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The Nat And Digital Gym Cinema Partner For Third Year Of Reel Science

Film series pairs local scientists with sci-fi films in May

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This Friday, the San Diego Natural History Museum and Digital Gym Cinema partner for the third year in a row to present Reel Science. The film series pairs sci-fi movies with local scientists who contextualize the science presented on screen.

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Aired: April 30, 2019 | Transcript

Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Jeff Goldblum plays scientist Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg's film "The Fly." The film screens Friday at Digital Gym Cinema as part of the Reel Science film series.

Reel Science

May 3: "The Fly" at Digital Gym Cinema with Eric Leonardis

May 10: "The Martian" at TheNat with Brian Shotwell

May 17: "World War Z" at The Nat with Meredith Frie

May 24: "Damnation Alley" at Digital Gym Cinema with Michael Wall

This Friday, the San Diego Natural History Museum and Digital Gym Cinema partner for the third year in a row to present Reel Science. The film series pairs sci-fi movies with local scientists who contextualize the science presented on screen.

The original "Star Trek" TV series inspired many people to boldly go into science.

"The original 'Star Trek' was so amazing at a social and science fiction level and I just think about that TV series all the time and how much fun they were and how much they kind of made me fantasize about the world," said Michael Wall, vice president of science and conservation and curator of entomology at the San Diego Natural History Museum, or The Nat.

Popular media can be a gateway to science for the general populace because Hollywood is good at storytelling so it can engage the average person and maybe even inspire them to think about science in new ways.

Eric Leonardis is a PhD candidate in cognitive science at UC San Diego and he noted that "Star Trek" still inspires him today.

"I watch it all the time still especially because it not only deals with sort of like the consequences of science and technology but also like a way broader political intergalactic politics sort of context," Leonardis said.

He kicks off the Reel Science series on Friday, May 3 at Digital Gym Cinema with David Cronenberg’s "The Fly."

"I was thinking about sort of the marketability of Jeff Goldblum's body," Leonardis added.

That makes the museum happy because part of the goal of the Reel Science series is to reach new audiences especially those in the 18 to 35 age range. And if it takes Jeff Goldblum to bring them in, that’s fine. In the film, Goldblum plays Seth Brundle, a scientist who experiments with teleportation.

"Teleportation is totally fine if you're comfortable with a slightly different you coming out the other end," Leonardis stated. "And I found that to be really disturbing. But it reminded me of 'Star Trek' actually, the teleportation problem where they were like protesters in the 'Star Trek' universe saying that they won't teleport because they don't think it's the same them coming out the other side. As it turns out their concerns are legitimate."

In "The Fly," Goldblum’s scientist tries to teach the computer about the flesh.

"The flesh, it should make the computer crazy. Like those old ladies pinching babies but it doesn't, not yet because I haven't taught the computer to be made crazy by the flesh," Brundle says in the film.

As a cognitive scientist, Leonardis is interested in the brain. "The Fly" allows him to address a once popular notion that humans are just logical computers and the body doesn't really matter.

"But what we've learned in the past sort of 20 years is that the body matters a lot and the mind can't really exist without a body," Leonardis said. "That's kind of why I think I chose 'The Fly' and Cronenberg because body horror sort of throws it in your face. It makes you deal with these issues of corporeality and materiality which are important to me."

What’s important to Michael Wall are bugs. He closes out the Reel Science series on May 24 with the post apocalyptic film "Damnation Alley."

"I remember being horrified by one particular scene where these cockroaches start chewing on a guy," Wall explained. "And as an entomologist that was my entry point into this movie, in particular is thinking about insects and what they will they will be like and how they will survive in sort of a post human world," Wall said.

Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Paul Winfield, from left, Jan-Michael Vincent and George Peppard star in the 1977 film "Damnation Alley." It screens on May 24 at Digital Gym Cinema as part of the Reel Science film series.

The film also opens the door for Wall to discuss the insect apocalypse and the decline of insect diversity worldwide. That in turn allows him to highlight what the museum does as a research facility.

"So we've got over 8 million specimens in our collections and what we like to say as it were, we're keepers of the ecological record," Wall said. "We've got specimens going back millions of years if you count our fossil collections. But even back into the late 1800s, where most of our most of our living collections start, we can use those collections to look into the past and by looking into the past we can look into the future as well. You can kind of project by saying, 'Oh well, here's what it was like in the past and the conditions were like. I wonder what it's going to look like in the future.' And so we're thinking about conservation oriented things quite a lot these days the impact of climate change on on biodiversity in our region and really trying to use these collections to inform current conservation."

And to use a 1970s sci-fi B movie to unexpectedly open up a conversation about such issues. It’s that’s the kind of enlightening fun that Reel Science delivers.

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