Over the last 30 years, the attention to detail in sci-fi movies has gone through the roof, and the acting has become more naturalistic and believable: whole worlds created to seem and feel very real, but sadly the actual science is lacking. The whole plot of Avatar, going light years away to get a new source of power? Crunch the numbers Cameron. Sending that spaceship that far away could power the whole Earth for quite a while and then you have to bring the Unobtanium back. A Roman era technology called shaft mining could have allowed the humans to get at the Unobtanium without the Naʻvi even knowing. The central plot tech? The Avatars? You remotely control organic beings, but instead of attacking the Naʻvi with advanced drones to rival the Avatars (something better than we use now), in Cameronʻs future weʻre back to a WWII air battle with manned vehicles. Avatar was pretty to look at…not my cup of tea, though.
On the other hand there are plenty of flawed sci-fi flicks that have great stories and we ignore the bad science. I feel guilty loving my science-less sci-fi (The Fifth Element is a particularly loved guilty pleasure), but hereʻs a list that even the hard sci-fi fan can watch guilt free.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – The LSD / wormhole-ish trip at the end aside, this 45 year old film gets so much correct that Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay should be shamed into never making another sci-fi movie. Key science – commercial space shuttle, rotating station generating gravity, realistic airlocks, the actual tedium of space travel, the food, the ship design. Kubirck never wanted a sequel. He destroyed all the elements to make sure no sequel would be made, but that didnʻt stop Hollywood. Thankfully 2010– the sequel did stick with the real science. There is a great aerobraking sequence that is worth the price of admission.
Gattaca (1997)– Maybe the police state Mudblood, Muggles, Wizard division is a little heavy handed, but the tech isnʻt. Pin prick DNA checks, CCTV everywhere, electric cars and no space battles. Like 2001, it makes you think about the future and the possible pitfalls human society might fall into. Even the title is science G-A-T-T-A-C-A is a 7-base sequence of
nucleotides found in the human genome. These great ideas which are the most powerful visual effects of all..
Strange Frame (2012) – Space elevators, genetic engineering (both successes and failures) for adapting to new environments, bio-modification for both fashion and work, virtual projection, terraforming, A.I., induced comas, telepresence, we jammed so much science in there it could be overwhelming if you actually looked for it beneath the neon colors.
If there are others that you think can pass the real science muster, let me know…not just your favorite. For example, oh how I wish Blade Runner could pass, but how do those spinners fly? There is no thrust…they seem to just float. I do buy the replicants though some of their traits seem questionably unscientific and more metaphysical. The rest of the science and tech seems very real.