by how much bad science a movie contains or anything.

As for the good science list ... Gattaca and Jurassic Park, sure (despite ridiculous use of computers in Jurassic Park, it made a good attempt to make the science plausible.) Woman in the Moon and The Thing from Another World I haven't seen. Contact ... eh. I thought the science was so-so at best, but I know others disagree with me; personally, I think that's more out of respect for Sagan than anything the story merits, but whatever.

However ... Metropolis? The Day the Earth Stood Still? What are they *talking* about? Those movies are blatant science fantasy with little or nothing to do with actual science. What in The Day the Earth Stood Still makes it better science than Volcano? Not a better movie -- better science.

They have confused "good movie" with "good science".
posted by kyrademon at 5:47 PM on January 4, 2011


Wait, how the hell is Primer not on their "best" list??

Granted, I'm not saying it's realistic because of the science, but that's only because I don't think anyone really is clear about what the fuck the science even actually is in terms of being able to explain what the hell is going on in it. But -- it was grippingly believeable in terms of how the science "happened", in that it wasn't all guys in white coats and bubbling beakers in labs and Tesla coils and rubbing hands together gleefully, but more like guys who are moonlighting from their desk jobs and suddenly find out that they've stumbled upon something earth-shattering and it scares them shitless.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


(Except that doesn't explain Jurassic Park on the Best list.)

We don't have the technology to feasibly clone an entire park full of dinosaurs, but the movie was realistic. The animals acted like animals, nothing was entirely out of the ordinary if the premise (advanced cloning) holds.

The "worst" list movies? Deeply flawed physics to create spectacle, rather than model reality.
posted by explosion at 5:50 PM on January 4, 2011


I don't see why Battlestar Galactica didn't make both lists.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:54 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I find most science fiction movies more believable than most romantic comedies, and at least poorly socialized dudes don't stalk women because Hollywood told them there's sound in space.
posted by lore at 5:56 PM on January 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


What makes "The Day the Earth Stood Still" awesome science fiction is that it uses a fantastical situation to make a statement about humanity and our contemporary situation.
posted by jb at 5:56 PM on January 4, 2011


Though it's still not as realistic as "Contact" which taught me that science is all about years of meticulous research and sitting around labs all hours of the day -- and even when you find something awesome, it will just be a little blip in your data. Also, fighting about funding. I was never more inspired to be an astronomer.
posted by jb at 5:59 PM on January 4, 2011


This article seems to indicate NASA recently held a meeting to discuss Hollywood movies, but they list a different set of "good" films, including Blade Runner and Apollo 13. And this article is also pretty light on quoting sources.

In other words, we're probably just yapping on and on about a couple of undistinguished top N lists posted on somebody's blog.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:01 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


WFT? Jurassic Park is realistic?!? That was the worst fucking portrayal of a mathematician I've ever seen.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:02 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you read old science fiction you'll see that people are pretty good at extrapolating current technology, but not good at predicting new discoveries. You just don't know what you don't know.
posted by DaddyNewt at 6:07 PM on January 4, 2011


What about Nude On The Moon? Is that one realistic?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:08 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is Zardoz Sci-Fi? Because it's pretty silly.

Zardoz isn't Sci-Fi, it's speculative fiction, because despite it's obvious silliness it has some interesting insights into human society.

(My friends always laugh at me when I try to explain this).
posted by ovvl at 6:09 PM on January 4, 2011


So, anyway, now that I've accepted that anything even vaguely resembling science will be ridiculously fake and wrong in Fringe, and almost perversely go out of it's way to be so, I'm actually enjoying it immensly.
posted by Artw at 6:10 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


NASA should just hire Red Letter Media to do things like this.
posted by clarknova at 6:13 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


They only liked Jurassic Park because it had Jeff Goldblum talking about chaos theory while dressed like Bono.
posted by bwg at 6:27 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


WFT? Jurassic Park is realistic?!? That was the worst fucking portrayal of a mathematician I've ever seen.

[goldblum]Chaotician.[/goldblum]
posted by Joe Beese at 6:32 PM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


He could totally be on Fringe as well. His head would probably blow up though.
posted by Artw at 6:36 PM on January 4, 2011


I'm getting increasingly disenchanted with the term "science fiction", and this list (or even an alternate list that includes "Blade Runner", if RobotVoodooPower is correct), is a good example of why.

