Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles - I'm totally cool with having light sabers and all kinds of stuff, because it makes a super exciting movie, and besides, that's my favorite movie, so it definitely gets a pass. I'm Andy Howell. I'm a staff scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory and a Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I'm also the host of Science vs. Cinema. Today, we're gonna be reviewing some space and science scenes in film. [upbeat music] This is "Ad Astra," directed by James Gray. In this scene, Roy is forced to jump from an antenna at a really high altitude. [rocket whooshes] Okay, so this scene starts off "Ad Astra," and it's a pretty cool idea of, you think Brad Pitt's an astronaut, but then he goes outside and he's actually on a tower, and then he falls off this tower, and the shot is really cool, and it's an amazing way to start a movie. The problem is it's just not justified at all. What I like about it, though, is it's based on reality. There was a test that the Air Force did of high altitude parachute jumps back in the 50s. And this guy, Joseph Kittinger, actually did a, not a fall off a tower, but a fall off, I think it was a balloon, to see what it would be like to do that exact stunt that was done in the movie. What happened was the air was too thin and he started spinning and he spun so fast he actually lost consciousness. - [Roy] General McBride. I'm in the spin. Atmosphere's too thin to stabilize. - So I really like basing that kind of thing on reality, sort of subverting our expectations into thinking he's just a regular astronaut, but he's in a tower on Earth. The problem is there's no scientific reason to have a tower like that. What they say in the movie is that it's to communicate with aliens. Well, we can already do that today with radio dishes on the ground. With radio, you don't have to put it above the atmosphere. They could have made it so that it was a space elevator, though. That would have been super cool. That's this idea of you build a tower to space and then you can ride it up, and instead of launching a rocket, you can just get off your space elevator into orbit, but sadly, they just went with this uninformed thing of building a tower for no reason. This is "Star Wars: A New Hope," directed by George Lucas, and in this clip, Luke Skywalker admires the twin suns of Tatooine. [gentle music] Alright, man, do I love that scene? "Star Wars" is my favorite movie, and I would make a case for it being the best movie in history. And that's one of the best scenes from it. I mean, just that John Williams music. Luke, as he's about to leave home and embark on this great adventure, you see these twin suns. So visually you just know we're on another planet. It works so well. And astrophysically, it actually tells you a lot about the world of "Star Wars." Actually, most stars in the sky, maybe not quite half, are binary stars. So we have one star, the Sun here, but many stars are two stars orbiting each other. So the question is, how do you get planets around a two-star system? One possibility is that you have planets going around one of the stars and that's actually the case in "Avatar." And then the two stars orbit each other, but the plants are just going around one of the stars. In that case, you would get sometimes the stars, both being aligned in the sky, like during the daytime, being in the same direction. At other times, you might be in between both of the stars, which, if you think about it, as your planet rotates, means that there will always be a star up, and you'll never have nighttime. So those are quite weird, but they're the kind that we see in "Star Wars" is two stars orbiting each other, and then the planet orbiting the pair of stars from farther away. How do we know this? Well, in "Star Wars: Episode III," they show the same sunset, and so that's like 18 years earlier, and yet, the stars are about the same size in the sky, and they're both rising and setting together. And the fact that they're sort of yellow and orange stars tells you that they're very close to the mass of our star because the color of the star tells you the temperature. At the time, "Star Wars" was made in 1977. We didn't know about planets around other star systems, but today we have, for example, the Kepler Satellite, and it has found thousands of planets around other worlds, including a planet around a binary star, very similar to what we see in "Star Wars." And in fact, scientists informally refer to it as Tatooine, even though its real name is Kepler-16b. This is "Black Panther," directed by Ryan Coogler. In this clip, Shuri shows her brother T'Challa some of her new inventions. - I have great things to show you, brother. Here are your communication devices for Korea. Unlimited range. Also equipped with audio surveillance system. Check these out. - So we've got this laboratory in Wakanda, and it's a great example