How much legit does the science have to be in your sci-fi TV/movies?

Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by Skipper, Feb 11, 2024.

  1. Nerys Myk

    Nerys Myk A Spock and a smile Premium Member

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    Not usually there for the science. It's a bit of a side dish.
     
  2. Mage

    Mage Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Yeah, kinda the same. When I watch movies or shows, I want to be entertaint and have fun. If the science is off, fine by me. If it's correct, it's a real cool bonus.
    I love science. I can watch hours of documentaries on what we've learned about the universe so far. Read papers on it. I don't need it when I watch a movie.
    That does, however, not mean that I can absolutely understand how and why it is important to other people.
     
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  3. TREK_GOD_1

    TREK_GOD_1 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The process of any scientific application might be boring to John and Jane Q. Public, but the entertainment industry rarely had an interest in attempting to integrate said application with the stories in some imaginative manner (i.e. not coming off like a lecture), instead rinsing and repeating endless explosions, oversized this or that, energy beams galore, spaceships sounding like freight trains and the usual recycled alien stories with few exceptions. You say wanting spectacle is ingrained in people, but the kind produced and promoted by the entertainment industry--that level of a hook was not natural to the population, even in stage productions; the very nature of narrative filmmaking and the idea that anything could be created for the screen only emboldened filmmakers to "go bigger" with one overblown concept piled on top of another, decade after decade.

    Its a minor miracle that reasonable intelligent sci-fi, fantasy and superhero productions manage to be greenlit along the way, and even when they were, I believe you'll find they are not as appreciated, simply due to the way the entertainment industry has conditioned generations.
     
  4. Owain Taggart

    Owain Taggart Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I agree with Christopher. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. Better use of science in sci-fi can strengthen the settings and the narratives. If something is set on Mars, for instance, I'd be disappointed if instead of real location names and landmarks, they made up their own. There comes a point where if details are ignored, while professing to be about something, that it becomes inherently distracting. I've lost count the number of times I've been excited about something, only to be disappointed in the lack of good science used, which feels more and more like a lack of research on the part of the writers. Showing that the writers have an understanding of the topic they're writing about will go a long way to creating belief in their narrative.
     
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  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    It's strange because it's objectively counterfactual to assume that hard science fiction stories can only be about scientists performing their work. There are countless examples that prove otherwise, from 2001 to Gattaca to The Expanse and For All Mankind, and that's just onscreen. Heck, my own science fiction is usually as hard and scientifically accurate as I can make it, but few of my main characters are scientists.


    Your mention of Mars reminds me of the '90s animated series ExoSquad, which had a weird disconnect where science was concerned. The writers of the show did their homework and wrote authentically and plausibly about interesting places in the Solar System like Olympus Mons on Mars and Saturn's moon Enceladus (I think it was). But the design and animation teams did no research whatsoever and depicted these real locations in preposterously wrong ways, e.g. depicting Olympus Mons as a needle-thin tower of rock and Enceladus as a flat rectangular slab in space rather than a sphere. It was particularly frustrating because these are real places that are actually out there, and it shouldn't have been hard for them to find reference photos if they'd made the attempt. And it was frustrating that the writers put so much obvious care into the plasubility of their creation but the artists just sabotaged it with their carelessness.


    Exactly. For me, it's a matter of professional pride. If you have a job to do, you do it to the best of your ability, and you don't skimp on the research. If something is real and known, then you do your homework and get it right. If something is a break from reality, then you do your homework so that you understand how it departs from reality and can think of a plausible-sounding excuse for it. It's just a matter of putting care into what you create.
     
  6. Owain Taggart

    Owain Taggart Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Yeah, that would frustrate me too. There's no reason why the artists couldn't have collaborated or corroborated wiith the writers to make sure everything came across correctly.

    I think my favourite example, while fairly minor in the grand scheme of things, still ended up setting the tone going forward. In this case, it was a locally produced show, and they were introducing their characters and their backstories, and one of them was supposedly an amateur astronomer, owning 'a telescope with a refractor' as the character himself said. Anybody using Google, including the writers (seriously, it would have taken 5 min of research), would be able to see that a refractor itself is a type of telescope. The two most common types of telescopes are Refractors, and Reflectors, so if he'd said he owned a Refractor', that would have been correct. But because of this rather egregious mistake, I never believed the character to be an astronomer.
     
