‘Particle Fever’
Netflix Instant

Only a quarter of Americans accept evolution as fact, but at least science is hot at the box office (for now). “Interstellar” is exposing millions to black holes, wormholes and relativity; “The Theory of Everything” gives Stephen Hawking his Great Man biopic. Neither, though, is as fun as the documentary “Particle Fever,” and that boasts real, hard science. Its cameras were there when the world’s scientists congregated to fire up the massive Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which would verify the existence of the elusive Higgs boson particle — the last major (and central) theorized particle to be verified, and often called “the God particle,” to the enragement of physicists.

There’s palpable suspense on display: If the experiment is a success that means scientists are on the right track; if it doesn’t then many eggheads have wasted most of their lives. (Spoiler, not really: The LHC found it.) But perhaps just as useful is its portrayal of scientists as giddy, goofy nerds — not the hubristic sociopaths of movies, but simply the most excitable people you’ve seen outside of a kindergarten that's been dosed with a quarry of sugar. Their enthusiasm is contagious, not to mention a reminder that science is awesome.

‘A Brief History of Time’
Hulu
A more guarded, but just as endearing, portrait of scientists is on display in this deceptively simple documentary, in which Errol Morris turns his lens on no less than Stephen Hawking himself. “The Theory of Everything” seems to be trying to see how little science it can dwell on while still qualifying as a Hawking movie. This gets into the nitty-gritty, Morris finding visual ways to communicate mind-blowing concepts about time, the universe and everything. But it's equally a portrait of the stereotypical English stiff-upper-lip mentality. No one, from Hawking's mother to his colleagues, gets drippy about the tragedies that have befallen the noted physicist, and none are more reserved than Hawking himself, trapped in his body, communicating only by taps from his wrist to his-then computer program.

‘Total Recall’
Netflix Instant
You’ve absorbed real science; now treat yourself to some dumb pop sci-fi. A gleefully stupid riff on a story by the smart Philip K. Dick, Paul Verhoeven’s vulgar masterpiece starts by casting the mega-ripped Arnold Schwarzenegger as an everyman, then proceeds through slightly less believable feats like three-breasted women, a dude who lives in another dude’s abdomen and a scene where the former Governor of California pulls a superball-sized capsule through his nose. All that and Sharon Stone sharpening her femme fatale claws for "Basic Instinct." See you at the party, Richter!

 

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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