"Science fiction" is far too reductive a term. It holds a definite implication that the science, per se, is what's important about the story. Which applies to very little that gets tossed into the definition, really. Alternate histories? Conversations with alien life forms? Faster than light travel? Time travel? Paranormal abilities? Etc., etc., etc. Very little actual science in there. Speculation, metaphor, or even blatant wish-fulfillment, but not a lot of science.

And you know what? Good.

Let me make clear first -- I'm not in favor of *bad* science. It makes for lousy stories, as is plain from the list of awful blockbusters that made the "bad" list. Blatantly bad science, in a movie that features science as an element, takes you out of the story. Destroys willing suspension of disbelief. It's just like obviously poor tactics in a war movie, or a deus ex machina ending. Bleah.

But ... I'm also not really that much of fan of *good* science, as a major story element. I read nonfiction for good science. I read fiction for commentary about the human condition. And there are only a couple of ways that extrapolating out current science into future technology really does that.

It can do that in some ways, of course. It can ask the question, "How might our changing technology alter us as people?", for one example. I can think of a couple of books I've read that tried to use pretty hard science to answer that, and did it well -- maybe Linda Nagata's "Vast". Of course, you don't actually need hard science to ask that, really. "Feed" by M. T. Anderson asks those questions, and doesn't need to go into any details about how the stuff works. It's the internet taken to the next level. Somehow. In some form. Details never explained.

And thank goodness. Most attempts by science fiction to explain how things work fail miserably, from a storytelling standpoint. My single biggest pet peeve with science fiction is the pathological need to have boring blatant exposition about This Thing We Don't Have Yet But Might Someday! Here's How It Might Work! Aren't You Glad I Interrupted The Story For Seven Paragraphs To Explain In Detail?

No. I don't really care much how the faster than light drive works. Why telepathy is now possible. I can understand if something is so far outside of current experience that it requires an explanation of some point, especially if the writer *must* do so to keep it from being the aforementioned to-be-avoided Bad Science, but if so, please be so kind as to WORK IT INTO THE STORY. The bald exposition kills the momentum faster than the amazing Momentum Killing Device being painstakingly described to me.

The details of the Momentum Killing Device should generally be -- almost always -- background, not foreground. The characters are foreground. The plot, the themes, how the device affects things are foreground. Unless the specific way the Momentum Killing Device works is *crucial* to the larger theme, I wish deeply it was worked in organically, or kept out of the story entirely, or even put it in an appendix afterwards if the author can't live without it.

There are a couple of reasons I feel this way. First, the actual predictive ability of science fiction is legendarily bad. So basically, even if the author has done their homework, they're probably expending all that energy on something just as unlikely as anything in 2012. But more importantly, what I want to read is the story they are telling about the Momentum Killing Device. And the story "it works like this, let me explain!" is a really boring story. Not usually worth the time it took to tell it, at least in my opinion.

Again, I stress -- blatantly bad science is usually bad. And good science can be good. But most so-called science fiction uses very little science at all. Even the technological extrapolations aren't usually based on anything but "if so now, then what if more so later?" And alien contact and so forth are based on almost nothing but imagination.

So I kind of wish the term "speculative fiction" would come back in vogue. It covers a lot more of what is actually being done, and lowers the risk of people screaming "But that's not science!" No, it is not. But is it a good story?

And I think most people are aware of that, hence the movie lists being how they are. "The Day The Earth Stood Still" is not good science. But it's good, good speculative fiction. It's a good story.
posted by kyrademon at 6:40 PM on January 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


This part of the article, regarding 2012, made me pause:

"The film makers took advantage of public worries about the so-called end of the world as apparently predicted by the Mayans of Central America, whose calendar ends on December 21, 2012." Yeomans continued, explaining that the paranoia surrounding the movie's concept has overwhelmed his organization. "The agency is getting so many questions from people terrified that the world is going to end in 2012 that we have had to put up a special website to challenge the myths. We have never had to do this before," he said.

I have seen graffiti here and there claiming the world was going to end according to Mayan prophesy; Jabberjaw's post about actually knowing people who believe this is rather more disturbing. Then again, the world was supposed to end in 2000 with the Y2K bug (remember all the people stockpiling food?) and we got through that all right... or should I say, the scientists and technical specialists did their job to fix the problem, no doubt to the doomsayers' disappointment.