of Afrofuturism, where in this case, they're imagining a country who had great resources and technological development that was spared the horrors of colonialism. So they didn't have, they weren't set back by all of these bad things that happen in the real world. So I just loved that, and I love seeing all these inventions, and Shuri is just such a great character. Her sort of glee with which she talks about all of her inventions and her relationship with her brother and how she's sort of making fun of him and everything. - [T'Challa] And what are these? - The real question is what are those? Why do you have your toes out in my lab? - You get the sense of humor that scientists have. You get this joy of discovery and of new inventions, and I just really do love seeing a black woman in this role. That is not typically what you see. You usually see a white man in a lab coat, totally humorless, just crazed about technology or something like that. But that's not what scientists are like. I see more of myself in Shuri than I do in most portrayal of scientists in movies, She captures the essence of science better than, say, in "Armageddon" or "Independence Day," some nerd in a lab coat. One of the things I really like about the narrative of "Black Panther" is it's based on this asteroid that came to Earth and crashed and it's made of vibranium. And so part of the thing here is that there's this culture who has resources that help them sort of get ahead, but then it helps them shield themselves from colonialists who aren't able to come and get it. This same kind of thing has happened on Earth in various ways, almost identically. We've had iron-nickel meteorites. That's one of two types of meteorites. They're either stony or iron-nickel, and before cultures had the ability to mine iron, they were able to mine this meteorite, been able to get the iron from it, and they don't always get a huge technological advantage. They have, in a couple of cases, but they usually have used it to make ceremonial things like daggers and pendants. One of King Tut's daggers was made of meteoric iron. We can tell that by analyzing the composition, and the Inuit, even though people around them had Stone Age technology, there's a case where a group of them were able to make metal fish hooks and spear tips and things like that. It's astounding to me that that kind of thing has happened. But even more surprising is that every time where a culture has had this, colonizers came and took the meteorite away. There's only one case where that didn't happen, and that was 'cause the meteorite was like 80 tons and people couldn't move it. So this thing of getting a technology from space and then colonialists stealing it, unless you hide it from them, that is real. So I really love the fact that they were able to take this astrophysical story, but then weave it into a narrative that is very meaningful for both the characters in the movie, and to a lot of people. It's affected all of our lives on Earth. This is "E.T.," directed by Steven Spielberg. In this clip, Elliott's home gets invaded by astronauts after E.T. falls ill. [moans] - [Elliott] Leave him alone. [dramatic music] [scientist breathing heavily] [scientist roars] [Elliott screams] - Alright, so what's going on in this scene, we've got Elliott and E.T., who are really vulnerable, and at the same time, the scientists are coming into the house, and their faces are obscured. We really have lost their sense of humanity. They're breathing really weirdly, and they're like these home invaders. So they're the real clear villains. These are scientists who just want to study E.T. I mean, wouldn't you want to study extraterrestrial life if it came to your planet after thousands of years? Think about it. E.T. has knowledge of physics way beyond whatever we do. He has knowledge of interstellar travel. It answers the question: Are we alone in the universe? And he can revive things from the dead. Okay, so this could be the key to all of us having immortality, and yet somehow Spielberg makes us root for a kid to keep all of that away from us, by making scientists into the villains. Look, I'm a scientist. All we want to do is study things and make the world a better place. So I think there was room in the movie to make the scientists heroes, and also have this kid and alien relationship. This is "Avatar," directed by James Cameron. In this clip, we're introduced to Pandora's floating mountains. [dramatic music] So I really like a lot of aspects of what we're seeing here and in "Avatar" in general. We've got these Na'vi, these creatures that are like really long and skinny blue creatures, and they've got these sort of horse-like creatures with them going around on these floating mountains. Okay, so everything about that has some basis in what James Cameron was trying to create here with this movie. We're on a moon around a planet around Alpha Centauri, one of the closest star systems.