Famed science expert Neil deGrasse Tyson is coming to Philadelphia’s Academy of Music on Wednesday, Nov. 30 for “An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies.” In it, the real science behind some of the world’s most celebrated films will be discussed — from “Star Wars” to “Frozen” to cult classics you might not have heard of. We chatted with Dr. Tyson about being an unknowing science consultant on “The Martian,” movies that get the science right and what he loves about Philly.
What can we expect from “An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies?”
People think that I just debunk movies primarily but I think that I am deeply misunderstood. [Laughs] My goal is to enhance your appreciation and understanding of what a movie is trying to portray. It has been cast as kind of nitpicky and I understand why some people think that way but what I want you to know is that’s not my intent. My intent is to enlighten your moviegoing experience. Wouldn’t you want to know if the director got something wrong?
Yeah, it’s no different than – let’s say – your loved one is a car expert and then there’s a movie that occurs in 1968 but there’s a 1962 Bellaire parked on the street and you were like, “No that didn’t come out yet!” That stuff is interesting to know. It could just be a slip-up or complete ignorance on behalf of the set designers. Why do we allow others with expertise to give their comments on movies but not allow the scientists to give scientific comments?
Some people think it ruins the movie. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose...
No, it’s not at all. I think that science was never previously invited to the table of movie criticism. Why deny the science-literate person the very same attention given to the movie of [other experts]? One of the highest compliments I’ve ever gotten was from Andy Weir, the writer of the novel from which the movie “The Martian” was based. He has an engineering background and he said that while he was writing his novel, he was imagining as if I was looking over his shoulder. “Would Neil criticize this or would he praise this?” So apparently this kept him honest the whole way through. I was very charmed and flattered to hear that he had me eavesdropping on his compositions.
Are there any movies that got the science right?
One movie that got it right was, “Deep Impact.” There was an asteroid strike and it was kind of lost in the shadow of “Armageddon,” which should probably get an award for how many laws of physics it violated. [Laughs] “Deep Impact” had real advisors and they got a lot of their physics right, especially as portrayed in the special effects.
Are you excited to visit Philly?
Yeah! I have a nephew that lives there. I have to let him know I'll be in town when I come through. Philly, you know, sister city to New York and Washington — I love it. The Franklin Institute is great. Independence Hall. It has all the hotspots. Last time I came, four different merchants fed me their cheesesteaks to see which one was best and that was way too much food. [Laughs]
"An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies" comes to the Academy of Music on Nov. 30. You can buy tickets here.