Computers and rogue clones are unlikely to exterminate humanity, but an asteroid might.
Perkowitz (Physics/Emory Univ.; Universal Foam: From Cappuccino to the Cosmos, 2000, etc.) takes the measure of a cross section of Hollywood films that contain scientific content, pointing out what “movie science” gets right and, more frequently, wrong. The author evaluates films about alien life, natural disasters, genetic manipulation and artificial intelligence—the majority of the movies in question are in the science-fiction genre and are largely apocalyptic. Each chapter provides a plot summary of a handful of high-profile films, then presents the real-world possibilities suggested by those films. Perkowitz presents the information in an accessible manner, but the text feels like a high-school science lecture delivered by a teacher eager to engage students with pop-culture relevance. The author projects an obvious enthusiasm for movies, but little discernible critical facility. His objections to 2003’s ludicrous turkey The Core are based largely on the scientific gaffes, rather than the appalling quality of the writing, acting and directing. This perhaps explains his fondness for the egregiously terrible The Saint (1997), whose scientist-heroine, played by the comely Elizabeth Shue, apparently made quite a favorable impression on the author. The book is intermittently interesting: Cloning and robotics are almost always incorrectly portrayed, while cataclysmic stories of meteor collisions and plagues are frighteningly viable. Still, this material would have been better served by a long magazine article or a short documentary. The concluding chapter makes a few perfunctory points about the influence movies can wield—as children, writes the author, many scientists were inspired by sci-fi flicks—and the potential of film as an educational tool.
Solid information, but bland, wan execution.