Hollywood Astronomy

Date: Sat, 3 Jun 1995 15:55:07 GMT
From: sysop@STARBASE.DEMON.CO.UK (sysop)
To: astro@flux.mindspring.com
Subject: Hollywood Astronomy
I came across some rather good general comments on cliches in films in general on the internet, and it had some rather good ones that related to astronomy, but not, in my view, nearly enough.

So here is my list of oddities that only seem to happen in Hollywood Astronomy - and some more from SF movies.

The Moon. This is a very different object in Hollywood.

Have you noticed how:

In westerns it's always a full moon. Night after night, every night.

This is also true in horror films, but whereas a full moon in a western always occurs overhead in a clear sky, in horror film its always scudding clouds. In wildlife films, the (full) moon is permanently rising.

Even more mysteriously, moonlight colours everything blue.

Should astronauts visit the moon in a film, the same applies in that the front of thee moon is well lit, and the rear is dark

Despite this, a total eclipse can occur anywhere on Earth, at any time.

The time between first and second contact during an eclipse is rarely as long as 30 seconds. Totality can last up to 15 minutes. The time for the sun to reappear fully is frequently even shorter than the time between 1st and 2nd contact.

Given this it is hardly surprising that in Hollywood, lunar libration is a much more powerful phenomenon. The moon (full of course) can frequently be observed rising sideways, or upside down in many cases, (possibley the cause of the old standard that moon pictures were alays printed upside down).

Shortly after the Apollo era, upside down moonrises started to become a lot rarer, and were replaced with moonrise where Mare Crisium, normally a limb feature, was squarely in the middle of the disk.

Should future archaeologists, (with or without hats and bullwhips), try and establish the lunar orbit by analysis of our records, as we have done with ancient chinese records, it is entertaining to imagine just what sort of orbit they will come up with.

Astronomers. These may be easily identified by the awful wobbly old brass telescopes they keep on their desks. Every telescope is always used for looking through, never for photography. All telescopes are refractors - the reflecting telescope has not been invented in Hollywood. Hollywood astronomers are not allowed to enjoy astronomy, and frequently go insane and try and destroy the world. Failing that, they are the first to get 'taken over' by aliens.

The astronomer is always male, and generally has an attractive young daughter, and a dead wife. The daughter is so attractive, she even manages to exert a powerful attraction to any alien life forms she encounters, regardless of species, (or even their not being a carbon based life form).

The astronomer is always clean shaven, over 40, absent minded and wears a white lab coat and spectacles. (Exception, east european astronomers always have facial hair, and an accent that would make Inspector Cleuseau embarrasesed). No astronomer ever wears contact lenses.

If there is more than one or two of an alien race, they are always roughly the same size as humans.

Getting back to instruments, Whenever someone looks through binoculars, you see two joined circles instead of one. Binoculars never need refocussing when passed between people. If a telescope is in an observatory, it may need to be extended out through a slit in the dome before use. Hollywood astronomers do not need to adapt to the dark, and generally operate in floodlit splendour.

If their observatories have computers, these will be equiped with large reels of tape that continually twitch without reason, and text will be displayed in 72 point type. If you need to get access to someone elses files, and don't know their password, you just type OVERRIDE. The computer can also be reached by the hero's son's nintendo console, and the son will be fully conversant with UNIX.

Hollywood astronomers only ever know one of two constellations, Orion or the Big Dipper. These are frequently changed out of all recognition if shown. Whichever constellation is known, it will always be above the horizon for the astronomer to identify, regardless of season, time, hemisphere, or in extreme cases, planet.

It is impossible for a hollywood couple to look at the sky for more than 5 seconds without seeing a shooting star.

Moving off the planet, you may even have noticed that:

Explosions in space make noise and exposure to vacuum makes you horribly swell up and/or explode within seconds. Early theories about space being pervaded with an 'ether' could be explained by the continual deep humming that is everywhere once you leave Earth, and the fact that Laser beams are visible in vacuum.

Space is not Newtonian; spacecraft can't 'coast', but just stop dead if they run out of fuel or power. Spacecraft are always kept fully fuelled and ready to launch by pressing one button, inside the spacecraft. This is even true if the spacecraft is a shuttle, and the only people on it are a bunch of unaccompanied schoolkids.

Planets generally have a rotation period measured in seconds. The more brightly coloured the planet, the quicker it rotates.

Nick Stevens - sysop of Starbase One, the worlds biggest conventional
astronomy and space BBS with over 17000 astro files for download.
   (44) 0171-703-3593 and 0171-701-6914. Fidonet 2:254/407