Tag Archives: Film

Editor’s Selection: “The Martian” is a Transcendent Sci-Fi Opus

Movie poster and stills from "The Martian" ©2015 20th Century FOX. All rights reserved.
Movie poster and stills from “The Martian” ©2015 20th Century FOX. All rights reserved.

The Martian, is a film adaptation of the inventive, groundbreaking hard sci-fi adventure tale. Like Robinson Crusoe on Mars, it’s a triumph of engineering and basic science, a love letter to innovation and the greatest feats humans are capable of through collaboration. Directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, and following in the footsteps of space epics Gravity and Interstellar, The Martian offers a stunning virtual imagination of Mars, glimpses of NASA’s new frontier – astronauts on Mars – and the stakes of a mission that will soon become a reality. Below, ScriptPhD.com reviews The Martian (an Editor’s Selection) and, with the help of a planetary researcher at The California Science Center, we break down some basics about Mars missions and the planetary science depicted in the film (interactive video).
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REVIEW: Europa Report

Europa Report film poster
Europa Report poster and stills ©2013 Magnolia Pictures, all rights reserved.

In 2007, new NASA research suggested that underneath the vast ice sheaths of Jupiter’s moon Europa lay oceanic water, which is a key element to support life. The Galileo probe, which had been orbiting the moons of Jupiter since December of 1995, was constantly orbiting and swooshing near the sixth largest moon in the solar system, collecting pictures and data that could prove the existence of liquid water. Then in 2011, scientists hit a proverbial jackpot—evidence for two liquid lakes the volume of the North American Great Lakes underneath a region of jumbled ice blocks termed the ‘Conamara Chaos.’ Even in the wake of such exciting discoveries, critical budget cuts severely threatened NASA’s space program, including the Mars rover and Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. This same time frame gave concurrent rise to private space travel, led by the commercial venture Virgin Galactic and ambitious research company Space X. The merger of limitless industry resources with the possibility of uncovering alien life seems like a perfect Hollywood pitch. Such is the scenario explored in the brilliant documentary-style sci-fi thriller Europa Report. A full ScriptPhD review under the “continue reading” cut.
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Oscar-nominated Documentary a Landmark for Science

How To Survive a Plague film poster and stills ©2013 Public Square Films, all rights reserved.

The history of science movies nominated for Oscars is not a very long one. Aside from the technical achievement awards or an occasional nomination for acting merits, the Best Picture category has historically not opened its doors to scientific content, save for notable nominees “A Clockwork Orange,” “District 9,” “Inception” and “Avatar.” A documentary about science has never been nominated for the Best Documentary category, until this year, with How To Survive a Plague, Director David France’s stunning account of the brave activists that brought the AIDS epidemic to the attention of the government and science community in the disease’s darkest early days. “Plague” set history last weekend by becoming the first “Best Documentary” nominee with an almost entirely scientific/biomedical narrative. More importantly, it also established a standard by which future science documentaries should use emotional storytelling to captivate audiences and inspire action. ScriptPhD review and discussion under the “continue reading” cut.
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Artificial Intelligence: The Risk of Robots on the Rampage

For every friendly robot we see in science fiction such as Star Wars’s C3PO, there are others with a more sinister reputation that you can find in films such as I, Robot. Most movie robots can indeed be classified into a range of archetypes and purposes. Science boffins at Cambridge University have taken the unusual step of evaluating the exact risks of humanity suffering from a Terminator-style meltdown at the Cambridge Project for Existential Risk.

“Robots On the Run” is currently an unlikely scenario, so don’t stockpile rations and weapons in panic just yet. But with machine intelligence continually evolving, developing and even crossing thresholds of creativity and and language, what holds now might not in the future. Robotic technology is making huge advances in great part thanks to the efforts of Japanese scientists and Robot Wars. For the time being, the term AI (artificial intelligence) might sound like a Hollywood invention (the term was translated by Steven Spielberg in a landmark film, after all), but the science behind it is real and is not going to go away. Robots can now actually learn things akin to the way humans pick up information. Nevertheless, some scientists believe that there are limits to the level of intelligence that robots will be able to achieve in the future. In a special ScriptPhD guest post, we examine the current state of artificial intelligence, and the possibilities that the future holds for this technology.
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REVIEW: Prometheus

Prometheus poster and stills ©2012 20th Century Fox, all rights reserved.

It has been three decades since Ridley Scott’s acclaimed sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner practically reinvented the genre, and he has not made another sci-fi film since. “The reason I haven’t made another sci-fi film in so may years,” he says “is because I haven’t come across anything worthwhile for me to do with enough truth, originality and strength. Prometheus has all three.” With such heightened expectations, one would expect a bold, daring, all-encompassing storyline from Scott. Loosely based on elements from Alien, and originally intended as a prequel to that film, Prometheus meets many of those expectations, especially in visual and action content, while falling short on others. Full ScriptPhD review, under the “continue reading” cut.
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From The Lab: Pharmaceutical Documentary a Blueprint for Hollywood Science Storytelling

A vial of the breast cancer drug Herceptin. Image ©Reuters, all rights reserved.

