Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema

David A. Kirby. MIT, $27.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-262-01478-6
Hollywood's employment of scientific advisors is more complex than mere verisimilitude—it's an intricate dance with risks and rewards for both parties, argues Kirby in his first book, a history of Hollywood's relationship with science. The participation of experts in blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Deep Impact not only help the filmmakers, but helps raise awareness of scientific issues like global warming and nuclear energy. Their participation can even impact fundraising efforts for the scientists and their organizations or concerns. Details like the handwritten equations in A Beautiful Mind and the removal of kelp from Finding Nemo, which grows in cold, not tropical waters, lend authenticity. Jurassic Park's depiction of dinosaurs as birds rather than reptiles both educated the public and spurred heated scientific discourse. Even when filmmakers get it wrong, as they did by both simplifying and overstating the effect of a gigantic asteroid in Armageddon, the benefits for NASA (exposure, script approval) outweighed the factual inconsistencies. From "prophetic" early films like 1929's Woman in the Moon science-focused movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey to admitted fiascos like The Core, Kirby's command of the subject makes for entertaining reading and, likely, more informed viewing. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 04/11/2011
Release date: 02/01/2011
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