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Shown Their Work: Film
  • Before making Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick and several of his collaborators read dozens of reports made by the Air Force and the RAND Corporation. Dr. Strangelove himself is caricature of Wernher von Braun, Edward Teller, Herman Kahn and John von Neumann (but not, as often thought, Henry Kissinger, who wasn't widely known outside of academic circles at the time). Interestingly it was Kahn who suggested the Doomsday Machine, which was exactly the kind of defense that Herman Kahn fought against in his work. This attention to the smallest technical and military details is where the film gets its infamous nervous humor. Additionally, at the time of the filming, the interior of a B-52 was highly classified. The film crew made up the layout and look by extrapolation from the older B-29, and laid out the floor plan based on the external measurements of the 52. They did such a good job, the Air Force was concerned briefly that they had an insider source.
  • Along with Arthur C. Clarke, Kubrick made the same effort with 2001: A Space Odyssey, in regards to space travel and general scientific accuracy, even though the atomic-powered spaceship does not have radiator fins to get rid of the reactor's waste heat. The makers intentionally left them off, because after a decade teaching the public that there is no air in space, they didn't want them wondering why the spacecraft has wings.
  • The makers of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World extended Patrick O'Brian's already-extensive shown work by digging deep into history for minute costume and hairstyle details (subsequently rendered in period-appropriate materials with period-appropriate techniques), the inner and outer workings of period-specific tall ships (they fired actual cannons to get the sound effect right), and cultural miscellany to illustrate the backdrop of the film. All extras and actors filmed aboard the ship were put through a "boot camp" to prepare them for their shipboard duties, and most of the filming actually took place at sea aboard a replica of an 18th-century tall ship.
  • The Galaxy Song in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life is pretty damn accurate for being a joke in a humour movie. Eric Idle has performed that song several times since it was in the movie, and where people have given him better approximations for the distances and speeds mentioned, he sometimes works them in. Remember, they were graduates of Cambridge.
    • Similarly, as Eric Idle was a historian, many of the details in Monty Python's Life of Brian were accurate to the letter, such as the fact that it was considered sophisticated in Roman society to have a speech impediment (but not so among the common folk), everything the Romans did for the civilizations they conquered, and the Latin grammar.
  • Once showcases Glen Hansard's knowledge of the minutiae of busking, such as cover versions earning far more than original songs.
  • Since it was a Deconstructive Parody, the creators of Hot Fuzz spent a good deal of time in research and interviews of actual police forces, which doesn't become fully noticeable until you see the "Fuzz Fact" commentary. For instance, they were spot-on about all the politically-correct vocabulary guidelines, and the "unofficial punishments" of making officers buy donuts and ice-cream for minor offences such as forgetting their hats. The scenes where the officers are filling paperwork were added specifically because the cops they interviewed lamented that paperwork is the biggest facet of the job and the one least seen in the media.
  • A lot of stuff in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is very well-researched. For example, historical accounts of the real-world Blackbeard do mention him never showing his face to the crew, singeing his own beard to inspire terror, and possibly indulging in sorcery.
  • The Matrix Reloaded features a brief glimpse of Trinity hacking a power grid mainframe. Compared with most films' dumbed-down portrayals of "hacking a computer", this instance is remarkably realistic, despite being on-screen for only a few seconds, and references actual hacking tools and known security vulnerabilities (circa 2001). It is likely the creators felt the need to "get it right" since the concept of computer hacking is a central theme in the Matrix films.
  • The 1983 film WarGames was remarkably accurate in its portrayal of how David does hacking, even if the capabilities of the computers themselves was beyond the reality of the time. Though even the writers acknowledge that Joshua should not have been speaking at NORAD, but the viewer is used to hearing the voice.
  • Many reviewers criticized the fourth Rambo film for its "excessive" Gorn in the finale and for Rambo not dying from nuclear fallout after running from the mushroom cloud-producing Tall Boy explosion. The problem is, the movie depicted both of these things as very true-to-life. The .50 Browning M2 Rambo uses in the climax really will do that kind of damage to a human body (it fires a big bullet, developed for use on tanks) and the Tall Boy bomb was the largest conventional —not nuclear— explosive used in WWII and, as such, will indeed form a mushroom cloud. One marine even wrote to Stallone to comment on how impressed he was with the realistic depiction of the machine gun's effects.
