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In the movie and TV industry, pretty much everyone agrees that science and technology are not depicted accurately most of the time. The problem is so big that it is a huge selling point nowadays when a movie has accurate science or technology.

I am not talking about small offenses, like a computer hacker's code being stock useless code grabbed online, or the hacking itself to be too easy. The reason for that is because it would make the plot to convoluted or boring otherwise.

But in some situations, the setting is treated as realistic, yet it is outrageously ridiculous and a slap in the face of anyone who ever skimmed the wikipedia page of the subject.

An example of that would be in the TV show "Arrow", during season 6, there is an episode where a hacker is threatening to "destroy the internet", and through some technobabble, they end up fighting in the "International Domain Name Directory vault" which is conveniently a place "that holds all sections of the internet".

You could give 20$ to a CS student to get him to skim the script and he'd be able to tell you this is ridiculously stupid within 20 minutes.

This is far from the only example of such things. TvTropes calls it "Artistic License: X" where X is the field of study that the writers obviously know nothing about. The fields include Computer Science, Biology, History, Law, and many more.

I would understand a mistake every now and then, but the problem is so widespread that it makes me wonder:

Why isn't it standard practice for studios to dedicate a (small, there's no need for anything even remotely close to CGI or actor budget) part of the budget to hiring professionals, or even interns, that could point out when something makes no sense at all?

Is there any big studio that ever addressed the problem and why they are not trying (or maybe just failing?) to fix it?

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    Because the effect would probably be so low as to not be measurable where it matters to them ... their profit margin. – iandotkelly Sep 4 '18 at 18:41
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    Expanding on iandotkelly's comment, I think its a weighing of costs. I do think that when the main plot of a show relies on the technical details, then its worth having an expert come in and consult on those details. But when its a smaller detail then its not worth the cost when most people won't know the difference and those who do are likely to simply suspend their reality and understand that they're watching a movie. – sanpaco Sep 4 '18 at 19:10
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    Agreed. Don't get me wrong I do understand where you are coming from, as a developer I find depictions of computer science and hacking to be cringeworthy in 98% of movies, but people like me a a relatively small part of the audience, and we put up with it anyway. – iandotkelly Sep 4 '18 at 19:27
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    "it is a huge selling point nowadays when a movie has accurate science or technology." Says who? People aren't going to suddenly watch a movie because it has accurate science, or ignore it because it hasn't. – BCdotWEB Sep 4 '18 at 21:13
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    "it is a huge selling point nowadays when a movie has accurate science or technology" - Perhaps, but I would say that any movie or TV programme that uses this selling point does hire someone to verify the science & technology in the script (Mr. Robot being the famous example). In most cases, the plot and drama are more important than whether the technology works in real life as depicted on the screen. – colmde Sep 5 '18 at 13:18
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The TLDR version of this comes down to "does it really matter"

Some do their due diligence. But without some intense auditing, you might be throwing money into a pit given just how much of your audience either doesn't know, doesn't care, or may not be able to understand it no matter how hard you try to explain.

That show The Big Bang Theory has some hype about it making the inside jokes viable where much of the science is reportedly true. However, they make grave errors constantly. "Klingon Boggle" - every trekkie alive knows Klingon is not a written language. Did the writers know that? Maybe, maybe not. But I'm sure they did know that nobody who doesn't know that would care, and anyone who does would either assume the characters made their own way to make it written for their purposes, or the fan base would delight in finding errors in a show that's supposed to be so correct.

So in short, it's most likely a cost that doesn't pay off unless your thing is accuracy. Like how some actors do their own stunts just to say they do. Well, if you boast your precision, and you're wrong once, guess what you'll be remembered for.

Side note - I've often wondered whether or not the actors have ever called out a script when they know it's wrong. Do they have a say? Have they ever swayed the script because of something they noticed? Who knows?

  • "Klingon is not a written language" — petaQ! – jwodder Sep 4 '18 at 23:51
  • @jwodder - from that link "It should be noted that the movies and shows just use the characters randomly, for effect." - This is what I mean. There is no correlation between the written and spoken language. This has always been known and never attempted to be corrected in universe. There's really no point. You can, however, become quite fluent in the language as that is much more complete than any written evolution. – Kai Qing Sep 4 '18 at 23:55
  • And a side note, in the song Howard sings to Bernadette in quarantine he has a line that is correct Klingon spoken. They took the time to get that right. – Kai Qing Sep 5 '18 at 1:47
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In some cases, works of fiction, including science fiction, are not solely about reflecting our real-world reality, as much as it's about relating to the experience of a character or characters, going on a journey with them, often amplified through some kind of extraordinary situation and/or executed with good plotting.