“It’s like a war. You don’t know whether you’re going to win the war. You don’t know if you’re going to survive the war. You don’t know if the project is going to survive the war.” The war? Cancer, still one of the leading causes of death despite 40 years passing since the National Cancer Act of 1971 catapulted Richard Nixon’s famous “War on Cancer.” The speaker of the above quote? A scientist at Genentech, a San Francisco-based biotechnology and pharmaceutical company, describing efforts to pursue a then-promising miracle treatment for breast cancer facing numerous obstacles, not the least of which was the patients’ rapid illness. If it sounds like a made-for-Hollywood story, it is. But I Want So Much To Live is no ordinary documentary. It was commissioned as an in-house documentary by Genentech, a rarity in the staid, secretive scientific corporate world. The production values and storytelling offer a tremendous template for Hollywood filmmakers, as science and biomedical content become even more pervasive in film. Finally, the inspirational story behind Herceptin, one of the most successful cancer treatments of all time, offers a testament and rare insight to the dedication and emotion that makes science work. Full story and review under the “continue reading” cut.
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New Comic-Con Documentary Celebrates Fandom and The Rise of the Geek

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope poster and all film stills ©2012 Wreckin Hill Entertainment, all rights reserved.

Every July, hundreds of thousands of fans descend upon the city of San Diego for a four-day celebration of comics, sci-fi, popular arts fandom and (growingly) previews of mainstream television and film blockbusters. What is this spectacular nexus of nerds? Comic-Con International, of course! From ScriptPhD’s comprehensive past coverage, one can easily glean the diversity of events, guests and panels, with enormous throngs patiently queueing to see their favorites. But who are these fans? Where do they come from? What kinds of passions drive their journeys to Comic-Con from all over the world? And what microcosms are categorized under the general umbrella of fandom? Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Spurlock attempts to answer these questions by crafting the sweet, intimate, honest documentary-as-ethnography Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. Through the archetypes of five 2009 Comic-Con attendees, Spurlock guides us through the history of the Con, its growth (and the subsequent conflicts that this has engendered), and most importantly, the conclusion that underneath all of those Spider-Man and Klingon costumes, geeks really do come in all shapes, colors and sizes. For full ScriptPhD review, click “continue reading.”
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Editor’s Selection: Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists and Cinema

Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists and Cinema book cover ©2011 MIT Press, all rights reserved

Read through any archive of science fiction movies, and you quickly realize that the merger of pop culture and science dates as far back as the dawn of cinema in the early 1920s. Even more surprising than the enduring prevalence of science in film is that the relationship between film directors, scribes and the science advisors that have influenced their works is equally as rich and timeless. Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema (2011, MIT Press), one of the most in-depth books on the intersection of science and Hollywood to date, serves as the backdrop for recounting the history of science and technology in film, how it influenced real-world research and the scientists that contributed their ideas to improve the cinematic realism of science and scientists. For a full ScriptPhD.com review and in-depth extended discussion of science advising in the film industry, please click the “continue reading” cut.

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REVIEW: Contagion

Contagion official movie poster ©2011 Warner Brothers, all rights reserved.

“Don’t talk to anyone, don’t touch anyone.” The austere slogan of the new film Contagion mirrors the gripping subject matter of the latest addition to the pandemic disaster movie club. One of the most science-oriented films to be released in the last few years, Contagion follows the path of several scientists, public health workers, and ordinary citizens as a full-fledged pandemic breaks out from an unknown virus. It explores scientific, moral, social and ethical questions for how we would prepare as a modern society if such a tragedy ever struck us. Additionally, Contagion is a cinematic ode to the visual and technical wonders of modern science, on full display here, both in the storyline and the beatifully-designed sets and costumes. For a full ScriptPhD review, including information on the behind-the-scenes science consultants that worked with the film’s producers to create scientific realism, click “continue reading” below.
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REVIEW: The Last Mountain

Mountaintop Removal poster ©2011 Solid Ground Films, all rights reserved.

About a year ago, a little publicized, unheralded documentary named Mountaintop Removal (which ScriptPhD.com reviewed) attempted to deconstruct the environmentally devastating practice of the same name literally destroying the Appalachian geography of West Virginia’s coal river valley. Honest, yet modestly shot and produced, the small-scale documentary needed a Hollywood touch to resonate on a human level to advance its powerful cause. It got what it needed in The Last Mountain, a celebrated selection of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. This important new documentary succeeds in both relaying the urgency of a destructive coal mining practice that is literally zoning in on one last undamaged mountain as well as forging a human connection with the townspeople battling to save it. Full ScriptPhD.com review under the “continue reading” cut.
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