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Reel Science’ Provides The Real Science Behind The Fiction

theNAT partners with Digital Gym Cinema and San Diego scientists for film series

Sam J. Jones stars as Flash Gordon and Brian Blessed is Prince Vultan in the ...

Credit: Universal Pictures

Above: Sam J. Jones stars as Flash Gordon and Brian Blessed is Prince Vultan in the 1980 cult film "Flash Gordon." Michael Wall, Curator of Entomology at theNAT, will be introducing the film as part of a series called "Reel Science."


Michael Wall, theNAT's Curator of Entomology

Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter


theNAT is partnering with Digital Gym Cinema for a month-long series called Reel Science: Cult Sci-Fi Films Meet Real Science.

The San Diego Natural History Museum, known as theNAT, is partnering with Digital Gym Cinema for a month-long series called Reel Science: Cult Sci-Fi Films Meet Real Science.

This January, Digital Gym Cinema, Film Geeks SD, the Natural History Museum, and a lineup of San Diego scientists work together to bring you a month-long film series that looks to the science behind the fiction. 

Every Saturday in January theNAT will pair up a scientist with a sci-fi cult classic in order to compare movie science with the real thing.

Michael Wall, curator of entomology at theNAT, explained, “At the beginning of each screening a scientist is going to provide what we are saying is a context or a lens through which to view the film. In some cases the scientist will talk a little bit about their own research and how you can use their research as a lens for the film to view the screening of the film. Or in my case, I won’t be talking about my own science as much as the practice of science, and how that can inform the way you watch different films.”

The scientists will explain what the films got right and what they got wrong in terms of the science presented. Reel Science will take place on Saturdays in January, with theNAT and Digital Gym hosting the program on alternating weekends.

It kicks off with neuroscientist Bradley Voytek introducing Ken Russell’s trippy “Altered States” at the Digital Gym Cinema at 7 p.m., Jan. 7. Then there will be the John Hughes comedy “Weird Science” with geneticist Adam Haberman at 7 p.m., Jan. 14 at theNAT; followed by “Donnie Darko” with physicist Daniel Sheehan on at 4 p.m., Jan. 21 at Digital Gym Cinema, and will conclude at 7 p.m., Jan. 28 at theNAT, with Wall presenting “Flash Gordon” from 1980.

“We wanted to pick films that people might enjoy seeing on a large screen,” Wall said. “We tried to pick certain cult sci-fi films that we knew had a good following but also that had an interesting scientific take on them. We want people who don’t normally think of themselves as scientists to feel like that they understand science and appreciate science. There’s a lot of talk these days about anti-intellectualism of culture and if such a thing exists then the greatest thing that we can do as scientists is to help people understand the process of science better because it has provided us with countless opportunities as humans and has potential to do so much more to improve our lives.”

Wall plans to treat “Flash Gordon” as if it were a found-footage film and then explore how we could use science to interpret the information to make deductions about the planet Mongo.

“'Flash Gordon’ and even ‘Donnie Darko,’ they’re not explicitly science movies but there’s science in them,” Wall said. “There is science in every film. I mean if I can take ‘Flash Gordon’ and teach you a little bit about the process of science then you can probably find science in just about everything. We hope people will become just a little bit more educated and start questioning things a little more and have fun with science.”

Reel Science: Cult Sci-Fi Films Meet Real Science hopes to provide an evening of mind-expanding fun.

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