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Donnie B.
2007-Feb-12, 05:51 PM
It's a rare movie or TV show that provides a positive image of a scientist or the scientific method. I was reminded of one last night, when TCM showed a movie I saw in the theater as a lad (oh what a giveaway!)

It's The Absent-Minded Professor.

Now of course, this film is a comedy and plays off the stereotype of a scientist who's so deeply engrossed in his work that everything else is forgotten (in this case, his own wedding). But what stuck in my mind as a kid, and still works today, is the portrayal of the failure that produced the magical substance "flubber", and the explanation of how it worked.

The Fred MacMurray character picks himself up after the explosion and dejectedly goes back to his blackboard, changing a sign in his equation -- in other words, he's immediately analyzing what went wrong, even in the midst of his disappointment. Moments later, though, the flubber presents itself, and he instantly dives into the process of figuring out what it is and how it does its magic. Within a few minutes, he's not only realized how significant it is and formed a pretty strong hypothesis as to how it functions, but has devised a simple but perfectly satisfactory apparatus to control it.

Despite the absent-minded aspects of the rest of his life (and the fact that the "science" is pure fiction), this scene presents a very positive picture of a skilled (and lucky) scientist at work. There really aren't enough of those in the mass media!

I think another example of a positive portrayal of science is in Real Genius. Somebody did their homework when they wrote that script!

Anybody have other examples, or comments on mine?

Swift
2007-Feb-12, 06:18 PM
Contact is an obvious one to me. I'm sure we can pick problems, but overall a positive showing of science and scientists.

I always loved The Man in the White Suit (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044876/) - a black comedy where Alec Guinness plays a fellow who invents an indestructible fabric.

Some of the 1950s science fiction movies painted science in a good light - one of my favorites is Them! (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047573/), though a lot of these were very stereotyped portrayals.

Trantor
2007-Feb-12, 06:37 PM
"2001" and "Contact" are two of the best for more realistic science. "Deep Impact" was also pretty good; certainly much more realistic than Bruce Willis's save the Earth from the killer asteriod movie.

Moose
2007-Feb-12, 06:40 PM
In TV, none special come to mind. Alan Dean Fosters' The Black Hole (the book, not the movie) did a pretty good job of portraying black holes and physics in general.

Swift
2007-Feb-12, 07:27 PM
"2001" and "Contact" are two of the best for more realistic science. "Deep Impact" was also pretty good; certainly much more realistic than Bruce Willis's save the Earth from the killer asteriod movie.
I'm not sure I agree with 2001 (but I hope to be convinced otherwise). 2001 was great for realistic use of science (like no sound in space, etc. etc.). But I think the OP is more about portrayals of science and scientists. I actually don't remember a lot about the science in that movie, except for some of the talk about finding the monolith on the moon. Floyd was a scientist, but he was more an administrator there. Similarly, the astronauts were both PhDs, but I don't remember them doing experiments.

In Deep Impact, the science was so bad (IMHO), that it really didn't matter about the rest.

Swift
2007-Feb-12, 07:31 PM
In TV, none special come to mind. Alan Dean Fosters' The Black Hole (the book, not the movie) did a pretty good job of portraying black holes and physics in general.
Dr. Carter and Dr. Jackson in Stargate are both portrayed as scientists, but I'm not sure it is such a great portrayal. It is similar to the engineers in Star Trek - it is more like they find the quicky fix to the problem at hand, then showing science as science is actually done (though as a working scientist in industry, my bosses are actually much more interested in the quicky fixes, than in understanding the science).

Trantor
2007-Feb-12, 08:27 PM
I'm not sure I agree with 2001 (but I hope to be convinced otherwise). 2001 was great for realistic use of science (like no sound in space, etc. etc.). But I think the OP is more about portrayals of science and scientists. I actually don't remember a lot about the science in that movie, except for some of the talk about finding the monolith on the moon. Floyd was a scientist, but he was more an administrator there. Similarly, the astronauts were both PhDs, but I don't remember them doing experiments.

In Deep Impact, the science was so bad (IMHO), that it really didn't matter about the rest.

I was thinking about the realistic mechanics of space travel in "2001". I would have to agree that not much in the way of scientists doing their work was featured. "Deep Impact" was mostly a fun action movie, but it did offer a more realistic asteriod impact event. It even featured a nuclear powered space vehicle that was based on a nuclear-pulse design that was studied by NASA back in the late 50's and early 60's.

It's hard to come up with a realistic portrayal of scientists doing their work. Realism and Hollywood don't generally go together. How about "The Andromeda Strain"? It's been a while since I last saw it, but it did feature scientists trying to stop a deadly virus from space. My recallection is that it was a pretty decent movie, but like I said, it's been a long while since I saw it, and I was a bit younger then!

novaderrik
2007-Feb-12, 08:46 PM
how about the duelling scientists in Stargate:Atlantis?

Swift
2007-Feb-12, 09:16 PM
How about "The Andromeda Strain"? It's been a while since I last saw it, but it did feature scientists trying to stop a deadly virus from space. My recallection is that it was a pretty decent movie, but like I said, it's been a long while since I saw it, and I was a bit younger then!
Duh! Excellent example (I've seen it many times over the years).

NorthGuy
2007-Feb-13, 12:56 AM
I agree with The Andromeda Strain. Also, Outbreak: a movie with a similar premise. I'd also have to add Apollo 13. It gets a lot of attention as a space movie, but I like watching ground crew too. They actually made slide-rules look exciting.

buffalodavid
2007-Feb-13, 02:35 AM
One that almost never gets any attention anymore is "The Incredible Shrinking Man"

OKAY DON"T FLAME YET!

No mad scientist. No bad guy at all. The conflict is the the oldest of all, the loss of identity. Plus a logical, if unsatisfying ending.

Doodler
2007-Feb-13, 03:51 AM
I think the movie version was called "Charlie", but it was based on the short story "Flowers for Algernon".

buffalodavid
2007-Feb-13, 04:18 AM
Just a little off topic but worth mentioning:

When I first moved here to UT I was completely unaware of something called "Mormon Movies". They'rer films made localy for the LDS poplace. Some of them art too bad. Napoleon Dynamite was an example of a breakout "MM", keeping the Mormon jokes in the background.

One was a film about a gentile girl who marries a Latter Day Saint. It was called "Charlie". A couple of local girls asked me what I thought of it.

I told them that it was a shame that Ravi Shankar did the score because it really dated the picture in a way that was easly avoidable but Cliff Robertson was teriffic.

They stared at me like I had an arm growing out of my head.