September 6, 2018

Round two of Summer Fun: radiology in the movies

Little influences us these days more than pop culture. It changes how we see the world. And it is not likely to accurately portray scientifically supported research and images.

Astrophysicist, TV personality and author Neil deGrasse Tyson loves to go on late night television and describe scientific inaccuracies in films.

After World War II, radiation and nuclear power entered the mainstream in various ways. Medical science had discovered the huge value of X-rays, but the war had demonstrated the more devious use of radiological technology.

Movies began to imagine giant, radioactive creatures terrifying the world, while comics created conflicted superheroes coming to terms with their superpowers.

Between 1948 and 1962, Hollywood released more than 500 science-fiction features. Many featured technology gone haywire.

In the original “Godzilla” movie, which opened in 1954, a prehistoric monster is resurrected by repeated nuclear tests. For obvious reasons, Japan was a country skeptical of nuclear power, and the country’s cinema represents these fears in many ways.

Them!”, also released in 1954, is considered the first successful movie to feature huge bugs, as giant ants take over New Mexico after atom bomb testing. It was Warner Bros. highest-grossing film that year.
In “It Came From Beneath the Sea” (1955), a giant octopus looms as a result of hydrogen bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean. Can scientists to save San Francisco before it’s too late?!?
In “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” (1957) two giant nuclear-tested crabs start eating up scientific explorers left and right.
In “Beginning of the End” (1957) Giant grasshoppers try to destroy Chicago after eating radioactive vegetables.

In “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” (1957) the man comes in contact with a radioactive mist, and he begins to slowly shrink, confounding doctors and family members around him.

The list goes on and on. Giant, mutated spiders roam the planet in “World Without End.” “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” explores the effects of radiation on human DNA, while the “school bus-size locusts” from “Beginning of the End” get their powers from radioactive fertilizers.

In more modern times, many classics have been based on radioactivity plotlines.

The character of Dr. Bruce Banner has a doctorate in nuclear physics and was developing a nuclear weapon for United States. After being exposed to gamma rays, at inopportune moments of rage he turns into a green monster, Hulk.

Peter Parker gained his Spiderman powers when he was bitten by a radioactive spider. Tony Stark’s Ironman built his own nuclear power plant energy generator thingy in his chest.

Why are movie makers fascinated with portraying imaginary powers of radioactivity? Maybe it’s because right around the time the Curies were discovering polonium, filmmakers were beginning to make motion pictures.