Monday, March 24, 2008

Accretionary Wedge #7: Geology/ists in the Movies

Welcome to the 7th edition of the Accretionary Wedge – and happy birthday to John Wesley Powell, one of geology’s first real action heroes! This month's scrapings dealt with (depending on how you look at it) one of the biggest sources of headaches or entertainment for the denizens of the Geoblogosphere: Geology/ists in the movies.

Or, as some of the commentary seems to lean toward, "How Hollywood manages to screw up, in movie and/or TV form, the science that it took me multiple years, pints of blood and continuing therapy sessions to learn, and why I can't be held legally responsible for my reaction when the students in my intro classes spout it back at me on exams."

Just kidding – but only a little. Geology in the movies seems to bring out both the passionate and the flippant in us. We mark geology movies as points of inspiration in our journey toward our chosen profession; we happily do our best MST3K impressions while tearing apart the shoddy science; we laugh at the absurdities and turn even the worst transgressions into teaching opportunities. Seeing your science represented in film can be both maddening and gratifying, and as a result this month’s posts cover the full spectrum of praise and pugnacity.

I’ll be a little self-indulgent and mention my favorite geology movie (the video of which I’m currently ignoring in favor of writing this), the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth. I’m fond of all of the characters, even James Mason’s bellowing Professor Lindenbrook, but in my opinion, the real hero – and possibly the best geologist – in the movie is…Gertrude the duck. After all, it is Gertrude who discovers the proper entrance into the bowels of Mount Sneffels, Gertrude who enforces mine safety practices by removing stealing Madam Goteborg’s stays (which could have impeded her breathing), and Gertrude who, by being eaten by Count Sakneussem, leads the group to the Lost City of Atlantis and their volcanic escape route. (Okay, that was a stretch.) And Gertrude aside, Journey is just good campy fun. Giant mushrooms, dimetrodons, phosphorescent pools, lost cities, and singing geologists may be cheesy, but sometimes cheesiness is enjoyable for its own sake.

Had enough previews? Then it’s time for our feature presentation:

Just because you have a deep spiritual connection with volcanoes doesn’t mean you can predict eruptions, according to Chris Rowan of Highly Allocthonous. Hunches are often a good place to start, but unless you back up your gut feeling with a little science, people probably aren’t going to take you seriously. Not even if you’re Pierce Brosnan.

Chris at goodSchist takes us on a tour of the extreme geology to be found on the planet Crematoria in The Chronicles of Riddick. With a name like Crematoria and planet-wide explosive volcanic eruptions ever three hours, this place certainly isn’t going to beat out Cancun as a prime spring break destination – unless you’re a geologist, that is.

MJC Rocks at Geotripper gives us a who’s who of geologists in the movies, bringing together victims of volcanic eruptions, velociraptors, alcoholism, avalanches, and even a few who survive with only minor injuries. (Has Hollywood got a grudge against us or something?) There’s even a reminder that one of the most beloved fictional anthropologists, Indiana Jones, had his roots in a real-life extreme paleontologist.

Here’s something to look forward to – Journey to the Center of the Earth has been remade yet again! In 3D! With giant albino dinosaurs! And Brendan Fraser riding around in a mining cart! What could be better? Mel at Ripples in Sand hopes that the educational campaign accompanying the movie will be slightly more accurate than all that. (She also mentions The Great Warming, which seems to have slipped under the collective radar; I’ll put out a milk carton alert and ask, Have You Seen This Film?)

Some of us are lucky enough to be able to turn snarking into credit hours! John Van Hoesen has a class called “Geology in Film”, and brings to our attention some real classics of geo-cinema. Who knew Paul Newman did disaster flicks?

Not content to stop at a single entry, Dr. Mike at Otago has created an entire blog devoted to “Reel Geology”. Not to be missed is the entry for “Best Use of Mineralogy in a Movie,” awarded to The Monolith Monsters, which apparently features “a water-activated silica-sucking meteorite and ends with the hero saving the town by blowing up a dam conveniently located upstream of a salt mine.” ‘Nuff said.

Steve McQueen as a climate change prophet? Believe it. Callan Bentley at NOVAGeoblog gives us a lovely little tidbit from The Blob that suggests another excellent reason to step up our efforts to slow global warming…

Did you ever wish you could set the filmmakers straight? Well, Jim Repka at Active Margin might have done just that – however briefly. His close encounter with The Core may not have resulted in real science making it into the movie, but at least one anonymous writer now knows the meaning of gigapascal. (He also notes that nuclear weapons may be the next great innovation in seismology. Hmm...)

