Neil deGrasse Tyson’s latest review isn’t really about science; it’s just his opinion of a classic movie moment. The astrophysicist has made a habit of critiquing the science in films and television, from The Martian to Interstellar to Game of Thrones, but his latest foray suggests he may want to add the broader title of “film and television critic” to his illustrious résumé.
Tyson, a prolific tweeter who's also an author, podcast and television host (of StarTalk and Cosmos), and head of the Hayden Planetarium, recently weighed in on a baffling mystery at the end of the 1997 megahit Titanic.
“Whether or not he could’ve been successful, I would’ve tried more than once," he said of Jack's (Leonardo DiCaprio) singular attempt to hoist himself up from the frigid Atlantic waters onto a piece of debris alongside Rose (Kate Winslet) after the ship goes down. "You try once. ‘Oh, this is not gonna work. I will just freeze to death in the water.’ No, excuse me. No!” he told HuffPost. “The survival instinct is way stronger than that in everybody, especially in that character. He’s a survivor, right? He gets through. He gets by.” And lest it seem that he had veered too far off his science commentary course, he added: “And I’ll tell you this, if that character was Matt Damon from The Martian, he would’ve made an outboard motor and saved everybody. This is how science can help you!”
Well, Tyson can help film and television fans with his punchy, smart and scientifically accurate takes. He’s like a geeky-cool Roger Ebert for a new generation (if Ebert had a Ph.D. in astrophysics and no formal experience in film reviewing). He even tours a program called “An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies,” where he walks audiences through a list of films and gives them a sense of what it might be like to sit beside him as he watches.
Here’s a brief and far-from-comprehensive collection of Tyson’s film and television reviews (tread carefully, he might spoil the entire premise of your favorite title):
Game of Thrones: Tyson explained in a Twitter thread that he thought the frozen dudes couldn’t swim and that pulling a dragon out of a lake would require the chains to be straight rather than curved. But otherwise the biology was solid—“dragons forfeited their forelimbs to make wings, like birds & bats”—and so were the physics—the dragon wingspans “are sensibly large, as their body weight would require for flight,” which contrasts with the “aerodynamically useless wings of Renaissance cherubs.”
Armageddon: “The government can’t keep the sky a secret!” Tyson has said at his events. If an asteroid the size of the one in the film starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck were hurtling toward Earth, “it would’ve been discovered 200 years ago.”
Gravity: Tyson claimed he “enjoyed Gravity very much.” But he went on a bit of a rant about the “Mysteries of #Gravity” on Twitter. For example: “Why anyone is impressed with a zero-G film 45 years after being impressed with 2001: A Space Odyssey”; “Astronaut George Clooney informs medical doctor Bullock what happens medically during oxygen deprivation”; “Why Bullock’s hair, in otherwise convincing zero-G scenes, did not float freely on her head”; “How Hubble (350mi up) ISS (230mi up) & a Chinese Space Station are all in sight lines of one another”; and “Why we enjoy a SciFi film set in make-believe space more than we enjoy actual people set in real space.”
Interstellar: In a series of tweets that began “In #Interstellar,” he explained that viewers can “experience Einstein’s Relativity of Time as no other feature film has shown” and “experience Einstein's Curvature of Space as no other feature film has shown.” The characters explore a planet in a black hole, he adds. “Personally, I’d stay as far the hell away from BlackHoles as I can.”
The Martian: Tyson seemed to love The Martian the most. “They got crucial science right, while enhancing the story by fictionalizing the science that remained,” he tweeted. It’s a movie “where you learn all the ways that being Scientifically Literate can save your life” and “where you experience Love, Hate, Envy, Anxiety, Pride, & Heroism, all through the lens of science.” It’s a movie in which “the protagonist survives not on Wit, Prayer, or Hope. but by ‘Sciencing the Shit out of everything.’” The most unrealistic parts of the film, his Twitter feed seems to indicate, were not the science but the politics. “Evidence that the @MartianMovie is fantasy: All who make important decisions are scientifically literate,” he tweeted. Also, “the USA & China cooperate with one another in Space.”
Superman: Tyson has pointed out the flaw in Clark Kent’s ability to use X-ray vision to see the color of Lois’s underwear and also check her lungs for cancer. "If he has X-rays...it's not going to see the color of her panties," Tyson said. "The X-rays would go right through the panties."
If this brief colleciton is too brief, Tyson also reviewed some of the biggest films of 2017, including Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Alien: Covenant on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert this past May, and he periodically shares new reviews on Twitter.
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