Jaws, Titanic, Waterworld

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay
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Hot Babe Scientist. Linus Pauling never looked like this. Hollywood is now capable of dealing with a woman scientist. Someday they will be capable of portraying a plain, middle-aged or overweight woman scientist.


Hunk Scientist. Linus Pauling never looked like this, either. Stephen Hawking may be a great heroic role model, but good looks sell tickets.


High Caloric-Intake Monster. Large animals eat a smaller fraction of their body weight each day than small ones, a manifestation of surface to volume ratio. Hollywood critters, on the other hand, eat like shrews.


Pompous Ass who Pays With His Life. The pig-headed boss or political figure who refuses for selfish reasons to listen to warnings and gets killed. Occasionally it really happens; the governor of Martinique refused to evacuate when Mont Pelee began erupting 1902, and died in the resulting catastrophe. So did 30,000 innocent people.


Superfluous Kids. Kids (generally repugnant) who serve no real dramatic purpose except to generate audience sympathy. I root for the monsters, especially when the kids do something stupid after they've been told not to.


Cookie Crumbs Have No Calories. And large objects (like asteroids) cease to exist once they're broken up.

Jaws (HCIM)

This now old film deserves mention because it was written up in Science as one of the best portrayals ever of a scientist on film. Richard Dreyfuss really acts and talks like a scientist in the field.


The first film ever to do a really accurate description of the sinking. All other productions, even some made after the first dives to the Titanic, failed to show the ship breaking up. Starting the film off with a dive to the wreck is an original touch, and the computer animation of the sinking is first-rate and helps viewers understand what happens later. The scientists aboard the ship display the combination of scholarship and hard-hat grunginess that real scientists on research vessels do. Wisconsinites caught the only major blooper: the hero describes an icy plunge into Lake Wissota, a reservoir that didn't exist until five years after the sinking.

Unfortunately, Titanic is marred by a sappy love story that is a lot less interesting than the stories of real Titanic survivors. The scene of an elderly couple embracing in their flooded room conveys more pathos in two seconds than Winslet and DiCaprio can whip up in two hours. Recommendation: catch some other flick, then slip into the Titanic cine-plex for the good stuff.

Apparently, water inside sinking ships doesn't cause hypothermia the way water outside does.

Tossing a priceless diamond into the depths is a really classy way for Ruth (Kate Winslet) to show gratitude to the granddaughter who is taking care of her. Then again, if Ruth hadn't been so pigheaded, she would have stayed in the lifeboat and her lover would have been able to climb aboard the floating debris. On the other hand, the final scene where the sunken ship comes back to life in Ruth's dreams is a superb ending.


Scientific inconsistencies abound: there isn't enough water in the polar ice caps to completely flood the Earth. If the submerged places Kevin Costner visits are only a few hundred feet below the surface, why is it so hard to find dry land? If Denver (allegedly the submerged city in the film) is within diving range,the Rockies should still be well above the surface. How did humans evolve gills so fast? Given the travails of real-life long-distance balloonists, could a primitive homemade balloon stay aloft for days? Why didn't more ships survive? Why are there no waves or storms on this ocean? And if Kevin Costner has a hand-cranked water purification unit, why does he have to recycle urine when there's an ocean all around him?

Nonetheless, I liked this film a lot better than most reviewers. It had a lot of originality, something truly in short supply in Hollywood. Costner has the misfortune to be a man of vision in an age of clods. And Dennis Hopper is so delightfully over the top as the villain you can tell he was having the time of his life. It's always fun to watch actors who are really having fun.

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Created 5 February 1998, Last Update 24 May 2020

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