Special Features – It’s Not Rocket Science: How Nerds Ruin Movies‏

Anghus Houvouras on how nerds ruin movies….

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in Gravity

Gravity is fast becoming a phenomenon here in the U.S.  It’s second week tally is $40 million giving it one of the most successful second weekends of 2013 and is on the fast track to becoming one of the year’s biggest hits. 

A movie that achieves this level of success will get people talking.  While audiences are abuzz about the story of survival set in space, the nerds are breaking down the film to a subatomic level criticizing the actual science behind it. 

And it’s not just any nerd.  It’s geek icon and celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson who decided to nitpick some details about the movie via Twitter including:

“satellite communications were disrupted at 230 mi up, but communications satellites orbit 100x higher”

“how Hubble (350mi up) ISS (230mi up) & a Chinese Space Station are all in sight lines of one another.”

I’m used to this level of cinematic dissection from the film fans.  Dear Lord, do they know how to ruin a good movie with their attempt at applying logic and facts to a situation.  Like the buzzkills who declare “The Death Star wouldn’t have exploded in a fireball because there’s no oxygen in space”.  That bothers them enough to express their indignation but light sabers and mystical force powers are apparently not an issue.

I remember going to see GoldenEye, a movie that features James Bond wielding a laser watch, a tank chase through St. Petersburg, a man diving off a cliff and climbing into a falling plane and all sorts of moments requiring one to suspend their disbelief.  However, at the very end when Sean Bean’s villainous 006 falls a few hundred feet and manages to survive long enough to witness the falling debris that would kill him, an enraged fan stood up and yelled:


Seriously?  That was the tipping point for you?  I would have thought there were more unrealistic elements to a 007 movie that would have irked film fans, like the fact that he has frequent unprotected sex and yet has never gotten the Clap.  Or at least herpes.

Although he has a far better CV, Neil deGrasse Tyson is still devolving into the kind of nitpicking that drives me insane.  The kind that you read about frequently online or see in popular web series like Cinema Sins “Everything Wrong With” series where they recently applied their sin finder to Iron Man 3 declaring things like Tony Stark couldn’t have survived smashing into a concrete wall or that when his mansion plunged into the Pacific that he was underwater far longer than the average person is capable of holding their breath.

The fact that he’s in a flying metal suit and has a reactor in his chest is acceptable to people, but hitting a wall hard is a deal breaker.  While the Cinema Sins guys might not be rocket scientists, they’re employing the same techniques as Tyson: finding flaws in something not meant to be scientifically sound.

You could make the argument that Gravity’s attempt at making a realistic low orbit thriller makes it more susceptible to scientific criticisms, but let’s be intellectually honest: at the end of the day Gravity is still a movie whose goal is to entertain.  Realism is ceded in favor of creative license.  And if you a rigid, real world sensibility to movies (especially Science Fiction), you’re not going to have any fun.  At the end of the day, this is what these criticisms are reduced to: One person telling another person what is ‘wrong’ with something they enjoyed. 

With his Gravity nitpicks, Neil deGrasse Tyson has become the world’s smartest fanboy troll.  I eagerly await his dissertation on why Greedo shot first. Maybe Steven Hawking will grace us with his theory on how ejecting a warp core into a singularity wouldn’t help you escape the gravitational pull.

Jodie Foster in ContactI understand your rigid adherence to scientific fact.  You know what good science gets us in movies?  Contact.  The kind of boring, talky tripe that ends up going nowhere.  All that build up and she ends up on a beach talking to her Father. “Small steps, Ellie.”  Screw that.  I don’t want ‘small steps’.  I want two guys with laser swords fighting to the death.  I want a guy dodging bullets in slow motion.  I want computers on the verge of launching nuclear missiles that can only be stopped by playing a game of Tic Tac Toe.  I want asteroids that can only be stopped by oil drilling miscreants.

I want irradiated lizards stomping through Tokyo, and you want to tell me that a nuclear bomb wouldn’t make a lizard grow 50 stories tall but would give him cancer.  It takes every ounce of my willpower not to point and shout NERD!

It’s not rocket science Neal.  It’s a movie.  Even when the movie is something like Gravity, the goal is not an obsessive commitment to reality, but to try and thrill audiences.   Sometimes that requires creative license.

Even for an astrophysicist, Is it really that hard to understand?

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.


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