As a self-admitted Trekkie/Trekker, I was very happy to see the post by Silver Fox at Looking for Detachment about The Devil In The Dark, a Star Trek: TOS episode in which Kirk, McCoy and Spock encounter the galaxy’s first silica-based life form. Being able to mind-meld with a rock would be a fabulous asset for a geologist. Being a geologist on Star Trek, however, would not be so fabulous, as they tend to be relegated to the ranks of the Redshirts. (For those who aren't familiar with the Original Series, Redshirt = cannon fodder. Sometimes they even manage to kill them before the episode starts.)

Run for your lives – sedimentology is out to get you! Well, not really – but it is out to get Peter Parker in the next Spiderman movie, in the form of the villain Sandman. Thanks to BrianR at Clastic Detritus for the heads-up…and hopefully Imhotep from The Mummy won’t be too jealous.

Laelaps’ multimedia post brings us once again to the exciting world of extreme paleontology, where he explores the declining standards of the Jurassic Park movies; Professor Challenger, the first paleontological action hero in various incarnations of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World; and the likelihood that Cary Grant probably wouldn’t survive a real field camp, despite being Cary Grant. (Frankly, for high odds of survival in a dinosaur-ridden feature, I’d stick with Sam Neill, although he lost a lot of cred with that velociraptor duck-call in the third movie.)

Argus Panoptes at Astronomical Seeing points out why Ross of Friends makes a worse paleontologist than Cary Grant. (He is, indeed, way too well-groomed and lacking proper paleontological attire. One suspects that his field experience is mostly limited to obtaining beer in a crowded bar during a Yankees game, and not obtaining beer while camped in the middle of the Montana desert and trying to hide a secret scotch supply from a pack of ravenous graduate students.)

It's probably the one and only time a movie featuring a geologist has won any Oscars, let alone multiple ones. There Will Be Blood, featured in ZS's post at Hindered Settling, takes a look at the oil industry in the early twentieth century. It also explores the less charming side of geologists, and leads us to suspect that the main character may have forgotten his coffee supply, since he at one point looks for oil in a silver mine.

Last, but certainly not least, we have doomsayer Julian from Harmonic Tremors, who warns us that the big one is coming, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Fortunately, it’s not a monster earthquake but a movie about one – an incarnation of the novel 1906 by James Dalessandro, set during the San Francisco earthquake. Though it has its faults (I had to steal that one), including, refreshingly enough, too much science, Julian advises us to put our trust in Brad Bird and Pixar. (And yes, it would be really fun if a bunch of us geobloggers went to see it together – I’m game if you all are!)

Thank you all for your contributions – and for putting up with my own snarking, which has probably grown increasingly less witty and more random, since it’s getting pretty late where I am. Next up among the Accretionary Wedge volunteers is Andrew over at Geology, who’s going to be hosting an Earth Day carnival – don’t forget to check the “Who’s hosting the next Accretionary Wedge” page for updates.

That’s all, folks!

PS - Apologies if I missed anything that was posted before the deadline; let me know and I'll add it on!


Ron Schott said...

Looks like a great production, Tuff. Sorry I didn't get one up yet - I'll try to get something in late.

Chris said...

Thanks for hosting, Tuff. This maybe the first time in AW history where no two contributing blogs posted about the same thing. Talk about a wide variety of poor movies....

Silver Fox said...

Tuff, thanks for doing such a great job on putting this all together - it's really quite a list of posts, and your summaries are great to read. It all makes me want to see some of these movies again! (Some, I said.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks for hosting!

coconino said...

Don't forget about 1985's A View to a Kill, with Sir Roger Moore as James Bond and Tanya Roberts as a "state geologist." "Willing suspension of disbelief" aside, this was one of the worst portrayals of a female geologist I've seen. She didn't have a shred of cred.

Anonymous said...

"The Devil In The Dark, a Star Trek: TOS episode in which Kirk, McCoy and Spock encounter the galaxy’s first silica-based life form."

First? Star Trek was pipped at the post by Island of Terror (aka Night of the Silicates) which came out in 1966 versus Star Trek's 1967. The "silicates" were silicon-based life-forms a mad scientist had created. They killed people by flopping on them (or dropping from trees onto them) and then injecting enzymes that dissolved their bones, which apparently the silicates needed for nourishment. I found it rather scary when I saw it when I was 10. Probably excruciating now.