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Hollywood Science
December 14, 2007

Hollywood Science explores the connection between the science depicted on movie screens and society as a whole while scrutinising its accuracy.

In the past I've given science pedants who look at stuff like this a hard time. In my view, movies are there primarily to entertain. If you want solid fact, you should be hitting the library, not the cinema. However, given that Sidney Perkowitz has gone to the trouble of writing a whole book about science in movies, I thought it might be entertaining to watch him lay into some Hollywood know-nothings for their many crimes against fact. Disappointingly, there is no such savaging, and the first half of the book reads like a string of movie reviews.

The problem is that Perkowitz is probably a thoroughly nice chap, dissecting the material carefully, accurately and politely as though it were an experiment on his bench top. Upsettingly, the front half also contains a few fairly hefty plot spoilers that, given that the author is a movie buff, is kind of disrespectful.

Hollywood Science gets into its stride in the second half and is at its best when gazing inwards at professional scientists and musing upon the Hollywood stereotype they suffer. It hints at the uncomfortable truth that science's highest achievers have spectacularly unhealthy work-life balances or exist on the edges of the autistic spectrum.

I enjoyed Perkowitz's offering, which may be of more use to budding sci-fi film-makers than to jaundiced fellow scientists - and perhaps that was the intent. For me, it remains impressive that one man can watch so many films, think and write about them - and still achieve so much as a physicist.

Kevin Fong is a physiology lecturer at University College London, a junior doctor and co-director of the Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine. He consulted on human space flight for the film Sunshire and has acted as a technical consultant on space programmes fot the BBC and Canadian TV.

Hollywood Science: Movies, Science and the End of the World

Author - Sidney Perkowitz
Publisher - Columbia University Press
Pages - 2
Price - £16.94

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