Stupid Scientists – The Unnecessary Trope

(Yeah this might be something that I could use to contribute, but I’ll see about actually being good at that if I can make a habit of posting once a week…)

So this is something that’s always annoyed me in a lot of sci-fi movies as of late: Scientists doing stupid things.

Oh. Spoilers ahead.

Two movies come to mind with this: Prometheus and The Cloverfield Paradox. Alien Covenant is also one, actually, but because I’m not willing to subject myself to it, I won’t be complaining–I mean referring to it in this.

So what is this Stupid Scientist trope? It’s the one where we have a movie full of intelligent people who got degrees and, theoretically, training, proceeding to do the exact opposite of what you’d think they’d have been trained to not do or have the intelligence to not do.

A common defense I’ve seen crop up recently with all of this is “Well, they’re human and we all make mistakes!”

Except, I think, that is an extremely weak excuse.

Let’s begin with Prometheus.

Scientists step on alien planet. What do the scanners say?* The air is breathable hooray helmets off–

Wait no what are you doing.

What about fungus? Bacteria? Those exist in atmospheres that are mostly nitrogen with enough oxygen to not catch on fire when you go on a smoke break! (Not a Covenant reference, I swear). … Heck those things probably exist on way more planets than we think they do.

But the point is is that is not a “oh human mistake” that’s a “The audience member with minimal background in science knows this is stupid so maybe the scientists shouldn’t do it either” mistake. It served no other purpose than to get the actors to take off their helmets and look pretty for the camera. (Why didn’t the costume department just make better looking suits or something? We have tech where you can see what people are dreaming–can’t we have fashionable suits?)

Another issue in Prometheus:

The biologist. The damn Biologist.

So in the defense of the people on this trip, they didn’t quite know what they signed up for. Fine. Maybe that’s to imply the people are actually stupid and bottom of the barrel. Too bad the movie never did more to show that.

What’s wrong with the biologist? Well when they come across a pile of dead aliens his response is to run away screaming.

What happens when he encounters a real, live penis-shaped cobra making threat displays? Well he sticks his face in it and gets killed. Like a moron.

Oh and let’s not  forget that the map guy/geologist guy managed to sneak weed onto an expensive space trip, got high, and couldn’t read his own maps after that. Or what about Shaw’s husband–hey there’s a freaky worm in my eye guess I’ll ignore it!

Admittedly out of all these things, that one’s rather human, but surrounded by the rest of the stupidity, it was just another eye-rolling moment of dumb to put up with.

So how about a look at The Cloverfield Paradox!

Where to begin.

Alright, let’s go with just the initial fiasco. The scientists activate The Thingy and The Thingy does its thing and BOOM the earth’s gone.

Oh no.

Do they:
a) Panic and freak out and blame each other
b) Panic, calm down, and accept their probably-soon deaths
c) Panic, calm down, and remember they’re all trained to be in space and decide to check the constellations and see if they’re even in the same galaxy?

Did you pick ‘C’?


A. The answer was A. And it was so stupid. Of course none of them could have predicted activating The Thingy would have transported them to another universe and on the other side of the sun. That’s fine. Nobody had to know that.

But what would have been nice is if they went “Wait let’s do all the checks to see if we know where we are” like maybe check for any recognizable quasars or neutron stars or nebulae or something. Instead, no, they start insulting each other and blaming the other for being a spy to ruin everything Because Reasons.

Drama is fun. The movie could have had some really good tension and still have them do smart things. In fact, that would make things even more intense and terrifying–the smart people do smart things and still suffer and die.

To say scientists are human and make mistakes is important for the movie, but if the plot revolves around the really smart humans doing really dumb things that half the audience can see is stupid, then the writing or story or both are weak and need work.

I like seeing characters be human. What I don’t like is being told Main Character Hot Pants is smart and then watch them make as many stupid decisions as they can before the resolution of the film. At least do something where the movie itself is self aware if that has to happen. But that doesn’t seem to be the case and, quite frankly, this is a factor for why I don’t go to the movies.

…And this might explain why The Cloverfield Paradox was straight to Netflix.




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