  • Jurassic Park is quite famous for its realistic depiction of dinosaurs. Not only did the movie have spectacular effects and animatronics but their movement, according to experts, was also modeled quite realistically. Bipedals run like bipedals and T. Rex takes the right stance when lowers its head to feed or bite the car's tires in its first attack. The animators did in-depth research about the movement of the dinosaurs and tested things on themselves like running and jumping obstacles, before animating the scene with the flock of Gallimimuses (being bipedal species). However, the film did take liberties with the sizes of some dinosaurs, and science marched on regarding other aspects.
  • Historical changes/inaccuracies aside in Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe's The Last Samurai, a lot of details - from architecture to Ujio's simple tea ceremony - was studied meticulously, as noted in the Official Movie Guide. When the Japanese extras were brought to the village set in New Zealand, many of the older ones teared up because of how accurate the set designers and builders had created the buildings, citing that the housings looked like how their grandparents' villages did.
  • Insecurity has a very realistic depiction of hacking. The writer and director is a professional computer programmer, and the actors were capable of writing authentic code on-screen. If you know a little about computers, it is a very rewarding movie.
  • The rocket launch sequence in Fritz Lang's Woman in the Moon - in spite of the fact that rockets don't need to be submerged in water - was extremely accurate and done entirely to justify the studio's hiring of German rocket scientists for the production. This probably makes it the best scene in the film as it contrasts with how much Lang's wife/coauthor Thea von Harbou made up convenient things about the moon: she depicts it with normal gravity, gold-filled caves, and a perfectly breathable atmosphere (what's more, it's a perfect half-atmosphere which exists only on the far side of the moon). All these ideas would have been considered ludicrous even at the time of the film's release.
  • At the Pearl Harbor memorial base, there is an informative video that tourists can watch that gives a detailed analysis of the battle, including, at one point, a complete survey of the defenses that they had in place which made them confident that they could resist an attack. The Ben Affleck film Pearl Harbor had a character awkwardly quote it word-for-word.
  • X-Men:
    • The screenwriters of X2: X-Men United did research on how to blow up a dam for the climactic scenes of the movie; this went mostly unremarked upon in the film (though no doubt the director and effects artists got some use out of it), but was described at some length in the novelization.
    • A minor instance in X-Men: First Class; Xavier's paper on mutation that we hear mentions that neanderthals were probably exterminated by their "mutated" cousins homo sapiens. While modern research indicates that it was more likely the two interbred, at the time of the film (the 60s) the theory was not yet established at large. Notably in X2, Storm recites the interbreeding theory to the class at the start of the film, making this double as a Call Forward.
  • Ghostbusters, of all movies, goes to great lengths to show its work, at least when it comes to parapsychology. The script didn't invent ectoplasm: according to parapsychology, it's the residue of telekinetic contact, and having it appear as a result of spectral contact isn't much of a stretch. Virtually every paranormal event Egon and Ray reference, from the symmetrical bookstacking case to The Tunguska Event, are all real events (although Ray misstates the year of Tunguska), and the way Peter handles Dana's possession, though played for laughs, follows the advice of both exorcists and secular psychologists about never letting the alternate personality intimidate or take control of the situation. And if there's any doubt that Dana's apartment building was indeed built as a portal for the fictional Sumerian god Gozer, it's dispelled by the fact that the top of the building is an accurate recreation of a Sumerian ziggurat. Most of this research comes from co-creator Dan Aykroyd, whose enthusiasm for the paranormal inspired the movie in the first place. In fact, his father wrote some of his research material.
  • Sneakers is a very accurate depiction of cryptology and hacking. It, in fact, literally shows its work: in one scene, a character is using an overhead projector and transparencies. The mathematics there were written by the movie's consultant, Dr. Len Adleman. As in, Rivest-Shamir-Adleman encryption. Even the magic decryption box is fairly plausible. Like every cryptographic algorithm ever invented except one (one time pad cryptography), public key cryptography has yet to be proven secure. If someone figured out how to reduce the time complexity of prime factorization from exponential to polynomial time, they might be able to decrypt things that we currently consider to be completely secure.
