Editorial: The Criticism of Science in Film

New editorial, new year. And I hope you’ll notice we managed to avoid the temptation of “Year in Review” posts. Inevitably they’re uninteresting, and you’ll have your own preferences anyway. The release schedule for everything will be up again soon (just waiting for the end of the new year draught) and we can get back to providing our usual top-quality entertainment. As always, check us out on twitter @abortretryflail and look us up on Facebook. Comment, get involved, please don’t post me pictures of your pants. Now on to the post.

There seems to be a weird disconnect in how we watch and review Science Fiction (Specifically, as it’s own genre. Think Star Wars) and how we comment on media, specifically films in this instance, that purport to be entirely scientific or at least based solidly in science without becoming part of the former genre (Apollo Thirteen). Whilst both sets are open and subject to similar criticism, the second set appears to enjoy much more understanding. Science in film is left open to some pretty heavy bias…

Gravity received criticism, but mostly surrounding the acting or screen play. It’s considered a straight drama, set in space, despite its obvious reliance on accurate science to work. There is criticism of its scientific practice, but this is both limited and relatively low key when frankly it should very much be part of main stream critique. When a film, particularly one not considered to be science fiction, uses science as the base point around which it is set then whether or not that science is accurate should be important. If the rest of the film is relatively well made, the science is glossed over. It is particularly ignored if the film is set on Earth or it’s surrounds, and in the present day (Yes, I know that’s what makes it not Sci-Fi) because we assume that everything must be pretty much correct. We know what it’s like on Earth, we don’t have to concentrate on the setting.

Science Fiction, specifically that set on Earth, is often most heavily criticised for its level of realism or lack thereof. There might be some scientific theory that the film is based on, and that will be raked over the coals for its accuracy. Lucy, a film who’s only real problem was pacing issues, was continuously condemned for using inaccurate/theoretical science as the premise for an entirely fictional plot. At one point, Scarlett Johansson can see and manipulate phone calls; it isn’t exactly an attempt at serious real-world action. But oh no, the scientific idea behind it is probably wrong, lets jump up and down on it. Star Wars contains “the force” and lightsabers, Bladerunner is full of weird and wonderful speculation, but almost every sci-fi film not set on Earth is given a free run. The moment a film is tagged as Science Fiction and involving Earth, the critical eye drastically shifts.

If a film is tagged as Drama and just happens to be set in space, we ignore all the science aspects because for some reason they’re no longer relevant. The moment it gets described as science-fiction, and the more familiar we are with the area in which it’s set, “science” is suddenly the only important part, conveniently ignoring “fiction”. It’s incredibly frustrating. Either criticise all science when it’s applicable, or just don’t bother. Keeping the current level of bias going just devalues what are otherwise fantastic films.

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