It must really be frustrating to have to set up a special website for all of the panicking sadsacks who are scared of what a movie told them is going to happen. Mind you, the world is already in grave danger due to global warming, Peak Oil, overpopulation and general resource depletion. Do the same people buying on the "Do Not Pay Until 2012" layaway plan also believe in these concepts? I tend to think that, in a weirdly ironic fashion, the intersection on that particular Venn Diagram would be pretty slim.
posted by spoobnooble at 6:42 PM on January 4, 2011


Why telepathy is now possible.

Grandfathered in by John W. Campbell.
posted by Artw at 6:44 PM on January 4, 2011


How about Moon?
posted by jeblis at 6:45 PM on January 4, 2011


WFT? Jurassic Park is realistic?!? That was the worst fucking portrayal of a mathematician I've ever seen.

Speaking of Jeff Goldblum and science, I think "The Fly," is a much more realistic portrayal of the likely consequences of cloning and Jeff Goldblum than Jurassic Park.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:59 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


As for Moon, there were a few Scifi elements that probably nixed the whole "realistic" category. It's spoilers, so I don't want to mention it, but consider what was underneath the base.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:00 PM on January 4, 2011


...most of the films on the "least realistic" list had to do with natural disasters (something that we can know a lot about, because they actually happen on Earth), while many of the films on the "most realistic" list had to do with alien life (something we can't even verify the existence of).

Also, a lot of the "realistic" films seem to deal with themes of an overclass and an underclass, for instance Gattaca and Metropolis.


My impression at first glance was that the "most realistic" were very heavy on biology and genetic engineering, while the "least realistic" were more in the realm of strictly physics.

Which tells me that someone evidently thinks genetic engineering is the most likely area for the next scientific breakthrough, and I don't find that hard to believe. There has been a trend away from it since the late 90s for some reason, though, and "digital hacker scifi" and "alien scifi" has sort of been at the fore.

An good example is Avatar, which has aliens and a knock off of the "world wide web" but no genetic advances to help the main character walk. Bizzarre.
posted by Nixy at 7:02 PM on January 4, 2011


Not as bizarre as no cure for Piccard's baldness.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:11 PM on January 4, 2011


Maybe baldness is the 24th century equivalent to the early 21st century resurgence of moustaches and muttonchops. I mean, Picard is obviously a hipster.
posted by Sara C. at 7:18 PM on January 4, 2011


Not as bizarre as no cure for Piccard's baldness.

Somewhere in Star Trek canon, there's some mention of a ban on genetic enhancements in the Federation. There's a cure, but Picard is cruelly denied it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:19 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Annnd I just remembered that there was a cure for his paralysis, but it was too expensive. Which just goes to show how well I remember the plot of Avatar.
posted by Nixy at 7:21 PM on January 4, 2011


Which just goes to show how well I remember the plot of Avatar.

It's ok. It's hard to remember something that was barely there in the first place.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:26 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Baldness is a sign of genetic superiority. I pity you all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:32 PM on January 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's hard to remember something that was barely there in the first place.

Since finding Avatar mentioned in the Wikipedia article on "planetary romance", I've decided that I'm going to think of it that way now on.

(Mrs. Beese and I have watched it a dozen times by now. She wishes she could live on Pandora. I wonder how many bajillion CPU cycles it must have took to render that thing.)
posted by Joe Beese at 7:33 PM on January 4, 2011


Artw: "Sunshine is alright, but come on - they're on a mission to bomb the sun."

It was basically the same plot as The Core and just as dumb but it did look better. "Yay lets restart the Earth's CoreSun with a well placed nuke!"
posted by octothorpe at 7:38 PM on January 4, 2011


What, the Sun had a Q-ball, the vets were gonna fix it.

God, that third act really killed the movie.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:41 PM on January 4, 2011


If you don't want to do science right you should just call it fantasy.

Who is the "you" in that sentence? People tell the stories they want to tell. Others will generally then categorize it as they see fit.

That said, yeah, there is a difference between throwing physics out the window for the sake of a good story, or even just good spectacle, and treating the bullshit fake science in your story as facts that you are educating people about. Let's call the second phenomenon "Dan Brown Syndrome."

In other words, if you have all of your aliens speaking English, well, that's silly, maybe, but more likely than not it just helps things to move along and it's not like any harm comes from it. On the other hand, if you tell everybody that your work springs from facts they may not be aware of, and then get all of the facts wrong while condescendingly "teaching" them to your audience, or intentionally teach them shit that just plain isn't true - like Noetic science - then you've crossed a line somewhere. People are going to take you at your word and then go forth believing the bullshit you've just told them because most people have neither the time nor academic background to check up on what you've said.