  7. Reverend

    Reverend Admiral Admiral

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    For me the question is entirely subjective since it depends on the tone and intent of each individual story, filtered through the limitations of it's given medium. I'm not about to hold a 'Farscape' or even a 'Stargate: SG-1' to the same level of veracity as say a '2001: A Space Odyssey', or an 'Arrival' because they're tonally oceans apart.

    But as a general rule of thumb, I say storytelling should always come before scientific accuracy, across the board. Even well regarded "hard sci-fi" like 'The Expanse' and 'The Martian' have fudged some pretty glaringly poor science in the name of story and narrative, and that's fine.

    For something like say 'Star Wars', I have near zero expectation (or desire) for scientific accuracy, except for just the surface level sense of physics you'd get from any adventure story.
    For example: I expect space in 'Star Wars' to behave like a vacuum in the same way I expect the ocean in say 'Treasure Island' to behave like a large body of salt water. That is to say; if you fall into it, you may suffocate/drown in pretty short order. That's it; vacuum = peril. Open ocean = peril. Indeed, both may also contain sharks; as impossible as that should be! I don't need a spaceship's propulsion to be accurate to newtonian physics anymore than I need to rigging and navigation of the Hispaniola to be faithfully depicted. Space ship = flies in space. Sea ship = sails on sea. That's plenty.

    But at the other end of the spectrum; if a story is selling itself precisely on it's hard sci-fi credentials, then I both expect and want a much higher standard.

    In reality, most sci-fi is somewhere in between, with the main crux of the premise building on a "real" scientific concept that is both cool AND mostly accurate . . . and that's about where most of it should be.
    In my experience the further they specifically lean into the science itself, the more dry and lifeless the storytelling gets. To this day, I have never sat through more than a third of 'Primer' without falling asleep (three attempts and counting!) I don't care how mathematically accurate it is; that crap is mind numbingly dull.

    At the end of the day; if you want 100% scientific veracity; go read an academic journal.
     
  8. TREK_GOD_1

    TREK_GOD_1 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    That is how most movie and TV producers viewed and continue to consider the idea of scientific accuracy; they see it as an anchor getting in the way of the "awesome" wows / bangs / blasts, hence the kind of content created by Irwin Allen and Gerry Anderson, which met the long-formed expectations of a great number of audiences of the 1960s and 70s--even with Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey sandwiched between their overall work for TV and/or film.
     
  9. Reverend

    Reverend Admiral Admiral

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    It's not even about the "awesome" factor, it's just basic storytelling. For example; in real science, certain things take a long damn time (space travel for example.) So unless your whole premise is based around that very passage of time and the isolation involved (like say KSR's 'Aurora' or Weir's 'Project Hail Mary'); then it can become a direct impediment to simply advancing the narrative.

    For example: 'The Expanse' show mostly gets around this by mostly being deliberately vague about the passage of time; unlike the novels, which hold true to it, because their medium affords them that luxury.
    In visual storytelling the story is rarely served by having a "two weeks later" card flash up between every other scene on the Roci, just because that's how much time should logically have passed between two halves of a conversation. It would stop the show dead in it's tracks and kill the pacing. Same thing with intercutting between different locations. It doesn't need to all be in strict chronological synch with the presumed elapsed time; it just needs to *feel* like the natural flow of the narrative.

    Another example could be chemical process, or a mathematical calculation that should take way longer in real life that it may seem to on a show, purely in the name of expediency. It's not different than with say a legal drama when two characters may be having a conversation, then there's a cut, and they're getting out of a car in-front of a building, seemingly continuing the self-same conversation, which they're still having after the next cut when they're walking out of the elevator on the 21st floor.
    From an objective standpoint, that's bafflingly unrealistic; but in the name of clear storytelling it's entirely necessary.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2024
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  10. Skipper

    Skipper Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Regarding Space 1999, I found this interesting bit of an interview with Barbara Bain

    Q: Now as I recall, the producers of Space: 1999 were very concerned about scientific accuracy in the stories.

    Bain
    : We had some very good science fiction people as advisors who knew what they were talking about. For instance, they knew that sound up there wouldn’t travel, and it would just be quiet up there. But then we wouldn’t have a series, so we couldn’t do that. There were various considerations that had to be made, but they were based on what is, or what was, known at the time. For all I know now it’s out of date. I don’t really know.

