Scene’s Selections: sci-fi
On March 21 at the Morris Performing Arts Center, join Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson for an evening of “An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies.” The event is an entertaining and enlightening review of all the science that our favorite movies got wrong, combined with some of the stuff they got right. It will incorporate some new films, as well as some classics that you may not have known had any science in them at all.
So to get into the scientific spirit, Scene writers have selected their fav sci-fi moments from television and films.
“Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” — The Tauntaun
by Mike Donovan
I have long considered this scene from the opening movement of “The Empire Strikes Back,” to be the finest in the Star Wars canon.
We find our beloved protagonist Luke Skywalker alone in a frozen wasteland. He’s run a gamut of trials — cold, yetis, floating droids — and succeeded.
Unfortunately, nature proves too powerful even for Luke when a terrible blizzard pushes our prodigious friend to the brink of death. Luckily, quip-god and jacket aficionado Han Solo arrives just in time to rescue the budding Jedi.
But there’s a problem. Han needs to build the shelter, which requires time, and Luke can’t possibly survive another five to ten minutes in the cold.
In a brilliant stroke of luck, Solo’s majestic steed — a ram/velociraptor hybrid known as the Tauntaun — keels over and dies. It looks like we have ourselves a sleeping bag. The ever resourceful Solo uses Luke’s lightsaber to slice the creature clean open before quickly stuffing his Jedi friend into the intestinal area. Han wraps up this riveting display of drama with the most memorable line in the franchise.
“And I thought they smelled bad … from the outside.” Cinematic gold.
“Game of Thrones” — Wildfire in the Battle of the Blackwater
by Kelly McGarry
I wouldn’t categorize most of the magic in “Game of Thrones” as sci-fi, but as a chemical engineer, I can’t help wondering about the science of wildfire. The alchemists who produce the highly flammable bright green liquid refer to it as “the substance.” It is feared by the masses because of how difficult it is to control.
Wildfire is used in the Battle of the Blackwater to set the bay on fire. In the scene, just a single arrow ablaze in green fire lands on the water. The flame creeps along, gathering speed until it explosively attacks the ships. The bay and the ships within it, which only a moment ago had been cloaked in black, are suddenly engulfed in bright green flame, inextinguishable and inescapable.
“Blade Runner” — Rachael’s Revelation
by Jack Riedy
In 2019 Los Angeles, Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard is a cop brought out of retirement to hunt down replicants, artificial human adults with enhanced abilities and a four-year lifespan. In this centerpiece scene, Deckard informs Rachael, a secretary of the replicant-manufacturing Tyrell Corporation, that she is actually the newest model. This pulpy sci-fi premise becomes devastatingly emotional as Deckard recounts stories she has never told another soul, revealing her memories to be false constructions crowdsourced from Tyrell employees. Rachael breaks into stunned tears, attempting to cope with the knowledge that her entire life is a market-researched lie.
Ridley Scott’s classic film does what any good science-fiction should, using a concept like artificial life to explore what it means for us to be alive. And as Rachael’s discovery shows, it is not easy.
“Gremlins” — Microwave Scene
by Erin McAuliffe
I watched the 1984 comedy horror film “Gremlins” when I was in junior high. After years of “E.T.”-induced nightmares, I sat on the couch in the living room, popcorn in hand, quizzing my mom on its premise. She assured me it was more funny than scary, and throughout most of the movie, she was right. However, she left out the fact that these little furry monsters would soon be blown up via microwave into red goop.
The moment is fantastically freaky and I hope Tyson chooses to dissect the dissection. (I also hope he chooses to prove that aliens like E.T. will never actually visit Earth, just for peace of mind.)