Monday, August 09, 2010

Ground rules for believable science fiction.

This has been something I've been thinking about for a while. I was having a conversation with my cousin today (well, technically yesterday, but who gives  fuck) about really dodgy science fiction movies, and what they did wrong. Then like less then an hour ago i was watching inception, and it struck me as a prime example of how to do science fiction right.

Being a science buff, small inaccuracies in physics bug me to hell. Things that most people don't understand and just take for granted can ruin entire movies for me. These are a couple of rules that will help avoid these ever so frustrating moments.

#1: Where ever possible, don't explain.

  This might seem like a stupid one. Surely explaining the theory behind any device or phenomena will help build scientific credibility to the average viewer. No. Don't do it. The average viewer doesn't give a shit how it works. It's generally not actually relevant to the plot of the film. Who gives a shit how you made the worm-hole, what's important is that you did. Spare us the details, because you'll probably get them wrong. Inception did this beautifully. If you haven't seen it, there's this device that connects to your wrist, and allows everyone connected to the device to share dreams. It's probably impossible, but because they never explain how it works, you can't actually know if it's possible, so you can just accept that it does work. You can't go "Clearly it wouldn't work because X stops Y and Z doesn't even make sense."

#2: Where an explanation must happen, avoid actual physics as much as possible.

  Sort of a continuation on of #1. Say it works because of some piece of technology that doesn't exist, and that operates under some principle that you made up. Don't explain the tech or the principle. Avoid words like "Electromagnetic", "gamma radiation" and anything else that reflects upon reality and you may use wrongly. Particularly "ion". That word pisses me off. I was watching Farscape with my woman, and this dudes spaceship gets hit my an "electromagnetic pulse" that creates a worm-hole that sucks him to some distant part of space. That's a horrible explanation. If they didn't explain what the pulse was, just said that it was some unknown radiation, then it would have been plausible. An electromagnetic wave is the general class for things like light, radio waves, microwaves etc. An electromagnetic pulse can be created by turning anything electronic on and off quickly. It is just a burst of electromagnetic waves. Can you imagine light creating a worm-hole? All it could possibly do is fuck up some of his sensors and burn out some electronics.

#3: If real scientific terms have to be used, RE-WRITE YOUR FUCKING SCRIPT!

  Seriously. Fire your writers and hire someone who can stick some imaginary terms in somewhere that make it at least possible, if not plausible. I'm not fucking joking. This should never happen.

#4: Avoid the know-it-all-guy.

  You know the one. The scientist, hacker, experimental physicist, ancient historian, anyone who should reliably know what's going on. Having them around means that there is someone the other cast can ask about how something works. Or, if you need them for one part, make them have no knowledge of any other fields of science. It's realistic, as well as handy. No-one knows physics, chemistry, biology, geology and medicine to any decent degree. Perhaps some know 2, maybe the very smartest know 3, but everyone specialises in one school. If you need a geologist, and someone asks "How does the dirithium atomiser work?" they can go "Fucked if i know, now shoot that guy over there".

#5: Lead the viewer to a conclusion, but don't explicitly state it.

  This follows sorta from #1, and might seem to contradict it, but it's kind of peripheral to it, and expands on it a bit. Do something to show some connection between you unexplained objects. Offer the viewer some way to reason out their own potential explanation for your phenomena if they so desire. Easiest way to explain this is an example. In Avatar, the humans have this machine that allows the humans to control the body's of cloned aliens (Called avatars, but I'm sure you've all seen it). They didn't explain the functionality of the machine, and that was fine. What they did wrong, was they gave no possible explanation for how it actually controlled the avatars. It seemed to have infinite range (through a field that disrupted electronics no less), and connected to their individual avatar with no time lag or receiver. What they should have done was show some device in the avatars, could be a small chip, could be an antenna running through the tail, doesn't matter what. All they needed to do was show something, anything, that could be a receiver for the controller. They don't need to explain function, but there should be SOME connection.

I think that does it for now... I might add some more in another post as they come to me. I should definitely be in bed now lol. I have to get up for uni in 5 and a half hours. I probably won't sleep for another hour or so, but i should at least try...

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