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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Amazing Spiderman - comic book science

My wife and I recently saw The Amazing Spiderman. (Wikipedia article here, official website here.)

The film stars Andrew Garfield as high school nerd Peter Parker, whose parents died in an accident, apparently soon after they left young Peter Parker to live with his aunt and uncle. (Well-played by Sally Field and Martin Sheen, with some good lines, especially for Sheen.) Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy, his high school classmate, who becomes his best friend. Garfield and Stone are both a little old for high school, but why not? I think they both did a good job as actors.

I don't wish to give away the plot, but will mention a few aspects of the film.

Parker/Spiderman is portrayed as on the side of good -- he wants to fight criminals. But his morals are not always perfect. In a glaring example, he takes an identification badge for a special science internship, which belongs to another student, from a table. When the other student arrives, he is forcibly escorted from the building. Parker shows no remorse, and pays no penalty. Presumably, his action might have cost the other boy a college scholarship. I was reminded of incidents in the Harry Potter books, where Harry, Hermione and Ron often break all sorts of rules, because they think they have to, to do what they want. Sometimes what they are doing is to help them defeat Voldemort. Sometimes it's just to have fun, or to get something they want.

The science in the film is comic book science -- impossible things, like regenerating a limb in a matter of minutes, take place. This is not surprising, since the movie is based on comic books. But we should be careful of comic book science.

I know, no one with any sense is going to consciously judge the scientific enterprise by what they read in comic books, or see in movies based on them. But, still, our mythology becomes part of us, whether we realize it or not, and whether or not it makes sense. Some aspects of comic book science are partly true, but mostly not so. The first is that a single scientist can produce a significant breakthrough in any field of science in a relatively short period. Most significant discoveries are made by teams, or made in more than one place at the same time. The second is that lots of beakers, retorts, tubing, and the like are needed to produce scientific breakthroughs. Sometimes, in some fields. But not in astronomy, or in much of ecology, for example. Third is the myth of the mad scientist. There are some scientists who have done some bad things, or want to do them, but scientists are no more likely to want to deliberately release evil upon humankind than, say, park rangers or kindergarten teachers. Most scientists are simply trying to do their job as best they can, and when ethical issues come up, I don't think they are more (or less) likely to make mistakes than anybody else.

Perhaps we should have more movies about mad bankers, or mad real estate tycoons.

One more aspect. There is a large tower, home of Osco, a bioengineering company, in the middle of Manhattan. Much of the action takes place there. According to the Wikipedia article, the director, Marc Webb, thought of this tower as a modern-day Tower of Babel.

Thanks for reading!

3 comments:

atlibertytosay said...

You'd be surprised that many suspend their beliefs but then start thinking … I bet "they're" hiding that "they" can do that!

Conspiracies about evil governments run into the absurd - from both right and left.

Thanks for posting this review.

Martin LaBar said...

I probably would be surprised.

Yes, there are plenty of theories about evil government conspiracies. There are such, no doubt, but not nearly as many as people think.

Thanks.

Kendraxvdn said...

I probably would be surprised. Yes, there are plenty of theories about evil government conspiracies. There are such, no doubt, but not nearly as many as people think. Thanks.