Invaders from Hollywood; March 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Yam; 2 Page(s)
Sitting in the front row in a darkened room where filmmakers view "dailies"-raw footage from recent shoots-is a man you wouldn't associate with the glittering world of make-believe. Coming to this Vancouver studio in a down-to-earth green polo shirt, khakis and sneakers, Matthew P. Golombek could be confused with a young academic who was headed to his next lecture but stepped on the wrong bus. In fact, as project scientist for NASA's 1997 Pathfinder mission, he may be the closest thing Earth has to a resident Martian. Disney has called him to serve as a science consultant on its movie Mission to Mars, which opens this month. As the film rolls, showing actors Gary Sinise, Jerry O'Connell and Connie Nielsen as researchers on their way to the Red Planet, Golombek can't resist adding his two cents. "Hey, these scientists are good-looking," he quips."That's not reality."
Scientific accuracy doesn't usually seem to be one of Hollywood's major concerns. Yet consultants have always been an integral part of science-fiction films. Even back in the genre's heyday of the 1950s, "in films we laugh at today, there were consultants to add verisimilitude," explains Vivian Sobchack, a film studies professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and author of the book Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film. Moreover, she notes, directors often embedded short documentaries within their movies. For instance, Them!, the classic film about marauding mutant ants, contains a minidocumentary about the insects.