- Series: The MIT Press
- Hardcover: 280 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (February 4, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262014785
- ISBN-13: 978-0262014786
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,234,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema (The MIT Press) 1st Edition
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In the gap between science fact and science fiction stands the motion picture and television science consultant. In this brisk, lively account, David Kirby provides us with a history of these often unheralded scientific ambassadors to Hollywood and the critical role they play in shaping how film and television makers depict science―depictions which in turn shape how science is understood by the public at large.―Zack Stentz, writer/producer (Thor, X-Men: First Class, Fringe, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) (Endorsement)
Kirby convincingly shows us that the interaction between science and cinema is not limited to the portrayal of scientists and science themes in the media, but can significantly contribute to shaping a movie's core concepts and―even more interestingly―scientists' own activity in the research sphere.―Massimiano Bucchi, Professor of Science and Technology in Society, University of Trento (Endorsement)
Kirby makes a compelling case that scientists and filmmakers need each other. I know of no other book like it.―David Saltzberg, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, UCLA, and Television Science Consultant (Endorsement)
There have been many books written on the intersection of science and Hollywood. But David Kirby's excellent tome is the first to examine seriously the role of the science consultant in the movie-making process and assess its potential impact. Lab Coats in Hollywood is essential reading for anyone who shares Kirby's passion for bringing science into the service of storytelling for the silver screen.―Jennifer Ouellette, science writer and former director, National Academy of Sciences' Science and Entertainment Exchange (Endorsement)
We all know―or think we know―what science consultants do on Hollywood films: they check accuracy. They would be wrong. David Kirby shows the relation as much more complex, and vastly more interesting than that. Hollywood wants a landscape of verisimilitude, an elaborately produced naturalness, and legitimization of their image of the future. For their part, scientists can alter the public status of their fields and gain a powerful hand in articulating visions of how their own fields might work, from supercomputing to genetic alteration. This is an original study of a field that combines real knowledge of Hollywood films, scientist-consultants and science studies. It is fun to read, taking you to the back and forth between science and film everywhere from 2001 to Contact and Minority Report. I recommend it with enthusiasm.―Peter Galison, Pellegrino University Professor in History of Science and Physics, Harvard University, and Producer/Director, Secrecy (Endorsement)
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I'd still like to read a book that lives up to this title.
Kirby starts on a high note, looking at Stanley Kubrick's _2001: A Space Odyssey_, which he says is "the most scientifically accurate film ever made for its time." _2001_ is, of course, mostly about space flight and exploration in the future, and had its share of NASA consultants, but don't forget the "Dawn of Man" sequence; Kubrick got advice from the father-and-son anthropological team Louis and Richard Leakey. Consultants can make movies better by fact checking, or by advising on the look of tools and lab spaces. Consultants can increase the scientific plausibility of the movie, and if the plausibility is up, suspension of disbelief is maintained, and the audience is drawn in. It doesn't hurt that scientists in the audience of an accurate film won't be picking at it. Next to _2001_, the book pays the most attention to the _Jurassic Park_ movies, for many good reasons. Not only did paleontologist Jack Horner, who was involved in many aspects of the movie, get grants and fees, but he also got to influence the movie to show his own ideas about how birds are the descendants of dinosaurs, for instance. There are sometimes problems because a scene that is scientifically accurate might be cinematically boring. Sometimes there are problems because scientific accuracy clashes with an audience's view of the way things are supposed to be. The 2000 movie _Mission to Mars_ had plenty of scenes on "The Red Planet," but we know from the rovers that it is actually a yellow-brown. In the movie, the geology has a red tinge; scientific accuracy would have made things look less plausible. There are many movies cited here that have used good science to promote public understanding and intelligent debate on contentious issues. _The China Syndrome_ was well researched and its questions about the safety of nuclear power still linger. _Armageddon_ and _Deep Impact_, both released in 1998, made people think about what might be done if we see that asteroid or comet headed to wipe us out (although _Armageddon_ showed deep flaws in its science, as described here).
Kirby's book shows how products of the future might be introduced in a movie; the interfacing by gestures with the computer, as used by the detective in _Minority Report_, was an imaginary prototype suggested by one scientific advisor who has gone on to make physical prototypes of such an interface. Kirby shows how scientists are often thrilled to work on a picture with famous people from Hollywood, and frequently do so without pay. He also shows a big disadvantage: if the scientist needs to be on set or on call, it's a good bet that this will be an impossible schedule for an academic, field, or commercially-employed scientist, so maybe one that just got a degree would be hired, for all the problems that might cause. One of the important themes here is that scientists and filmmakers are increasingly acknowledging the importance of their close connection; the National Academy of Sciences' Science & Entertainment Exchange program, for instance, wants to increase the involvement of scientists in the filmmaking process. Kirby knows plenty of the personalities involved here, and obviously has watched the movies carefully. He has given many detailed descriptions of scientific and cinematic work, and his brightly-written book ought to be enjoyed by anyone interested in either subject.
In retrospect, I think the subject of the book is a potentially fascinating topic.
The writing style was much too dry and uninteresting for my personal taste.