Big Disasters

There are going to be a bunch of small posts today with different things that floated to the top of the random roiling flotsam and jetsam that is my thought process.

So, to begin:

I have two threads drawing me to see Into the Storm, the tornado film coming out in August.

The first is this guy:

Richard Armitage, Self Assignment, October 4, 2013

Yes dear, you’re hot. Let’s move on.

The second is the fact that I work at a University in the department that houses the Atmospheric Sciences. I can’t wait to go see this with some of them to point and laugh because this promises to be only slightly more scientifically accurate than 2012.

Now, this film is not trying to sell itself as Chekov, I get that. It’s a mindless pop-corn flick. That’s totally fine. I have Pacific Rim at home because there is something relaxing about watching giant robots and giant monsters pummeling each other. Don’t ask me what, it’s my zen.


Don’t not seek the Kaiju, only cherish kicking its ass.

But when your trailer about a film supposedly based on realistic events has lines like, “This one is bigger than any storm that has ever been!” which is refuted in thee seconds on Wikipedia  (and just to give you an idea of how big Typhoon Tip was) you have hella-bad screenwriting.  There are scientific reasons why large hurricanes and typhoons form over the ocean, not land, so no, you are not going to have the “biggest storm of all time” over Oklahoma. That was an unnecessary piece of hyperbole that just makes the film look foolish. Multiple massive tornadoes tearing through a place is bad enough, you really don’t need to embellish it with “ZOMFG! This is like, the worst storm EVAR!” I also highly question if a storm would have enough energy to put out four or five funnels in close proximity like that. There is bending the truth with some poetic license, and there is just not giving a rat’s ass about your subject matter except as an excuse for special effects.

As a history major I see that a lot. I, and many historians, understand that for the sake of story cohesion and time, events have to be streamlined and compressed, peripheral personages have to be merged or left out, etc.. We get that, but often things are changed for the sake of the Hollywood concept of “drama” and the story suffers because there was plenty of great drama in the real events. Real history is usually more interesting than anything Hollywood can cook up. I find the further a film drifts from the truth, the more “poetic license” they take, the worse the film is. For instance, Tora Tora Tora vs. Pearl Harbor. Tora Tora Tora is considered one of the top WWII films of all time and the only historical accuracy issues were equipment ones because the filmmakers in 1968 could not get their hands on WWII fighters and battleships. Pearl Harbor was an utter mess historically and dramatically.

Real science creates realistic jeopardy which just makes for a better movie. Look at this list from Popular Mechanics for the ten most scientifically accurate vs. ten least scientifically accurate SciFi films, and see which side of the scale is weighted down by artistic quality.

Most Scientifically Accurate:

~ 2001

~ Andromeda Strain

~ Alien

~ Blade Runner

~ Terminator

~ Jurassic Park

~ Gattaca

~ Contact (I do not understand the hate people have for this film. It was faithful to Carl Sagan’s novel, yet people seem to think they bought tickets for a George Lucas movie.)

~ Deep Impact

~ Minority Report (Again, a film that needs more love. It’s a great story told very well. Yes, the psychic premise is shaky, but the technology is sound. And while Tom Cruise maybe a complete nutter off camera, he knows what he is doing in front of it.)

A lot of damn good movies, right? Many iconic, even.

Least Scientifically Accurate:

~ The Black Hole (Does anyone remember this film? Neil deGrasse Tyson does and watch how much this film pisses him off 35 years later. And he makes the same point I just did: Sometimes filmmakers decide that their “vision” is more compelling then reality, and they are just wrong.)

~ Armageddon

~ The Matrix

~ Vanilla Sky

~ The Core

~ The Day After Tomorrow

~ I am Legend

~ Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Or, “Why Indy Should Have Remained in the Fantasy Genre.”)

~ 2012

~ Angels and Demons

They have The Matrix and Vanilla Sky, if you are into that sort of thing. (In which case, Jacob’s Ladder did it better.)  But as you see by in large, the better films are the ones that strove for some scientific accuracy.

So there is “artistic license” and there’s “I’m just too lazy to put some real work into this script and will leave it to the special effects shop to write most of the movie.”

Which is sad because this guy:


Oh! Hello, there…

…is a first-rate actor and deserves good material. (Thank the Gods he is working with great material now.) I am hoping I am wrong. I am hoping that this is film is better than its marketing. Sometimes that happens.


3 thoughts on “Big Disasters

  1. That is an intriguing list of best and worst because it clearly shows that good science and good films go together. I enjoyed both Contact and Minority Report, but then I also have fond memories of The Black Hole, which I saw at the cinema as a kid. I found The Core risible as I assumed a few nuclear bombs would be woefully inadequate to the task of re-spinning the Earth’s core, although I guessed it would take thousands or millions of such bombs whereas it would only take about 350. Then again, I would have CHECKED this before making a movie. It’s bewilders me why people would spend millions to make a film based on utter rubbish when real science has endless possibilities for fascinating stories.

    • I think it’s a combination of laziness and arrogance. The writer and director walk in with their “Vision” and they figure that it must unfold as they see it (and don’t want to confront the reality it does not) and/or the audience is too ignorant and stupid to know that it does not unfold as the writer/director sees it.

      I agree. When one researches history, we discover so many wonderful stories that could be mined for movies or TV. I can only imagine it would be the same for science. The more you understand a phenomenon, the more enriching the story and even more stories.

  2. Pingback: Rafael Sabatini: The Master of Adventure | Kip's Kardo

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