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Hollywood Science: Movies, Science, and the…
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Hollywood Science: Movies, Science, and the End of the World

by Sidney Perkowitz

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The author. a physicist, traces the history of science in the movies, and examines how accurate the science is. In some cases, he gives the movies too much credit, but the discussion is lively and interesting. He writes with a light hand, making it more about the movies than the science. Although his presentation is positive, and he credits the movies with a great deal in regard to building interest in science, it is hard to come out of this with a feeling of well being, at least if you're a scientist. The author accepts too much in the way of stereotype, apparently assuming that scientists actually are as socially inept as they are depicted in the movies; perhaps he's been hanging around with physicists too much! He does dispute the idea that scientists are interested in taking over the world, but he brushes lightly over the impact that presentation has had on the public approach to science. Overall, a rather lightweight but interesting book on the topic. ( )
  Devil_llama | Sep 30, 2013 |
A look at the depiction of science and scientists in the movies, comparing fiction to reality. This is a great subject, but I found the execution extremely disappointing. The discussions of real science were all right, if a bit superficial and somewhat flatly written, but the sections discussing portrayals of scientists and the question of what makes a good vs. a bad movie in scientific terms lacked much in the way of content. And I think the author goes far too easy on movies like Armageddon, which may have some reasonable scientific principle at their core, but which then proceed to get all of the details wrong.

What really bugged me about this book, though, is that so much of it consists simply of recaps of various movies, complete with descriptions of romantic subplots and revelations about which characters die in the end. These are completely unnecessary if you've seen the movie in question, and irritatingly spoiler-laden if you haven't. Worse than that, most of them are completely pointless, as you seldom need to know much more than the basic premises of these films to understand what Perkowitz has to say about them. I mean, I do not need a full-page point-by-point plot summary of Waterworld in order to prepare me for the one paragraph later in the chapter that actually addresses the movie, and which basically can be summed up as, "Waterworld shows the entire Earth covered by water from melting ice caps, but that's actually impossible, because there's just not that much ice." I sat through that movie once already, damn it. Why must I be punished again?! It wouldn't be so bad if the recaps included some commentary, or humor, or something. But, no. They're just recaps.

Honestly, I feel a little bit ripped off here. I bought and paid for a two hundred-and-some-page book about Hollywood's treatment of science, but what I got is more like a hundred (so-so) pages of that, and a hundred pages of The Book of Dull Plot Summaries You Could Easily Look Up on Wikipedia.

I finally ended up skimming or even skipping large pieces of the book, and I never do that. ( )
3 vote bragan | Apr 26, 2010 |
Science is generally slow, unexciting, unpredictable, and unglamorous. You'd think that would make it a terrible subject for a movie. Yet Hollywood loves taking snippets of science and weaving it into their movies. On occassion, this leads to a wonderful depection of the scientific method, scientists, and the theory behind the movie. The rest of the time, you get Sudden Impact. Perkowitz does a great job of breaking down the science, breaking down Hollywood, and even explaining why skipping some steps in science is OK in movies. He lists the best representations of theory and scientists and the worst. ( )
  kaelirenee | Dec 6, 2009 |
It's a good idea to see most of the movies discussed in this book before reading it. Like a good scientist, the author succinctly lays out the entire plot of each movie he references: while somewhat tedious, this proves to be a refreshing (and necessary) departure from typical pop-culture/cinematic writing. It's also nice to read about movies from the perspective of someone who isn't professionally inclined to wax poetic in incomprehensible riffs of purple, jargon-filled prose.

On the downside, the more interesting promises of the book were essentially unfulfilled. The introduction and dust jacket both hint at explorations of how the general public's attitudes and understanding of scientific principles (and of science generally) are enhanced and/or undercut by popular culture. The almost exclusive focus on the content of certain films, while interesting, meant that the links between art, audience and culture were unexplored. ( )
  Narboink | Apr 24, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0231142803, Hardcover)

Whether depicting humans battling aliens or a brave geologist saving lives as a volcano erupts, science-fiction films are an exciting visual and sensuous introduction to the workings of science and technology. These films explore a range of complex topics in vivid and accessible ways, from space travel and laser technology to genetic engineering, global warming, and the consequences of nuclear weaponry. Though actual scientific lab work might not be as exciting, science fiction is an engaging yet powerful way for a wide audience to explore some of the most pressing issues and ideas of our time.

In this book, a scientist and dedicated film enthusiast discusses the portrayal of science in more than one hundred films, including science fiction, scientific biographies, and documentaries. Beginning with early films like Voyage to the Moon and Metropolis and concluding with more recent offerings like The Matrix, War of the Worlds, A Beautiful Mind, and An Inconvenient Truth, Sidney Perkowitz questions how much faith we can put into Hollywood's depiction of scientists and their work; how accurately these films capture scientific fact and theory; whether cataclysms like our collision with a comet can actually happen; and to what extent these films influence public opinion about science and the future.

Movies, especially science-fiction films, temporarily remove viewers from the world as they know it and show them the world as it might be, providing special perspective on human nature and society. Yet "Hollywood science" can be erroneous, distorting fact for dramatic effect and stereotyping scientists as remote and nerdy, evil, or noble, doing little to improve the relationship between science and society. Bringing together history, scientific theory, and humorous observation, Hollywood Science features dozens of film stills and a list of the all-time best and worst science-fiction movies. Just as this genre appeals to all types of viewers, this book will resonate with anyone who has been inspired by science-fiction films and would like to learn how fantasy compares to fact.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:01 -0400)

"In this book, a scientist and dedicated film enthusiast discusses the portrayal of science in more than one hundred films, including science fiction, scientific biographies, and documentaries. Beginning with early films like Voyage to the Moon and Metropolis and concluding with more recent offerings like The Matrix, War of the Worlds, A Beautiful Mind, and An Inconvenient Truth, Sidney Perkowitz questions how much faith we can put into Hollywood's depiction of scientists and their work; how accurately these films capture scientific fact and theory; whether cataclysms like our collision with a comet can actually happen; and to what extent these films influence public opinion about science and the future."--Jacket.… (more)

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