Shocking Scientific Discovery: ‘Gravity’ is Not a Documentary

Gravity Movie

It’s a law of physics that there are two types of charges, positive and negative. So, after the acclaim and record box office of Warner Bros.’ “Gravity” this past weekend, an astrophysicist felt compelled to point out that he seems shocked to discover that it’s a piece of fiction.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and presenter on the series “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey,” offered a series of tweets Sunday night poking holes in various elements of the film. One example: “Nearly all satellites orbit Earth west to east yet all satellite debris portrayed orbited east to west.”

When a film is successful, it inevitably will receive criticism. A favorite target are films based on fact, such as “A Beautiful Mind” and “The King’s Speech.” Critics like to point out that the film does not scrupulously follow the facts as they detail the flaws in the real-life protagonists. Fiction films are cited less often.

Decades ago, David Letterman had a semi-regular segment called “Limited Perspective,” in which guests offered deadpan commentaries on the inaccuracies in some films, such as a dentist pointing out that historical films don’t work because the stars’ teeth are too nice for the period.

An added astrophysics note to movie lovers: In “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” Elliott and E.T. are on a bicycle that suddenly starts flying through the air. Scientifically, that’s not possible either.

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  1. David says:

    Tyson said that the film Gravity should be renamed “Zero Gravity” but he is incorrect. Masses in orbit experience microgravity, not zero gravity, microgravity due to the pull of the Earth that causes and maintains the orbit. If it were true zero gravity, the astronauts would float away.

    Even scientists make mistakes.

  2. I don’t think Neil deGrasse Tysons pointing out scientifically inaccurate things in Gravity counts as real criticism, any more so than it does when he pointed out that the night sky in Titanic was wrong for that time of year. It seems pretty obvious to me that it’s all in good spirit.

  3. EK says:

    It’s called suspension of disbelief. Almost every novelist, filmmaker et al is trying to entertain an audience and many don’t let the facts get in the way, sometimes to absurd degree, but mainly it’s to create something beyond the mundane and purely factual. The exception, of course, are documentarians who write and are presumably depicting factual stories.It’s also called imagination … both on the audience and filmmaker’s part.

  4. K says:

    Tyson later said he loved Gravity, and while I love the headline, I loved his corrections, too. He’s an intellectual hero to a lot of people and if anyone can kickstart an interest in space, it’s him. He’s always pointed these things out; pointing out errors doesn’t mean he hates it, it’s just a quick and SEO friendly way of getting info out there.

  5. Mark Hoeger says:

    I fairness, ET was clearly a fantasy. Gravity aspires to present a more realistic experience, So while I don’t think inaccuracies are a fatal flaw for the movie it is good to have pointed out the discrepancies in the same way one can appreciate the portrait that LINCOLN paints while it still being useful to be clear about the historical facts.

  6. Jared Wynn says:

    LOL! You know how anal comic book geeks can be about superheroes? Well that’s how scientists are about reality. So thank you for the funny headline and article, Tim, but thank you Neil deGrasse Tyson for contributing to scientific literacy in America. Any excuse is a good excuse.

  7. Nothing better says:

    In my opinion ‘Gravity’ is a terrible movie. I am disappointed to see Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in such silliness. I understand that it is not going to be what we would expect in real life space but there was just no point to the story. It was just blah!!

  8. Too many people started to take films way too seriously. Films are same thing as theatre plays. Its all game of pretending. The point of feature film is not to bring you ultimate truth, but to convince you into its story. It’s a story! Never than less a played story! Sandry Bulock is pretending to be in Eaths orbit. She pretends to be medical expert bringing piece of medical equipment that turned out to be also working on Hubble telescope. They are NOT up there! It’s just play…nothing more.

  9. Phillip says:

    I can’t stand people like that. People take movies way too literally. Everything down to the smallest detail as if films are supposed to be an accurate depiction of life, when people forget the sole purpose of movies and that is to entertain, to make the audience think and feel and to offer an escape. If movies happen to be accurate on certain subjects/topics then great but they shouldnt be taken so seriously to nit pick at every little thing.

    • My full respect Phillip :) exactly my point!

      • Turk says:

        Actually Cauron was aware the direction of orbit was reversed in his film. He took artistic license because of his understanding of how motion affects the audience. Something moving from the left side of the screen to the right is considered pleasant. Motion in the opposite direction creates an uneasiness. It’s subliminal, but true.

        So the director decided the experience was more important than a minor detail.

      • josie says:

        How hard would it have been to get that right? Ask someone at JPL the question and reverse the direction of the debris.

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