Like with Dan Brown, see? Something like 2001 presents its "hard science" as accurately as possible and its fantastic leaps as fantastically as possible, and then at the intersection we have HAL, presented as ambiguously as possible. There is no harm there, just brilliant filmmaking.

(As a tangent, the A.V. Club recently made a great point about how HAL is able to come across as so, well, human in the film, despite the flat tones used throughout. It isn't about "his" voice in the "Open the pod bay doors" scene, but rather in the fact that "he" waits through 45 seconds of repetition before finally responding. It gives the feeling of someone getting frustrated by the person nagging them, not by adding anything that a computer wouldn't do or say, but by taking away an automated response.)

What the Bleep Do We Know acts as though its "science" is fact, however, which makes it far more, yes, pernicious. In conclusion, The Lost Symbol is probably the worst book I have ever attempted reading and Dan Brown is an awful person for writing it.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:43 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The dumbest thing (in a crowded field) about The Core - which I didn't even notice until someone pointed it out to me - is that all of the passengers on that drill thing run around the ship horizontally, even though it's pointed straight down.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:44 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somewhere in Star Trek canon, there's some mention of a ban on genetic enhancements in the Federation

But Geordi's visor is totally fine. Gotcha.

Sometimes Star Trek's canon just makes me grouchy. "oh we've evolved beyond the need for money" … "oh how do you conduct trade then?" … "ooh look aliens with bumpy heads!"

I remember a friend of mine and I discussing a hypothetical episode of Star Trek TNG where all the kids on the ship start getting into trendy fashion and create their own economy based upon slips of pink paper. This becomes a problem for the crew, of course, and they try to put a stop to it.

but not before realizing that they have become the beige borg.
posted by device55 at 7:48 PM on January 4, 2011


Baldness is a sign of genetic superiority.

Cool. I seem to be going genetically superior.
posted by philip-random at 7:55 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


but not before realizing that they have become the beige borg.

Star Trek - mach 1. Hard to seriously criticize. It succeeds because of all the cardboard (both the cheap sets and the performances).

Star Trek - Next Gen. It always bugged me that future fashion sense was so boring, uptight, uniform. I mean, here are the exemplars of humanity boldly going where no man has gone before, and they're all wearing these ugly, tight fitting sorta 1970s cheapo kids pajamas. Who needs the Borg when you already are the Borg?

Dr. Who was way better
posted by philip-random at 8:00 PM on January 4, 2011


Are we talking about how plausible things are in a story? How internally consistent? Because how much actual science is done in most science-fiction movies? Deductive reasoning? And so forth.

[this is as much in response to this comment; you're not actually *doing science* in most cases]
posted by Eideteker at 8:06 PM on January 4, 2011


But Geordi's visor is totally fine. Gotcha.

/me does that confused sideways-head dog thing because Geordi's visor wasn't a genetic enhancement.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:10 PM on January 4, 2011


/me does that confused sideways-head dog thing because Geordi's visor wasn't a genetic enhancement.

To be more clear, why does a genetic enhancement differ significantly (morally, ethically) from strapping a computer to your face or, in the case of Data, creating a completely artificial person?

Why is one enhancement fine, while one is wrong?
posted by device55 at 8:14 PM on January 4, 2011


scotty/buffered in time/girdle
posted by clavdivs at 8:43 PM on January 4, 2011


It's a Shaper/Mechanist thing.
posted by Artw at 8:44 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay I'm not saying Star Trek The Next Generation doesn't have plenty of hand-wavey nonsense but, look, the Federation didn't build Data, a disgraced ex-Federation scientist did, in secret, and the explanation for Picard's baldness is that Picard is bald and nobody in the future gives a shit about baldness, because why would they.
posted by churl at 8:44 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still reckon he should have stayed Borged up though.
posted by Artw at 8:45 PM on January 4, 2011


Actually, when you compare the portrayal of cloning in Jurassic Park to that in The Sixth Day, which is possibly the worse portrayal of cloning in the history of cinema-dom, Jurassic Park is like an advanced PhD course in cellular biology.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:53 PM on January 4, 2011


does scared impact the lists, i was 7 years old when i first watched "the day the earth stood still" i left the theatre shook up, really remember that.
posted by tustinrick at 8:54 PM on January 4, 2011


the Federation didn't build Data

Ok true. But they did make the holographic doctor.

