It turns out such a scenario is plausible. There could
be a moon circling a faraway planet that has — in places — safe air.
The film’s director, Ridley Scott, knew this. While developing the script, he turned to one of Hollywood’s hottest science advisers, NASA astrobiologist Kevin Hand, who also consulted on “Avatar” and “Thor.”
Hand, who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., makes his living thinking about what alien life might look like and how we can find it. During brainstorming sessions with Scott and his team, the filmmakers said they wanted the characters to ditch their space helmets. Hand, who was detailing to Scott how alien worlds might look, feel and smell, explained how pockets of oxygen could be present.
Science saves Hollywood — again.
More than ever, writers and directors are turning to scientists to make their fantasies more plausible. In the process, they’re learning that scientists are people, too.
That’s thanks to the Science and Entertainment Exchange, which launched in Los Angeles in 2008 with a $1.1 million grant from the National Academy of Sciences. With 800 scientists on its roster, the exchange has arranged nearly 500 consultations between California creative types and scientists who can speak without jargon.
Hollywood weddings often end in disaster, but this marriage has been a hit.
“Now I’m getting big writers saying, ‘I’ve been hearing about you guys, I want to try you out,’ ” said Rick Loverd, one of the exchange’s three full-time employees. “People in the entertainment industry know about us.”
Maybe it’s just a honeymoon. After all, Hollywood has endlessly abused science in the service of story, starting in, say, 1931. That’s when moviegoers saw an obsessed scientist — a total nut job, really — stitch together dead bodies and reanimate them into Dr. Frankenstein’s monster.
A stereotype was born: Smudged lab coat. Menacing plans. Bad hair.
Not a great moment for science.
It took an unlikely character — comedy filmmaker Jerry Zucker, of “Airplane!” and “Naked Gun” fame — to flip the script.
A decade ago, Zucker and his wife, Janet, campaigned in Washington and California in favor of embryonic stem cell research. (They see such work offering a potential cure for their daughter, who has Type 1 diabetes.) While seeking funding, Jerry Zucker was disturbed by “a fear of science” among some lawmakers and the public.
“That, of course, is completely the fault of Hollywood,” Zucker said in a phone interview. “A mad scientist is an entertaining character.”
After a chance meeting between the Zuckers and Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences — the country’s top scientific body — the exchange was born. (Jerry credits Janet for the idea.) Funding now flows from private foundations, too, with the National Academy’s contributions diminishing.