Ask a Science Blogger: Race for the Overpriced VHS Tape.

What movie do you think does something admirable (though not necessarily accurate) regarding science? Bonus points for answering whether the chosen movie is any good generally....

My tastes in sci-fi movies are similar to PZ's, and likewise, are indefensible. Heck, I'm a fan of SciFi Originals, and really, I don't think Mansquito did much to advance the cause of science. As usual, there was a big bad corporation behind the metamorphosis of man to skeeter. I mean, what's up with this? Always with the evil drug company and its secret formulas which turn people into large insects or werebeagles.

Anyway, my selection of "a movie which does something admirable for science" is not sci-fi, but more of a biographical flick:The Race for the Double Helix starring Jeff Goldblum as Jim Watson, Tim Pigott-Smith (remember Jewel in the Crown?) as Francis Crick and Juliet Stevenson as Rosalind Franklin. This made-for-TV movie was originally aired on the BBC and then on PBS in 1987. It's well done, and tells a good story in the realm of Real Science. So, yes, it is admirable, and given its popularity in biology classrooms, it's surely a paragon of good scientific cinema.

I found The Race for the Double Helix to be genuinely entertaining. I really liked Goldblum's and Pigott-Smith's portrayals of Watson and Crick although I heard Jim Watson grousing about the casting of Goldblum, i.e., "he's not like me at all." Stevenson's portrayal of Franklin is excellent. In France, Franklin is engaged in her work, at ease with her colleagues, and seems genuninely happy. In England, with the hovering Maurice Wilkins, she is closed, dour, snappish with her male colleagues and fiercely protective of her research. And with good reason. Wilkins, as portrayed in the film, is the archetype of what I call "the project vampire." Scientists (male or female) of this ilk latch themselves on to the work of another scientist individually, or to a team, and manage to gather credit and recognition for little to no accomlishment of their own. I expect many of us have encountered project vampires so perhaps the Franklin-Wilkins tension as shown in the movie hits too close to home.

I recommend the movie, but be aware that if you don't have access to a biology classroom and educator's horde of cool teaching materials, then you'll pay a pretty penny for a scratchy VHS tape, er, like I did. Oddly enough, the Race for the Double Helix is not available as a a DVD, only as a VHS tape. And it's costly, too. Rumor has it that the company which produced the video realized it had a cash cow on its hands since The Race is often purchased in VHS form by schools for use in classrooms.

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I loved Goldbum cutting his cardboard pieces for the models and chewing gum in rythm to his scissors. Also the scene where they are buying brews in the pub telling everyone that they just discovered the mystery of life. I thought it was an excellent movie as well. Franklin looked like the perfectionist and methodologist of the whole group, not being able to deal with the little boys.