I have no problem with Picard's baldness, it's the baldness of awesome after all.
posted by device55 at 9:06 PM on January 4, 2011


What the hell do any of us ugly bags of mostly water know about aliens, anyway?
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:09 PM on January 4, 2011


The thing that gets me about SF movies these days is that physics isn't ignored or violated due to the need to tell a good SF story, it's ignored because the directors don't know and couldn't care less about science, or space or anything. They make spaceships whoosh around like airplanes because Star Wars did it, if you asked them, they'd probably say "Sure, of course there's sound in space" if they could answer at all, and if pressed they'd probably admit that SF to them is just fantasy or horror with aliens and spaceships.

We've had 60 years of science development, and zero development in film making; it's still almost all brainless crap like "Teenagers from Space", only with better effects.
posted by happyroach at 9:13 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It'd be nice to see a nod to Minority Report on the "best" science list -- conceding that the central predicting-the-future gimmick basically works by magic, they otherwise padded that movie out with some seriously well thought-out, pretty 'hard SF' tech. Especially the sweet gesture-based UI on the computers, and the on-the-fly targeted advertising in the malls, and the 2D-converted-to-quasi-3D videos he played back in his apartment. The tech in that movie was some fun brain candy when it came out, and holds up pretty damn well 9 years later.

Also, if you're going to make a list about bad science in movies, and you're going to allow "what the bleep do we know" on the list, then you should probably make it #1, since the entire movie was literally nothing but people lying about science.
posted by churl at 9:20 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Padded kind of the operative word there though - it's basically all neat set-dressing.

(also if you ask me they abandon a pretty neat twist in the original short for one that's pretty lame)
posted by Artw at 9:37 PM on January 4, 2011


the ban on genetic enhancement in the star trek future was because of Khan and the other genetically enhanced "supermen" trying to take over in WWIII (i think that's when it was).

There was even a storyline about how Bashir's parents illegally had him undergo somekind of genetic enhancement as a kid (or before he was born?) and if it got out he could be kicked out of Starfleet, even though the treatment was for learning difficulties.

So Federation people are totally irrational about genetic manipulation, because of the Gattaca-like history.
posted by jb at 9:46 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, I need to look up the nice essay posted a here a few months ago which discussed the underlying conflicts between narrative and statistical inference. It pretty much killed my willingness to seriously entertain the pretense that science fiction is about "realistic science." Just about everyone involved from the 30s forward invokes at least one egregious impossibility in every story, and that's ok.

Realistic science fiction would involve teams of people working years to collect enough data to make a tentative claim that will be debated in highly technical terms for the next decade before it means anything. Which is why the scientist as a character spends the minimum amount of time possible in his or her research home before escaping out the window to an adventure where they can spontaneously provide the reader/viewer with a lot of spontaneous bullshit.

The Raiders of the Lost Ark reference there is intentional as science fiction comes out of the same pulpy wish-fulfillment adventure clade. Crichton did it at least three times, Asimov in I, Robot, Clarke in 2010 (computer scientist on a space ship!), and Sagan in Contact. It's a central plot device of 2012 and Fringe. And then there's Niven/Pournelle's special flavor of science fiction authors drinking cocktails with the president in a bunker.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:51 PM on January 4, 2011


cannot enter the same Walter twice.
posted by clavdivs at 10:05 PM on January 4, 2011


Thanks jb - I was unaware of that Bashir plot element (didn't watch DS 9 all the way through) - that makes it slightly more logical.

Now if someone can explain their economy, Star Trek will completely internally consistent and prefect in every way.
posted by device55 at 10:06 PM on January 4, 2011


"RoboCop" is more the world we live in than "Gattaca," even if the police force isn't owned by a real-life equivalent of OPC yet. Yet. So why's it not in there among the most realistic? More action-ey than sci-fi-ey, what?
posted by raysmj at 10:28 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Detroit is nowhere near that nice.
posted by Artw at 10:58 PM on January 4, 2011


"RoboCop" is more the world we live in than "Gattaca," even if the police force isn't owned by a real-life equivalent of OPC yet. Yet.

