BadSciFilm: Prometheus

On Twitter, I host satiric discussions of science fiction films on Twitter, using the hashtag #BadSciFilm, with a focus on the sociology of science representation. I watch the movie, making comments in real time. This post is about the divisive movie Prometheus, a reboot of the Aliens franchise. I love the film, despite its many flaws – and gooddess help us – it has many flaws. This post archives my tweets focusing on the ways in which research processes are reflected and how the stereotypical characters reflect gendered notions of scientists.

In Prometheus, scientists are obsessed with colonisation, but, in usual science fiction fashion, colonial expansion is not ever reflected in its cultural connections to genocide of Indigenous people and the enslavement of African diasporic people on Earth. Scientists take their safety gear off with abandon, they touch alien life forms without protection, and their monologes about scientific discovery are inflated by hubris. The aliens (known as trilobites) mutate rapidly and kill not simply to reproduce, but seemingly just to wreck havoc on the humans.

The Aliens films perpetuate a stark duality about cisgender women and birthing, steeped in patriarchy. On the one hand, women in the stories are presented as conveniently “unencumbered” by motherhood, because their children have died (Ripley in the original films), or they are secretly cyborgs (Annalee Call in Alien Resurrection). In the case of Prometheus, women have trouble conceiving (Shaw) or they are overly ambitious (Vickers). On the other hand, women also suffer due to their motherhood urges. In the second film, Aliens, Ripley is put in danger in order to rescue the young stoway survivor Newt. In Prometheus, Shaw is terrorised after she was inadvertently impregnated by her partner, who was infected with an alien virus. We are treated to an over-the-top abortion of sorts, where Shaw’s alien-baby tries to tear her to shreds, and ultimately consumes another alien by the end of the film.

The fact that the aliens burst out of human chests for horrific effect is a simulation of birth as a violent event.

Prometheus is also deeply impressed with phallic symbolism, as aliens repeatedly force their way into both human and alien male’s mouths in visceral confrontations.

Enjoy my Twitter interactions with other scientists below! Continue reading BadSciFilm: Prometheus

Sociology of Science in ‘Sunshine’

It’s also a great piece of writing by Alex Garland actually. He got it absolutely right the way that scientists are taught to behave. The worst thing you can do in science is to guess. You’re taught and you’re trained as a research scientist to know exactly where the edge of your knowledge stops. And then you’re taught to enjoy going exploring the region that you don’t know. But you shouldn’t guess. You should never speak with authority if you don’t really know the answer. And that’s what he did there. I thought it was real insight for Alex to write that. It didn’t come from me, that, it came from Alex.

Dr Brian Cox speaking on the scientific accuracies of the film Sunshine.

Cox explains in the DVD commentary how director Danny Boyle approached him to be a scientific adviser for the film. Cox says that most of the ideas in the movie are scientifically correct or theoretically probable, with only one or two minor errors. Cox says the biggest scientific stretch was actually the central premise of the film: Cox was told that the only thing they could not compromise about was the idea that the sun was dying. Cox discusses how this basic idea is scientifically incorrect. The sun is dying every day but it would take hundreds of millions of years for it to die out and it is unlikely to occur as it is described (vaguely) in the film. Cox had to figure out a way to make this scientific improbability somehow more-scientifically-viable. Cox decided to use the idea of the Q-ball, which is, theoretically, one of the substances that make up dark matter and it may have been part of the cause of the creation of the universe.
Cox says the film balanced entertainment and science well. He points out all the behavioural traits that the actors mimicked from Cox and his colleagues. It’s a really great DVD commentary. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in science or if you’re interested in how films weave scientific theories into pop culture. Also, the quote above is just wonderful. My favourite line is this: And then you’re taught to enjoy going exploring the region that you don’t know. This is a dazzling way to summarise what it means to be a researcher.

Images: 1) Dread Central 2) Sunshine Movie’s Blog 3)