    I'm not sure what the interviewer means when he says that they "were very concerned"...
     
  11. Skipper

    Skipper Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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  12. JD

    JD Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Yeah, they do have some silly stuff on History, but it's still has some pretty good straight fact based documentaries.

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves, not just with science, but just in general. If you're going to be writing about a specific topic, then at least do enough research to get the basics right. They should at least get what shows up on screen accurate enough that it won't drive people who know about the topic crazy. I tend to think of this stuff in terms of animals, since that's what I know, and if it's a major plot point in your show that a dog has distemper or a horse has strangles, then the writers should at least do enough research to get the symptoms and treatments for distemper or strangles right. It would literally take five minutes to look that stuff up online, and it would be pretty sad if you're writers didn't care enough to even do that much.
    There's lots of stuff in real astronomy and physics that can easily translate to some pretty awesome visuals onscreen, if the people making shows and movies took the time to do some research.
    Cops shows tend to shorten their timelines to almost ridiculous degrees, they tend to show stuff that takes days or weeks in the real world happening in a matter of ours.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2024
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  13. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    That's certainly true. On the other hand, sometimes it can be taken too far. Ever since the the Hubble Telescope started producing gorgeously detailed images of nebulae and star formation regions, sci-fi productions have cluttered up space shots with nebulas everywhere you look, so that it's never just a straight-up starscape anymore. I mean, come on, people, it's called "space" for a reason! It's the opposite of cluttered!


    One of my favorite subversions of that, and of the "zoom and enhance" cliche, was in the short-lived series based on Robert Sawyer's novel FlashForward. The investigation team had blurry surveillance footage of a suspect, and instead of pushing a few buttons and sharpening it to clarity in seconds, they had to send it to a specialist agency that spent weeks correlating data from consecutive frames of the suspect and gradually reconstructing a slightly better image.

    See, that's one advantage of doing the homework to get it right. So much TV and movie writing defaults to the same old cliches over and over that doing it right for a change is fresh and distinctive. Although, of course, if it were more common to get it right, that advantage would go away. But I could live with that.
     
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  14. Owain Taggart

    Owain Taggart Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Well, Star Wars is Science Fantasy moreso than Science Fiction, and with those types of movies, I'll never expect science to come into play since they're going to invent their own rules anyway.
     
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  15. Reverend

    Reverend Admiral Admiral

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    Which is exactly why I cited it as being at the opposite end of the spectrum. ;)
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    George Lucas called it space fantasy -- there isn't a shred of science in it. It could also be considered part of the sword-and-planet fantasy genre like its inspiration Flash Gordon or John Carter of Mars. I mean, it literally tells us up front that it's a fairy tale -- "A long time ago" etc.

    Although I was struck in my recent reread of Asimov's Robot/Empire/Foundation saga how much Star Wars seemed to borrow from it. The depiction of how hyperdrive ships operate is very similar, and Coruscant is a blatant knockoff of Trantor from Foundation. There's a similar dynamic of the fall of an ancient benevolent galactic government leading to an era of tyranny and deterioration, with the heroes striving to restore a benevolent order. Plus the depiction of robots/droids is similar, in the way they're portrayed both as sentient beings and as humans' property without a lot of exploration of the uncomfortable questions that raises.
     
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  17. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Sums up my view quite nicely. I've done research, written papers and stories and such. At some point, I'll appreciate the work done on the screen rather than getting annoyed at a scientific mispeak by non-scientists.

    Now, US Military uniforms being wrong, especially nowadays, is another story.
     
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  18. Owain Taggart

    Owain Taggart Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Exactly. Sometimes it's the little things that matter. These little details can have a cascading effect.

    Good point, and fair enough :)
     
  19. Set Harth

    Set Harth Vice Admiral Admiral

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    And there are characters named Han and Bail. :techman:
     
  20. Reverend

    Reverend Admiral Admiral

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    Not to split hairs, but there's nothing scientifically implausible about that. That kind of thing falls under the umbrella of "technical" accuracy. ;)
    One assumes the Pentagon still requires script approval before they'll provide technical advisors, so in the absence of that, it's basically up to the costume department to do their own research (amongst the ten thousand other things they have to deal with) so it's not surprising that a lot of them settle for "eh, close enough" since 90% of the audience won't notice.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2024
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