Is Blackwater (also known as Xe Services, LLC -- hi, Google!) close enough?
posted by Mikey-San at 11:39 PM on January 4, 2011


Also, the damage from being hit by a car and smashed through a tank of toxic waste doesn't look anything like that, and a person's head doesn't really shatter like a cantaloupe when impacting a car's windshield at moderate speed.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:43 PM on January 4, 2011


Oh god. I just imagined ED 209 as an autonomous drone aircraft. The future is going to suuuuck.
posted by Ritchie at 11:48 PM on January 4, 2011


So I kind of wish the term "speculative fiction" would come back in vogue.

Yeah, if we're going to be semantic about the term "science fiction," isn't "speculative fiction" kind of redundant? Of course it's speculative: it's fiction.
posted by Amanojaku at 5:25 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


An good example is Avatar, which has aliens and a knock off of the "world wide web" but no genetic advances to help the main character walk. Bizzarre.

They did. It was expensive. The main character was promised the required therapy in exchange for his cooperation.
posted by Thistledown at 6:15 AM on January 5, 2011


The main problem with Minority Report is that it would be infinitely easier to just commit the murder outside the sensory range of the precogs instead of trying to conceal it from them.
posted by ymgve at 6:35 AM on January 5, 2011


global warming, Peak Oil, overpopulation and general resource depletion. Do the same people buying on the "Do Not Pay Until 2012" layaway plan also believe in these concepts? I tend to think that, in a weirdly ironic fashion, the intersection on that particular Venn Diagram would be pretty slim.

Listen to Coast-to-Coast AM for a week or so, and you'll find that a lot of people believe in a lot of things.

On second thought, don't do that to yourself.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:37 AM on January 5, 2011


Amanojaku: "Yeah, if we're going to be semantic about the term "science fiction," isn't "speculative fiction" kind of redundant? Of course it's speculative: it's fiction."

Yeah, exactly. That's what's always bugged me about the term.
posted by brundlefly at 9:56 AM on January 5, 2011


So, my mother has a bizarre love for ridiculously large and cheesetacular disaster films, and really really wanted to see 2012, so I took her out to see it in the theatre for her birthday. Apparently her favorite part of the movie was right in the beginning - she really loved the choked 'WH-GHK-AAAAT?' sound I made when the opening scientist explains that 'the sun's neutrinos are mutating!' or whatever crazy shit.

I realized that that movie becomes marginally better if you pretend that any sonuvabitch on screen wearing a lab coat is actually dressed like a wizard, and any time they try to 'sciencify' their explanations you can just imagine the real reason for onscreen action is 'a wizard did it'. The movie becomes much more believable that way (altho no less shitty).
posted by FatherDagon at 12:20 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


'The sun's neutrinos are mutating!' is now my explanation for everything.

Actually that may have happened in a Stephen Baxter book.
posted by Artw at 1:25 PM on January 5, 2011


device55 -- sorry, the Star trek universe's economy is run on fairy dust and tribble purrs.

the only time they came close to a realistic economic world was when they showed a Bajoran refugee camp, with squalor and poverty.

For semi-realistic economies/societies in space opera, you have to look to Babylon 5 or Firefly. Or the Vorkosigan Saga (my new favourite books).
posted by jb at 6:14 PM on January 5, 2011


They make spaceships whoosh around like airplanes because Star Wars did it

And Star Wars did it, because he was copying the way WWII movies did dogfights.
posted by empath at 5:25 AM on January 6, 2011


Ridley Scott pays tribute to "Prophets of Science Fiction"

posted by Artw at 8:46 PM on January 6, 2011


In other words, we're probably just yapping on and on about a couple of undistinguished top N lists posted on somebody's blog.... RobotVoodooPower nails it. Apparently NASA didn't write this list after all:

Dave Kellam, at eightface.com, also wrote a blog post on this subject: NASA and bad science movies. Kellam emailed Donald Yeomans, the manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program, who was quoted in John Harlow’s Sunday Times article. In his reply Yeomans stated:

There is no list and there was no meeting to put together such a list. NASA would never put together a list of “worst sci-fi films.” We are not movie critics.

According to Kellam, Yeomans stated that he was interviewed by a British journalist, but was subject to misquotes and manufactured quotes.


Kellam includes a link in his post to an actual NASA webpage [Warning: delicious Web 1.0 design ahead] about space movies that was much more entertaining than this silly list (I mean, seven films in each category? How weird is that?)

Ooh, and I saw Surrogates yesterday and quite liked it. Bruce Willis should consider more scifi B-pictures.
posted by Chichibio at 3:03 PM on January 8, 2011


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