Physicists on film

By Marcus Wilson 17/05/2011

Last night we went to the movies. We had free passes that needed using by the end of the week, so we turned up at Chartwell early evening without knowing what was showing. Not wishing to see a film about adultery, we decided against ‘Water for Elephants’ (or whatever it’s called) and picked Thor. 

If you haven’t seen this film, I’ve got just one word of advice. Don’t. We paid nothing for it, and it was  worth nearly every cent. It takes a ridiculous scenario, embellished with wooden acting, mixed with overcooked special effects, and held together with a plot so transparent you could stick it in a frame and call it a window. I can only think that Antony Hopkins was paid a huge amount for his appearance in a film that clearly didn’t deserve his presence.  

And then there is the gripe with the physicist characters. Three of the characters are physicists. They are portrayed as sad losers, with no friends, a single-minded focus on astrophysics, driving a van packed with electronics with lots of flashing LEDs and ‘beep’ and ‘ping’ sounds. Seldom do we see on film physicist characters who bear much relation to real physicists. True, it’s a (bad) work of fiction, and their relativity obsession was rather essential to what passed for the plot, but how much does that portrayal influence people’s thinking about what physicists are like.  I wonder. All I can say is real physicists aren’t like that.

But given that rather few people are likely to go and see this film, I guess the impact is hardly going to be significant.

0 Responses to “Physicists on film”

    • Hmmm. Didn’t stay to read the credits. I suspect the he had no influence on the way the physicists’ characters were portrayed, though…

  • Not to be nitpicky, but a movie entitled ‘Thor’ really has no business having a non-ridiculous premise. Furthermore, within it’s first 2 weeks it had taken ~US$120 million the ‘relatively few people’ who see this film must have paid a premium for their ticket prices. Also, Thor will play a main role in the upcoming Avengers movie, so i wouldn’t expect to see this disappear from our screens anytime soon. Eeep.

    Yes, Thor wasn’t great, had awful acting, plot holes as big (or small?) as an Einstein-Rosen bridge, but personally, I rather enjoyed the Physicist characters in it. In fact, had there been a movie whose main characters were myself and the physicists I work with, there’s a good chance it would have been worse then Thor. Not that we’re boring people – but it would be a foolish premise to bring to a Box Office movie.

    It’s really interesting the amount of press Physicists are getting at the moment, good and bad. A Physicist was the bad guy in Iron Man 2, as well as the hero, as well as the central premise (and saving grace) of The Big Bang Theory. Like it or not, being able to say that you’re a physicist carries a lot of positive stigma now-a-days due a bit to science and a bit to this pop culture. Whilst it’s not accurate in any sense of the word, perhaps that’s not what it need to be to inspire young scientists?

    • Didn’t know about the takings of this movie. I must have missed something. Actually, I still find that almost always when I say I’m a physicist, I get the reaction ‘Um, oh, OK’ and then the person I am having a conversation with rapidly changes the subject. (See my second ever blog entry, ) If that changes, whether it be a result of Thor, The Big Bang Theory, or whatever, so much the better.

  • Elf said…
    It’s really interesting the amount of press Physicists are getting at the moment,

    Even some have blamed physicists for the recent financial crisis, simply because they invented complex trading derivative instruments (CDO, MBS, etc…) in Wall St, that too difficult for traders to understand and as a result, traders had severely underestimated the risks of those financial securities.

    “They Tried to Outsmart Wall Street”