  • The Apollo 13 movie. There are a few technical inaccuracies and blended characters and such, but these are primarily in service to the Artistic License and Rule of Drama. Ron Howard (the director) and Tom Hanks, in the "making of Apollo 13" documentary which was part of the collector's edition, were referred to as the "accuracy police" by someone who worked on it. The actor who played the flight director compared working on the film to cramming for finals - getting all this information in their heads and focusing on it the night before they did it. They even had Dave Scott, commander of Apollo 15, there every day to make sure that they flipped the right switches and everything.
    Scott: "I'm really impressed with the authenticity of the way they're doing this. They're so interested in getting this accurate and precise down to not only the word, but the inflection of the word and the meaning behind the word."
    • The misquote of Lovell saying "Houston, we have a problem" rather than "Houston, we've had a problem" has been stated to have been intentional, with the reasoning being that they didn't like the use of past tense, for whatever reason (perhaps Rule of Drama, to keep the audience's tension in the moment).
    • The set for Mission Control was so faithful to the original that at least one real-life Mission Control tech from NASA, who was brought in to evaluate the set, caught himself expecting the elevator from the NASA building when he left through the side door.
  • Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes shows an incredible amount of knowledge of, not only the original novels, but 1800's London and some other Holmes media. Considering Guy Ritchie and the screen writer are fans and that many of people who worked on the film have shown a good deal of knowledge on the books, it should be of no surprise. Sadly, due to the many unfaithful adaptions of Sherlock Holmes, many people have taken accurate things as Holmes being a bohemian, Holmes's skill at boxing, sword fighting and martial arts, Watson being a lady's man and a man of action, Holmes using a revolver, Holmes's sense of humor, Holmes's sunglasses and hat, Watson's pet pitbull, and so on as being inaccurate when the makers of the film should be getting credit for showing that they know their Holmes.
  • Tremors shows some good research in Burt Gummer; he and his wife debate the utility of a .223 AR-15 vs. a .375 H&H bolt gun, and the Wrong Goddamned Rec Room has not only a Dillon progressive reloading press but a very large vibratory case cleaner. Also, as one would expect from a man like Burt, he's completely aware of and obeys proper gun safety measures. They also do pretty well with their geology terminology.
  • Pixar has become noted for this, especially in some of their most recent films. Some highlights: (just watch the DVD extras for all the details)
    • In Toy Story, animators wore shoes bolted to 2x4s to figure out how toy soldiers would actually walk.
    • Coral reefs and particularly how things move underwater for Finding Nemo.
    • Cars is full of an astounding amount of detail. The King is Richard Petty's iconic 1970 Plymouth Superbird, down to virtually every detail, and his crash at the end of the film is a chillingly exact recreation of Petty's 1988 Daytona 500 crash. (Now watch the movie again and realize that that crash actually happened, with a person inside the car and try not to get goosebumps.) The sound engineers recorded engine sounds of the exact make and models of each kind of car featured in the film so they would sound exactly right even though virtually none of the audience would know any difference. The King's wife is voiced by Petty's Real Life wife and was modeled after the car Mrs. Petty drove in to follow her husband to races earlier in his career.
    • In Ratatouille,
      • Pixar consulted with chefs and restaurateurs and key animators took gourmet cooking classes to make sure they could get as much right about the way a restaurant works as possible. They even got a haute cuisine chef to show how the craft works and used Collette's mentoring montage to show that research off. Every scene that sets up how the restaurant operates is true to life. Up to and including how a restaurant deals with pushy big-name food critics.
      • For the scene where Linguini jumps into the river after Remy, one of the animators jumped into a pool wearing a chef's uniform so they could accurately portray a soaking wet uniform.
      • Even the rats' social organization underwent a little research, as they properly refer to their group as a "colony" rather than a pack, and don't have obvious leaders aside from older rats advising their children.
