bad science v. dumb science
May 9, 2014
So we got to talking about big explody science fiction movies, and overly self-important science fiction movies, and how rare it is to actually see good, solid, accurate science in any of them. I find when describing these movies I use two phrases — bad science, and dumb science — and I realized those are two different things. Here are my definitions:
Bad Science: This is actually less bad than dumb science. For me, this is the inaccurate, sloppy way that a lot of movies use scientific terms without really understanding them, like “quantum” or “nanotech.” It’s when movies play fast and loose with scientific concepts to make their plots sound moderately smarter, or when they need a plot device that sounds clever. An example of bad science is the bit in Europa Report where what’s-his-face can’t go back in the capsule because he’s gotten hydrazine spilled on his suit and hydrazine is poisonous. And during that whole scene I’m thinking, “Well yeah, hydrazine is poisonous, but for heaven’s sake it’s not going to instantly kill everyone and I think there’s another solution to this before you go off and kill yourself. Geez.”
Dumb Science: This is so-called science or some kind of so-called scientific “principle” that is just so far off the wall and not at all credible, but the movie expects us to be dumb enough not to care. The one that’s bugging us all now is the trailer for the upcoming movie Lucy, which trots out the old “we only use 10% of our brains” idea, which has been so thoroughly debunked as to be laughable, yet movies keep using it as a plot springboard. And I can’t even take them seriously at this point. (As much as I disliked Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and as idiotic as every single scientist character in that movie was, at least they came up with a semi-plausible explanation for increasing intelligence as a side-effect of research into Alzheimer’s treatments.) Another example of really dumb science is the through the earth tunnel nonsense in the Total Recall remake.
Dumb science is when a movie expects its audience to be just that dumb to accept something like that without question. Sorry, dumb science movie — I’m not buying it.