Dreamworks and Bad Astronomy

Contributed by
May 27, 2008
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Regular readers know I love finding little (and gargantuan) mistakes in movies when it comes to science. I take some pride in being able to find them, and also some pride in not going ballistic every time I see one and making fun of the director/writer/producer/gaffer/animal wrangler.

So it really bugs me when someone points out a mistake that I have missed in something I have seen a bajillion times. When I was in Detroit a couple of weeks ago, Mike Narlock from the Cranbrook Institute of Science mentioned something to me I couldn't believe, but it turns out he's right.

Ever heard of Dreamworks? Makers of such minor flicks as "Saving Private Ryan", "Deep Impact", "Castaway", "Galaxy Quest", "Sea Biscuit", and "Transformers"? Yeah, them.

They have an animated logo that is really quite good and memorable. It's one with the boy fishing from the crescent Moon. Have a look:

Did you see the Bad Astronomy in it? OK, no, I don't mean that the kid is sitting in the crescent, when the hook of the crescent isn't actually real, it's just a geometric effect of the way we see the Moon lit by the Sun. Not that, the other thing.

No? I don't blame you. It's tough to spot; I never saw it until Mike pointed it out.

The Moon is reflected in the water. Then the camera tilts up, and we see the actual Moon with the boy sitting in it. But look at the features on the Moon! For example, you can see a circular dark patch on the right side just above center, and a hooked dark patch just below it. But those features are oriented the same way in both the "real" Moon and the reflection! In the reflection, they should be flipped vertically, because the Moon's reflected image should be upside-down. The animators forgot to flip it over.

Now, this is not Earth-shattering bad astronomy. Duh. It's one of those little "gotchas!" that anal-retentive people like me (and Mike, don't forget him!) delight over for a moment and then forget about.

But this is my business, and I missed it! I'm a failure. How can I ever write a snarky movie review again knowing I might miss some little niggling thing that a dozen commenters will point out to me over and over again?

Hmmm. I suppose I'll manage. If I can survive my own example of bad astronomy, I guess I can survive this as well.