Hollywood’s Stupid Science Summer
Hollywood screenwriters love to stretch the boundaries of science when it comes to weaving narratives for summer blockbusters.
Usually the films are good enough to achieve a “suspension of disbelief” — audiences get so caught up in the comic irreverence of a big action film like Marvel Entertainment’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” that we never stop to question how Star Lord’s portable cassette player continues to work for years in outer space without need of fresh batteries.
Then along came “Lucy” and “Sharknado 2,” movies that make you wonder about the number of STEM graduates at the Writers Guild of America.
“Lucy” begins with a flawed premise: That humans use just 10 percent of their brain capacity — a notion that made neurobiologist R. Douglas Fields’s head explode. He devotes a review to debunking the bad science in the film. He’s not alone: So did Scientific American and the Allen Institute for Brain Science.
The not-found-in-any-textbook goobers that Fields identifies in “Lucy” include the event that propels the film — an accidental ingestion of a drug by the title character (played by Scarlett Johansson) that triggers a rapid cell multiplication that expands her brain capacity.
“Runaway cell division is cancer; just how cerebral metastasis enables Lucy to obtain supreme knowledge is a bit murky,” he writes.
Of course, this leads to a number of scientific absurdities: Super intelligence, super strength and telekinesis among them. Rapid brain growth actually results in amnesia, Fields notes. That’s why people struggle to recall events from their early childhood.
Apparently, audiences don’t care. The Universal Pictures* film has brought in nearly $100 million in domestic ticket sales over the last three weeks, according to box office reporting from Rentrack.
Ditto for SyFy Network*, which attracted 3.9 million viewers for “Sharknado 2: The Second One,” a campy disaster movie that reprised the same not-gonna-happen-in-this-lifetime concept that propelled the first movie into a Twitter phenomenon. To be sure, the network that gave viewers “Sharktopus” and “Piranhaconda” was striving for hilarious absurdity, not authenticity.
For the record, sharks would never get swept up in a tornado — a weather condition that, AccuWeather helpfully points out, forms over land (when it happens over water it’s known, less ominously, as a waterspout).
Tornadoes are unlikely to hit Los Angeles, where this film is set. The last storm to sock Southern California with hurricane force winds struck in 1939, Accuweather reports.
Don’t tell that to actress Tara Reid, one of the stars of the film, who told GQ that such an improbable calamity “actually could happen.”
“I mean, the chances of it happening are very rare, but it can happen actually. Which is crazy. Not that it — the chances of it are, like, you know, it’s like probably ‘pigs could fly.’ Like, I don’t think pigs could fly, but actually sharks could be stuck in tornadoes,” Reid said in an interview with the men’s magazine. “There could be a sharknado.”
Pigs could fly, indeed.
*Universal Pictures and SyFy Network are divisions of NBCUniversal, an investor in Re/code.