    • The WALL•E crew spent considerable time studying and using actual film cameras like the 70mm Panavision and consulted with famous cinematographers Roger Deakens and Dennis Muren to make the the movie appear as if it had been filmed rather than rendered. (These experts noted wryly that many of the effects Pixar used — like lens flare, motion blur, and limited focus — had been viewed by camera-using cinematographers as errors to be avoided, eliminated, or minimized whenever possible.) They also spent a lot of research on silent acting, because of the limited expressions of WALL•E and EVE. In fact, the little dialogue in the film, and how they got WALL•E and EVE to express so much emotion despite not having faces, is what got the movie so much praise.
    • Not only is Elastigirl's radio chatter while flying a plane in The Incredibles accurate, Holly Hunter researched what the jargon actually meant, meaning it sounds realistic as well. The only snag was substituting the aircraft's tail number from the "proper" N-number so that it could be a Shout-Out.
    • Several Pixar artists went to a South American plateau for a realistic look and inspiration for Up (not exactly a day trip). The rock shaped like a turtle is based on a real rock they saw, as well as the rock they mistook for a person. Considering how alien and fantastic the place looked, it is amazing when you realize how accurate it is, especially since very few people would be able to notice any inaccuracy. Even the seemingly random changes in the film's weather (such as how quickly mist clears away) is actually par for the course on those real-life plateaus; according to the DVD commentary, the research team almost got trapped there because of sudden rainstorms.
    • An archery teacher who watched Brave's trailer commended the film for showing the characters who get their archery wrong do it in the right ways, the way real novice archers mess up, while the main character does it right in the right ways, right down to the nonintuitive slow-motion physics of archery.
  • Steve McQueen's 1970 Le Mans would have made a perfectly good documentry. Half the film is the real race anyway, and posterity would've loved to have Steve McQueen interviewing the drivers of the time.
  • Gattaca has a close to perfect depiction of a leg lengthening device. It's also in general one of the most realistic depictions of genetic engineering in all of fiction. Years after it was made, most of its ideas about genetics continue to hold true, and its basic premise of a class-based liberal eugenics society is terrifyingly plausible.
  • The film version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a scaled-up but otherwise beautifully accurate version of the New York storm drain system as a major set piece.
  • The military chatter heard throughout in Transformers is real. Michael Bay specifically asked his extras (most of whom are played by real US soldiers) to simply say and do exactly what they normally would do in the situation presented in the script. It also features many accurate military maneuvers and procedures quoted and carried out. The shot of Devastator "waking up" had to be re-rendered by ILM because, as Michael Bay pointed out, the motion blur and depth of field weren't consistent with an I-MAX camera, which is what the other shots in that scene were filmed using. This is the same Devastator that destroys computers when they try to render a frame of him.
  • The makers of the film Gojira did a lot of hard work to make the aftermath of Godzilla's attack on Tokyo look eerily similar to what Hiroshima and Nagasaki looked like after they were hit by the atomic bomb. Considering the original film is an allegory about the horrors of atomic warfare, yeah...
  • While not always accurate, Osmosis Jones portrays human physiology rather more correctly than a cartoon about a talking white blood cell might be expected to. When reminiscing about his family's history on the police force/immune system, Jones refers to his ancestors having come over on the umbilical cord; before it has bone marrow, a human embryo's blood cells really are manufactured in a yolk sac, which connects to the belly via the umbilical cord (as does the placenta). The creators also worked with a real martial arts expert to accurately portray Thrax's fighting style.
  • The creators of the original The Wicker Man did extensive research on the religion of pre-Christian Celts. Unfortunately they did the research on the work of Sir James Frazer, who himself was only talking in terms of 'probability' rather than 'actuality' and only intended his work to be supporting evidence for the earlier work done by Sir John Rhys. Accuracy of both is debated.
  • The Terminal portrays secondary language acquisition very correctly. In addition, Viktor Navorski's native language is very consistent with what Eastern European languages are like (it's a dialect of Bulgarian). Tom Hanks' wife, Rita Wilson, is of Bulgarian descent and so Hanks went to her for voice coaching.