What I came to understand that, in the end, for a wider audience, the single most important caveat for writing science fiction is to remember your premise is ultimately simply a tool for placing characters in situations that we as human beings could not experience except in science fiction.

Science fiction allows fathers to become younger than their sons. It allows long-lost loved ones to return from the dead. It allows us to come into conflict with duplicates of ourselves. It allows us to go back in time and rectify the mistakes of the past. How these things happen, for the most part, doesn’t really matter to most audiences. Science fiction stories are the new fairy tales – and in fairy tales we rarely get any details about how the magician cast his spell. I learned this lesson the hard way – through years of wasted work – and it’s something I must remind myself of all the time.

A lot of science-fiction is genre fiction or speculative fiction and the science-fiction aspects tend to act more as a plot device, as means for the characters to go through things and challenge their identities.

There's surely a difference between something like Fringe, Agent Carter, or Arrow compared to something like Westworld, Mr. Robot, or Man in the High Castle in the sense that the first three are on network TV.

Network TV tends to gear to younger demographic as their target audience and their execs push for hybrid of episodic and serialized story structure, where many of their shows don't become more serialized until later seasons. Although they can be more expensive to produce than other network shows, they are still cheaper than those on premium cable and streaming.

However all six of these shows, despite that the last three mentioned come off as more real, having higher production budgets, being better scientifically researched, are not limited to PG 14 standards, and with heavy psychological and nuanced approach to their respected subject matter that is often blended with greater real-world complications, all tend to care a great deal about character over accuracy in technology or technological advancement.

Critical Response: Season one received favorable reviews, with a Metacritic score of 73 out of 100, based on reviews from 25 critics, making it the highest rated CW show in five years.[81][82] Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes calculated an approval rating of 86%, based on 35 reviews, for the first season. The site's consensus reads: "The CW nails the target with Arrow, a comic book-inspired series that benefits from cinematic action sequences, strong plotting, and intriguing characters

Broadly using your example of Arrow, Arrow is a genre sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero TV series featured on the CW. The CW, even more than the other networks, is geared towards a very young, and often female audience and is often thought to be their marketing success:

And it isn’t just the visuals that make The CW’s programming so effective. Unlike some of the more procedural dramas on other networks, The CW’s shows all make character-driven storytelling a priority. Even on the most formulaic of its shows—i.e. The Flash, which employs both a police procedural and supervillain-of-the-week structure—character rules.

The CW has a reputation for and history of romance drama, and perhaps this is directly related to its prioritization of character over action. Last week, NPR’s Linda Holmes lamented the dearth of family drama on television today. She dug out Ken Tucker's decades-old assessment of TV drama for Entertainment Weekly as divided into two categories: the drama of action and the drama of emotions. Most of The CW’s programming employs both kinds of TV drama in fun and compelling ways, but—when it comes down to it—these shows care about emotion first, and that’s what makes them great. And, until recently, unfairly stigmatized.

Catering to a younger, often female audience.

The CW manages to stay on television despite relatively low ratings because of its success in the coveted 18-49 demographic. And though the network has increased the number of men watching with the introduction of Arrow and The Flash, a majority of those viewers are still women. Perhaps this is why The CW is full of female characters and that shows with female leads don’t become That Show With the Female Lead.

But really, in most cases, it's about the experience and how the science-fiction, fantasy, or metaphysics is applied to the story and how the characters deal with it that makes many works so compelling. That's not to say that there shouldn't also be works that are more contemporarily accurate like The Martian, but I think fiction is about our humanity and how we respond to all of our problems, weaknesses, or flaws.


As an aside, I did catch consultant "Futurist" Amy Webb on NPR last night who advises on many television shows, including the upcoming The First, which is premiering on Hulu. Some evidence again that high productions on streaming/premium cable can more easily afford consultants!

I consult on TV shows and movies, helping talented show runners, writers, producers and production staff see the future. Most recently, I worked with Beau Willimon and his team on The First, which is his upcoming series on Hulu and portrays members of a team of astronauts as they become the first humans to visit Mars. It’s set in the year 2031 and it stars Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone.

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It’s because it’s expensive. You say you could give them 20$ but supply and demand my friend. As more movies did it those interns and whatnot would realize they could charge more. Also saying it’s ridiculous doesn’t mean they can fix it since they don’t know what to fix. So then you would have to pay them to tell you what’s wrong then how to fix it then run this through with all the necessary people and etc etc. it would take to much time and money and most people don’t care anyway.

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Films aren't too bad at using experts as you suggest but most TV shows, in the US anyway, are often 20+ episodes per season and they barely have time to get the scripts written let alone checked first.

  • That's a good point about "development" and/or "production" time, since many premium cable or streaming shows don't have to abide by "seasonal" standards of network TV. – Darth Locke Sep 5 '18 at 15:56

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