"Deep Impact" is the most scientifically accurate movie Neil deGrasse Tyson can think of


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I would have liked to have heard his thoughts on Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” as well, but it was less popular than any of the others so it’s understandable.

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Yeah, Tyson doesn’t watch that many movies and what he does watch is not often SciFi. Kind of disappointing for all the nerds that want to have their opinions validated.

“Contagion” was also excellent in terms of scientific accuracy, but since it’s virology/bio related, Tyson wouldn’t’ve picked up on it necessarily.

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Deep Impact certainly is the anti-Armageddon, but unfortunately that also cuts into character motivations. Armageddon’s heroic depictions are sadly mirrored just as well: my reaction to watching Deep Impact was to watch every single character make poor decisions that ultimately resulted in dying quicker, sacrificing more. I hate to say it, but I’d rather watch heroes.

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I believe high school me characterized that as “realism and lack of bombast”.


Plus Armageddon just makes sense! Training a bunch of hard-working blue collar oil rig workers to operate highly advanced top-secret spacecraft would be much easier than training experienced astronauts how to use a space-drill. And machine guns on a space rover? That’s just a standard feature.


I don’t know, maybe having a lot of people going completely stupid in the face of a natural disaster is more realistic too.


If Tyson couldn’t find anything wrong with the science in that movie, then I just lost some respect for him as an astronomer. In the first minute of the film, an amateur astrophotographer takes a picture of a distant comet using a camera that goes clickWHIRRR as if the exposure time were set to a sixtieth of a second. It goes downhill from there.


FACT: Being badly sunburned gives you superhuman powers. Also, if you’re going to build a sun-restarting machine you should make sure there’s only one person in the universe who knows how to turn it on.


And my reaction to watching Armageddon was to attempt to stick red-hot pokers through my eyeballs. That movie is a horrendous soul-sucking mass of overblown treacle. I mean, everything except Liv Tyler.

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I have a kind of funny story about this movie.

My father was involved in the study of near-earth objects** at the time Deep Impact and Armageddon came out. So even though he’s more of a reader than movie watcher, he went to see both. He told me at length why Deep Impact was such a good movie and briefly why Armageddon was “complete and utter trash”. Wish I remembered most of the reasons why but a few of the bigger ones still linger on.

Anyways, when other people talked about these two movies, they’d quite often say they thought Deep Impact was more unbelievable. Naturally, I’d be inclined to ask “Why?” and invariably they’d say, “Well a black man could never be president of the United States”.

I wonder if they feel different about the movie’s science now?

** He’s retired now. And in case you are wondering, he defined the field as relating to anything at least 1km long (so it was unlikely to burn up in the atmosphere) and passing within an earth-moon distance so it had at least a finitely probable chance of hitting us. And even that distance was still unlikely for a hit but amazingly close when you understand astronomical scales.

TL;DR: Morgan Freeman 2016


Accepting the premise – and that the ending goes someplace strange that might or might not be sufficiently explained by the book – it’s hard to find much scientific fault in 2001. There’s one known nitpick that can be explained away; the rest is pretty darned solid.


That wasn’t the shutter; that was the door on the floppy disk sliding open:

Yeah, that’s the ticket!

Clearly, he’s never seen “Mars Needs Women”.

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Did you really expect something better from Micheal Bay?

Ha–I wasn’t aware of him as a director at that point in my life, so I didn’t really have expectations when I saw it. As I noted on the “Underrated and Overrated Movie” thread:

Edit: This makes me wonder. I’m as much of a fan of scientific accuracy as the next pedant, but if we hold that up as the standard, how many of the best SciFi movies would would fall to dust?

Was Apollo 13 inaccurate? (or just not count as Science Fiction)

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“There’s one known nitpick that can be explained away; the rest is pretty darned solid.”

I agree it’s extremely solid and well-thought out, but I think there’s more than “one known nitpick” (though all the nitpicks are pretty minor, and probably more due to constraints on what they could do with their effects/budget than to their scientific consultants missing things). Aside from the thing Tyson mentioned about the liquid in the straw, I’ve also seen it mentioned that the moondust billows like it would in an atmosphere when Dr. Floyd’s ship land on Clavius, along with the following issue about the size of the Discovery’s centrifuge mentioned in the awesome book (for 2001 nerds) 2001: The Lost Science:

We had the option of putting the Centrifugue on for, say, one to two hours a day to produce up to 1.5 g, or permanently have it rotate to provide about 0.2 to 0.3 g. We chose the latter. There was, of course, the problem of Coriolis forces, which on small diameter wheels would cause dizziness to astronauts walking along the rim. Calculations showed that a centrifuge should be at least 300 ft in diameter to reduce to acceptable levels the inconveniences caused by the Coriolis forces, but such a diameter was beyond the capabilities of the M-G-M British Studios - and our budget. So we never really mentioned the diameter of the wheel with which we had to work; in fact, there was no purpose to reveal the measurements at any time. Visual appearances were what counted.

Another one that occurred to me recently watching the movie: why is it that in the scene with the meeting inside the Clavius base, they seem to be walking around in normal Earth gravity, not hopping around in moon gravity? I suppose you could always say that the moonbase has an internal centrifuge where the meeting took place, with floors slanted at just the right angle so that the sum of the gravity vector and the “centrifugal force” vector is perpendicular to the floor, and with the size of the summed vector being equal to that of Earth-gravity. The external shots of the base don’t show anything that looks like a rotating ring but it could be buried underground.

Finally, while HAL was a pretty good depiction of what 1960s A.I. researchers might have imagined an advanced A.I. to be like, in retrospect the way the 9000 series has had a “perfect operational record” up until his catastrophic breakdown doesn’t seem like it matches how modern an A.I. capable of fluid human conversation would be likely to work–it’d likely be an adaptive system more like a neural net, one which is expected to make frequent errors when dealing with new problems (including new conversational situations) just like a human would. The 9000’s perfection sort of implies they were some sort of symbolic A.I. (the approach that was popular in the 60s), like an expert system pre-loaded with high-level concepts and decision-making rules.

FACT: A tiny greenhouse is a sufficient CO2 scrubber for an enormous spaceship, and no computer is sophisticated enough to keep the orientation of a giant mirror pointed at the sun without constant human intervention.