  • For In the Loop, director Armando Iannucci ensured he could create a realistic portrayal of the US State Department by illegally infiltrating it. He later described this extreme research as "probably international espionage."
  • The story of the Titanic in A Night to Remember was based on the official findings of the inquiry into the disaster and is widely hailed as the most realistic depiction. The only real error it makes is showing the ship sinking in one piece. But statements that it broke into two pieces were, at best, disputed at the time the movie was made, and that the Titanic broke into two pieces before it sank was only confirmed in 1985 when the wreckage was discovered.
  • And speaking of the RMS Titanic, James Cameron's blockbuster film featured a re-creation of the doomed ship so authentic that, when he flooded the set to film the ship going under water, real-life Titanic salvagers derived a new explanation of what happened to the spiral staircase based on what happened to the set.
  • The film of The Good Earth is painstakingly accurate to the actual look of turn-of-the-century Chinese rural life, notably including in the beginning a scene of Wang Lung's neighbors operating a traditional Chinese foot-powered water mill, despite being filmed in 1937. (Originally they wanted to cast only Chinese actors, as well, but the studio declared that apparently American audiences weren't ready for that.)
  • Inception is a film that runs on Applied Phlebotinum, but that's not to say everything is handwaved away. Christopher Nolan consulted with several PhD or MD-holding psychologists and somatic experts to come up with the various things characters do within dreams. The DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film include a documentary called "Dreams: The Cinema of the Subconscious", in which these experts are interviewed. Among them is notable "lucid dreamer" Alan Worsley, who was the first to use eye-movement as a signal to those in the real world that he was aware that he was dreaming. The concept of the "totems" is also based on "reality-checking", which is how lucid dreamers tell if they are in a dream or reality, since the brain can't differentiate between the two.
  • My Cousin Vinny is one of the more accurate depictions of the U.S. legal system, regarding procedure and attorney conduct. It is even listed by the American Bar Association as one of the top "Courtroom Films".
  • The makers went to great lengths to accurately build a German POW camp for The Great Escape. Of course, it did help that several of the actors had been prisoners of war during WW 2. Donald Pleasance, who had been in a German POW camp, made a few suggestions to John Sturges, who wasn't aware of that fact, and was told to keep his opinions to himself. However, when the director learned that Donald Pleasence knew what he was talking about, he was asked for advice all the time.
  • Many Michael Mann movies fall into this category, but special mention must go to Heat and Collateral. In the DVD commentary for his 1981 movie Thief, Mann explains that several former Chicago thieves and police detectives consulted for the movie and even acted in several of the roles (most of the former thieves portrayed cops in the film, and vice versa), lending their techincal expertise and knowledge of real-life criminal and law enforcement tactics to enhance the accuracy and realism of the film.
  • No funeral pyres to see in Immortals; Theseus buries his mother exactly the way the Greeks buried their dead in 13th century B.C.: the completely shrouded corpse laid to rest in a vault inside a massive tomb... which is where the film's MacGuffin happens to be.
  • During the production of The Way of the Gun, director Christopher McQuarrie's brother, an expert in firearms training and squad tactics, was brought onboard as a firearms supervisor and consultant - and it shows. Throughout the film, Parker and Longbaugh use effective movement tactics (the "Move-Moving" scene), perform the correct close-quarters entry procedures whenever they enter a room, use tactical reloads and generally perform as a cohesive pair of experienced weapon operators. McQuarrie points out during the DVD Commentary that proper Gun Safety is observed as well. For instance, Ryan Philippe keeps his finger off the trigger when not firing.
  • In the original RoboCop (1987), a sequence depicting Alex Murphy's transport to a Detroit hospital doesn't use actors for the team that brings him into the operating room - it's an actual trauma team using real terminology ("Let's shock a flatline and quit...") and proper medical and diagnosis procedures.
  • The writers of Contagion consulted real-life epidemiologists when writing their script. If you know anything about epidemic disease, it's possible to appreciate the movie on a whole additional level.
