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'Reel Science' Provides The Real Science Behind The Fiction

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."
Universal Pictures
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."

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

'Reel Science' Provides The Real Science Behind The Fiction
GUESTS: Michael Wall, theNAT's Curator of Entomology Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter

This month the national history Museum in San Diego partners with Dimmitt -- Digital Cinema for a program called REEL science. Every Saturday in January they will pair up a scientist with the cool classic in order to compare will be science with the real thing. We speak with the curator of entomology about the program. You're working on a new program of's films to be screaming in January all about REEL science versus real science. Tell me about what this program is going to be. We are partnering to put together this program called REEL science and we are showing screens of films and at the beginning of the screening a scientist is going to provide kind of context or a lens through which to view the film in which case the scientists will talk about the research and how you can use the research as a lens for the film to be of the screening of the film and I will be talking about the science as much as the practice of science Somebody they can about this may think that they are going to a group of scientists to get some very serious films about science but these are a group of pop-culture films that are great fun and tell me what the films are that are going to scream? First step we will do altered states and then after that we will do weird science and then later in January is Donnie taco and then we will finish it off with Flash Gordon. Pathetic earthlings. Who can save you now. [music] We wanted to pick me tried to pick sort of cult sci-fi films and do a scientific take on them. They will be on Saturdays most of them at 7 PM when on January 21 will be at 4 PM and they are alternating between the digital Jim and a museum. This is like an entry to science because even if -- even though Star Wars is not a highly scientific film a lot of people talk about that being the thing that got them interested in a career of computers or science so are these kind of gateway films to learn about real science? There is kind of this interesting handwringing within the scientific community about the way that scientists are portrayed in films not necessarily about the way that scientists are portrayed are like Star Wars -- people are saying there's no stand in outer space you cannot hear the death Star explode. It is funny you get scientist a ring in their hands about the betrayal of science but is very straight -- same scientists were often inspired by these same films because of maybe their love of science fiction and saw Jurassic Park or got into genetics or something like that. I do think they are interesting gateways but Flash Gordon is the phone that I am going to be doing and my parents gave me this coloring book when I was little and one of the things was if you could create a movie what would you create and I wrote Flash Gordon. Because I love that film so much when it first came out we talked about doing this series I thought I would do a body part test I would give a body part to do Flash Gordon. This is not going to be the old Flash Gordon that Buster grabbed this will be the more recent film that has the famous Queen soundtrack on it. [music] I think an Academy award winner -- tell me about the film I kind of the context you are going to put it in. If you have not seen the film I highly highly recommend you go see the film and you'll be able to see it on the big screen here and it is just -- it is campy and they revel in the camp and one of the things is that sometimes these sort of campy sci-fi meetings -- movies that have low production values so they are not necessarily that interesting to look at but the production value on this Flash Gordon is really crazy. The costumes and soundtrack -- the acting other than being a little bit not the best on the face of the planet with I was talking to my wife about this but the person that the cast is Flash Gordon even though his acting is not incredibly great he was perfectly cast to be the dumb jock. I said it was probably not a stretch for them. I just love to the film so much so from a scientific perspective I was actually thinking oh gosh how can I do this film and talk about science so I was re-watching it and I was just looking at all kind of the natural history of all the different scenes and people and thinking of it more in the context of if it was a found footage film what as a natural historian could I learn about the planet Mongo and that's what the lens that we will be looking at it through as if it was found footage and we were looking at this as a real alien planet how would we interpret the evolution of life on Mongo. Why is it that the net wanted to do the program on that. Why is it important to take some of these ridiculous pop-culture films that barely touch on science but why did they feel that it was an important way to pay a real scientist with films and that's kind of their goal in doing this? It goes back to what you originally suggested about gateways -- these being gateways to science is that we want people who don't normally think of themselves as scientists to feel like they understand science and appreciate science. If there is a lot of -- there's a lot of talk these days about the anti-intellectualism of culture and things like that and if such a thing exists the greatest thing we can do is to help people understand the science better because it's provided us with countless opportunities as humans and has the potential to do so much more to improve our lives. We hope to help people become a middle -- a little bit more educated and have fun with science. I want to thank you for talking about real science Thank you very much it has been a pleasure.

'Reel Science' Provides The Real Science Behind The Fiction
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.