Neil deGrasse Tyson has a reputation for pointing out scientific errors in Hollywood blockbusters, but even he doesn't find fault with all of them.
The famed astrophysicist and educator has made headlines more than once for noting incorrect science in pop culture. His comments about the appearance of the night sky in James Cameron's Titanic got the filmmaker to change the configuration of the stars, and he famously told Jon Stewart his globe was spinning backward on a visit to The Daily Show. Last last year, Tyson's science critiques went viral again when he pointed out a number of things wrong with the space blockbuster Gravity, though he did say he liked the film "very much." That particular incident got so much attention that Tyson isn't even sure he wants to talk movies on Twitter anymore.
“I don’t know if I’ll do it again, given how people just went crazy," Tyson said during an interview last week with BuzzFeed at SXSW, where he was on hand to promote the new documentary miniseries Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
Still, that didn't stop Tyson from pointing out a few more errors in a few more films while talking about some of his favorites. Because his scientific brain is so finely tuned, he sees errors even in films he absolutely loves, including The Matrix, which he calls his "single favorite film of all time."
"It gets one thing wrong with the physics, but I’ll forgive it, because it did so much else so well. That part where [Laurence Fishburne] holds up the battery and says [the machines] are breeding humans to serve as a source of energy for their civilization, so that we’re just really like a battery, a copper top," Tyson said. "That’s a weak point in the storytelling, because you don’t make a human, and use the energy of the human, because you have to put energy in a human to begin with. Whatever energy that you’re putting in the human, use that to drive your civilization. Any time energy transfers from one form to another, you lose efficiency. You’re losing some of your energy. And a human is not the most efficient way to express the energy that you’re feeding it. But then they wouldn’t have a story. So I gotta give them something.”
Tyson went on to point out issues with a couple of other sci-fi classics, including Star Trek ("if you go from whatever’s your speed to trans-light speed in a matter of seconds, you’d be a pile of goo pinned into the back wall from the acceleration") and 2001: A Space Odyssey ("He’s in zero-G sipping liquid out of the pouch. He stops sipping the liquid, and the liquid drips back down the straw, which it wouldn’t do in zero-G."), before coming to a film that he actually had nothing but praise for. That's right, there's at least one sci-fi film Tyson can watch and apparently just enjoy, scientific-error-free.
That film is Deep Impact, the 1998 disaster movie best known to a lot of people as Armageddon's less successful cousin. The two films opened in the same summer, and while Deep Impact did well at the box office, Armageddon did a good deal better. One thing Deep Impact has going for it that Armageddon doesn't, though, is more scientific accuracy. Tyson said the film "had really good science going," including the gravity levels on the comet the film's team of astronauts attempt to destroy.
“When they go to the comet, you see that the gravity is very low,” Tyson said. “You need grappling hooks just to pull yourself down and to stay connected. The gravity is so low, you could conceivably just jump and jump into orbit. Comets are out-gassing catastrophically, so you’d have to be careful walking around on them, as they captured in Deep Impact.”
Tyson also praised the titular impact, when a fragment of the planet-threatening comet hits the Atlantic Ocean and creates a tsunami.
“Most of Earth’s surface is water, so chances are, if we’re going to get hit, we’re going to get hit in the water,” he said. “But you still get to destroy cities. In the case of Deep Impact, they did it with tsunamis. Whereas in Armageddon, it was like they had aim. One hit near the Eiffel tower, if I remember correctly. The cosmos doesn’t have that good aim.”
So the next time you think Neil deGrasse Tyson is just out to ruin your sci-fi fun, know both that he loves many sci-fi films despite their errors, and that there's at least one film he can't find anything wrong with ... publicly, anyway.