Ask a Dork: Sci Fi Accuracy
Does science need to be accurate for you to enjoy something? Where does your sense of disbelief end usually?
The cool thing about Science Fiction is that within the context of a Sci Fi universe, pretty much anything we can imagine becomes real. To that extent, I feel as though it’s hard to stop yourself from enjoying most Sci Fi on the basis that, “this likely wouldn’t happen in the world as we know it.” Just because I’ve never seen a Klingon, have no idea how a real-life lightsaber would ever be constructed, and have yet to see robotic AI match that of HAL or a Cylon, doesn’t mean I consistently pull myself out of those worlds while watching. In fact, it is because of those things that I watch Sci Fi in the first place. Problems arise when universe consistency is lost because someone was being lazy.
Essentially, I feel as though you should have a well established universe with guiding principles for Sci Fi to be really effective. Of course you can add to this universe as you see fit, but fans will pull back when you throw previously established things out the window. This is why the Star Trek: TNG movies are so reviled by fans of the series. The TNG world that was established over numerous years was mostly ignored to fit the sensibilities of Directors that didn’t understand the series and Rick Berman exchanged series dignity for mounds of money. As a result, we have four films that treat Picard like an action hero instead of a deep and pensive intellectual, pencil-thin plots that are predicated more on phaser shots than interesting dialogue, crummy special effects (even for their time), and a complete disregard for a previously established universe.
For me, the moment where I “threw in the towel” with the TNG movies was when the windows of the USS Enterprise shattered upon crashing in Star Trek: Generations. Why did this throw me off? Well, it’s been previously established that the windows were made of ‘transparent aluminum’ (Data actually confirms it in an episode). This was the same material used in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home to construct the tank for the humpback whales. Why was transparent aluminum used instead of ultra-thick acrylic glass? Well, with all of the stresses that a ship (known for travelling through time, space, and dimensions) has to go through, they couldn’t use a substance that would ever break. Transparent aluminum is as clear as glass, but possesses the strength and density of high-grade aluminum. So, yeah - this wouldn’t ever happen (and that really takes me out of the setting).
In the end, I feel like ‘scientific accuracy’ is less important than ‘franchise accuracy.’ My advice to all Sci Fi filmmakers would be that they have a really solid understanding of the universe they base their content on. If they don’t know enough, they should be hiring consultants that do so that these things don’t ruin the experience for fans. If it’s a new series, they should continually check for consistency.