  • Sucker Punch: The girls keep their rifles on their shoulders, roll in their steps rather than bouncing, and never cross lines of fire when clearing a room (and clearing the room they went from cover to cover, interlocking fields of fire). The firearms savvy troper will recognize EoTech holographic sites, historically accurate firearms (even the Samurai's 20mm version minigun), and a suppressed M4. Even handling a semi-automatic firearm, Baby Doll only crosses her thumbs in back once, but with hands that tiny it's believable she didn't catch the Colt Hammer Bite (when the slide comes back in the cycling of the action and cleaves any flesh in its way).
  • Captain America: The First Avenger is extremely accurate: the scene on the Italian front presents units that were on that front, many of HYDRA weapons were actual Nazi attempted superweapons (in-universe made possible by the power of the Tesseract), two of the HYDRA bases were Peenemünde, site of the developement of the V-2, and the Riese Facility, where the Nazi were rumored to work on some superweapon...
    • As an added bonus: the real-life bombing of Peenemünde was codenamed Operation Hydra.
  • The exchange between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner in The Avengers regarding the Coulomb barrier and the quantum tunneling effect is at the very least in the neighborhood of plausibility.
  • In Disney's Tangled, the tactics used by Mother Gothel on Rapunzel are disturbingly accurate, such as Gothel's refined verbal and emotional abuse, lying to her "daughter" and trying to make Rapunzel dependent on her. There's some Fridge Brilliance in this as well, as the way Rapunzel reacts and behaves throughout the movie (with mood swings etc.) resembles how a victim of lifelong emotional abuse would realistically behave.
  • During the closing credits of Argo the moviemakers show off a little by juxtaposing shots from the movie with photos of the actual people and events the story was based on. Some of them are amazingly close to reality.
  • Dreamworks nails it with How to Train Your Dragon. Toothless' movements, behavior and flight reflect a myriad of animal behaviors, and as such comes off as one of the most "realistic" dragons.
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a Film Noir pretty much dedicated to Raymond Chandler, contains numerous allusions to his books and Philip Marlowe series; it's especially notable, however, in that each of the movies' chapters are titles of a Chandler book.note invoked
  • For Das Boot, the filmmakers painstakingly recreated both the interior and the exterior of a German Type VII U-boat. Only one minor allowance to the set was made (a section of the control room wall could be removed to allow cameras), but that was only used once. Also, the film was made mostly in chronological order. The cast was kept indoors throughout the shooting so that their increasing pallor would reflect the complexion changes a real U-boat crew would go through.
  • Iron Man 2 : Vanko's tattoos were modeled after real Russian prison tattoos, which have different designs depending on things such as the length of the prison sentence.
  • Pacific Rim: Detonating a nuclear bomb underwater results in a void being created by all the water being pushed away. The void bubble eventually collapses and the water comes rushing back in a few seconds later. Also, Hannibal Chau's tattoos are based on real prison tattoos, intended to have specific meanings.
  • Blood Of The Vampire is set during the 1880s, during a time when blood types had not been discovered yet; Dr. Callistratus even points that out to the protagonist when hiring him.
  • Lucky Bastard is a found-footage horror film that takes place on the set of a porn shoot. The filmmakers labored long and hard to accurately depict what happens during such a shoot, both in front of and behind the camera: production snafus, rampant piracy, and the blasé attitudes of all involved.
  • Into The Storm is practically impeccable in historical accuracy. They get even tiny details (such as the name of Churchill's butlers and his favorite film) entirely correctly.
  • Godzilla (2014):
    • According to this news article, Gareth Edwards and his crew prepared for the monster fights by studying footage of animals fighting, so Godzilla's fighting style is based off of those of real life animals such as bears and komodo dragons.
    • There's also the tsunami scene which begins when all of the water on the beach is retreating far beyond where it normally would, heading out to sea. This is an actual sign of an incoming tsunami.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord flies through the cold vacuum of space in what amounts to a space helmet and street clothes. He also removes his mask to save Gamora. The media in general likes to depict exposure to space immediately resulting in your blood boiling over, your skin instantly freezing, your eyes popping out of your head, etc. None of that actually happens right away. This movie shows what actually happens accurately, with the two surviving long enough to be picked up.
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