Science fiction has always been a genre in which you can stretch the imagination with ideas that are only possible in the mind. But there are cases where real science is needed, and can be used impressively.
Author Brian Clegg uses his new book “Ten Billion Tomorrows” to show how a host of fictional topics has led to new discoveries in science and technology.
Here Clegg tells us about 10 movies in history that have influenced people to think about science beyond the classrooms and laboratories.
Fritz Lang's classic 1929 film is one of the first to travel to the moon, and what's featured would become staples for space movies to come, from the look of the rocket ships to the countdown to blast-off.
'It was the first time there was a countdown before a rocket launch in a movie,' Clegg said. 'In fact, NASA got the idea of a shuttle countdown from the film.'
'Destination Moon' is one of the first times the US got a dose of what was beyond the sky. Though it might look silly now, for kids in the 1950s, it sparked ideas that would change entertainment and technology for decades to come.
'It also has this documentary quality to it, so the fact that human beings were making this was quite inspirational in the 1950s,' Clegg said.
Six years later, one of the major films in the sc-fi genre was released. Depicting for the first time a story set beyond our solar system, it has Leslie Nielsen playing the captain of a crew that investigates the fate of an expedition sent decades earlier.
'You can see 'Star Trek' and 'Lost in Space' were hugely inspired by it,' Clegg said. 'But as previous films only had humans, in this there's a robot, going a step forward in that thinking of technology.'
Considered one of the greatest movies of all time (not just in the sci-fi genre), Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of the Arthur C. Clarke story of life beyond earth dazzled audiences when it was released in 1968 with its impressive practical graphics of outer space.
'It's only 12 years after 'Forbidden Planet' and yet the spaceship has gone from being a streamlined rocket to one that is a collection of modules,' Clegg said of one of the breakthroughs about space travel shown in the movie. 'You don't have to be streamlined in space.'
The landmark franchise that began in 1966 has expanded our ideas of science fiction for decades. Clegg notes a big reason for that was the creators would often hire sci-fi writers. He mentions one major thing from the show that inspired the gaming world.
'The people who created games like 'Doom' and 'Quake,' the first-person shoot-'em-up games, were inspired by the show's holodeck,' he said.
Though 'Jurassic Park' was a landmark achievement for computer graphic effects in movies, Clegg points out that it also was a breakthrough for how scientists were portrayed in sci-fi movies.
'Like with 'E.T.' and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind,' Spielberg makes scientists one of the good guys,' he said. 'They were usually the evil person in the plot, but in 'Jurassic Park' it's the business man who is the bad guy.'
In 'Contact,' Jodie Foster plays a scientist who, after searching for most of her life (using the SETI program), has finally made contact with alien life. The movie stands out among Hollywood movies because the main scientist is a woman, but Clegg also points out the real science in it.
'The SETI program really did exist,' he said, and 'Contact' enlightened many Americans who were previously ignorant to its search.
Leonardo DiCaprio's journey into the unconscious puzzled the heck out of people who saw it. And that's why Clegg likes it.
'It's one of the rare movies that looks at the measure of consciousness in the mind and dreaming,' Clegg said. 'It's the total opposite of space, it's internal science.'
One of the critical darlings of 2015, 'Ex Machina' uses artificial intelligence and our obsession with the internet to tell a sci-fi movie for the modern age.
'The robot in movies comes from that 1950s idea,' Clegg said. 'But here the robot is much closer to human. And with the use of the Turing test, your reality of the story increases.'
This year also had one of the biggest science-heavy movies in some time. Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars was both a crowd-pleaser and used a lot of smarts to tell the story.
'What's fun is there's a human side,' Clegg said. 'It's not cold and clinical. The character comes through.'
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