Popcorn Biology: Ferocious Planet (2010)

Ferocious Planet

One has to admit that the poster is pretty cool.

Welcome back to Popcorn Biology, where I try to analyze sci-fi movies (old or new, awesome or silly) and their often bizarre and of course not entirely correct take on the world of biology. This time, we have a low budget tv movie called Ferocious Planet; and while maybe it isn’t Alien, it certainly is a lot more fun and surprisingly much more well done than the average SharkacondaCroctopus mess regoularly dropped by SyFy. Hell, sometimes it’s even quite smart, when it’s not too busy being silly. But enough with the review, let’s dig into the science.

An experiment gone awfully wrong transports a group of people in a parallel dimension that was being studied because it was very similar to Earth. And boy… it is similar. Like, the plants are totally Earth plants. The miracle of convergent evolution, I guess: organisms that doesn’t have a common ancestor (or aren’t even from the same dimension) look completely identical to our gymnosperms and ferns. Yeah, I call “bullshit” on that. Not even convergent organisms from the same planet and with a common ancestor look completely identical – how could organisms that evolved in separate dimensions? There’s even a polypore mushroom on the bark of a tree, and a woman that is supposedly the scientist of the group manages to make like 3 mistakes in the same sentence: first she identifies it as an Amanita muscaria, a species that doesn’t even remotely resemble a polypore mushroom, then she says that the common name for A. muscaria is “mushroom” (yeah, whatever), and last but not least, she assumes that this is indeed a mushroom, while we’ve already made clear that, since we’re in a separate dimension, this must be a completely different organism that look like a mushroom because of extreme convergent evolution.

One would assume that animal-like creatures too would be so incredibly similar to Earth animals, but the film needs an antagonist and so, while they certainly are vertebrates and share traits with the tetrapods, the inhabitants of this “ferocious planet” are huge, scary monsters bent on devouring every single human. There’s quite a lot of these things (unusual for this kind of cheap tv movie – hats off to the creators), and the design is not bad at all, except the puzzling presence of what appears to be a huge sack full of testicles on the tail of the animal. It’s quite bizarre that this is the only and one animal species we see in the movie: they’re clearly superpredators, they’re very common – where the fuck is their food? Where are are herbivores and small carnivores? How can a gigantic predator be so common and its preys so scarce? It’s kind of an inverted trophic pyramid.

The beast lays eggs of different sizes – why? Different castes? We see only two kinds of monster in the film, the young and the adult, and this doesn’t seem to be an eusocial animal anyway, so there’s no reason to think it has castes. Also I don’t remember of any terrestrial animal, castes or not, that lays eggs of wildly different sizes, but I may be mistaken – and let’s not forget we’re talking about aliens, after all. But I digress. Do the eggs grow during their development? That would be ridiculous, and even more ridiculous considering that they have an extremely rigid shell. That’s another mistery. The beast also have ammonia in its blood, which for some reason is said to be an acid by another scientist (it’s a weak base). WTF?

Anyway, give this little movie a shot. It’s obviously stupid, and yet much better than one would expect.


Popcorn Biology: Horror Express (1972)

By Francesco Lami

BOO, motherfucker!

Original poster (taken from themoviedb.org)

Popcorn Biology! No, I’m not going to write about corn genetics, as I’m by no means Barbara McClintock; instead, this new section will represent the love child of two of my greatest passions: biology and cinema. I’ll take a look at some sci-fi movies, old and new, and comment their interpretation of the wonderful world of living beings.

Today, we’ll talk about Horror Express, a nice little old-school movie about space monkeys that rape your brain. Oh, and Christopher Lee is involved. Nice.

Christopher Lee is an anthropologist (much like the other guy who will eventually show up and write something on this blog) who discovers an important fossil of a filthy monkey-man from the past, which could reveal some new, precious information about human evolution. I’d like to stop here for a minute and underline that, while the movie is pretty silly and the science in it is predictably and astonishingly bad, it’s remarkably pro-evolution and pro-science, and the only religious character in it is a negative, albeit hilarious, one. Seriously, it was pretty cool when Chris Lee treated like a retarded moron a woman who said that evolution was an immoral theory. Take that, creationists. Dracula is on our side. Which explains why he can’t stand christian symbology.

Anyway, what predictably happens is that the monkey-man escapes from the rock (ice?) in which it had been trapped for two millions of years and start killing people. Now, to be fair, the monkey was possessed by an incorporeal alien super-intelligence, but this doesn’t explain how the heck it survived for millions of years unaltered in a rock and then escaped, as later is shown that all the beings possessed by said intelligence can be easily killed by conventional methods. So yeah, this must mean that sooner or later we are bound to find a living T-Rex trapped into a rock somewhere. Palaeontologists take note.

But that’s not the worst part. Dracula concludes that the monkey kills its victims by draining their memories and stealing all their thoughts. How did he guess that? He examined the brains of the victims and saw that they were as smooth “as a baby’s bottom” and, of course, everybody knows that the convoluted topography of the human cortex is a result of years and years of life memories that sculpt themselves into the brain. It’s not like that, I dunno, the cortex is convoluted so it can cover a much larger area in a small place and thus making us intelligent without having planet-sized heads. That shit is totally out. But that’s not the worst part.

At some point they kill the monkey (well, actually it’s an ape, but in a movie like this who cares) and decide to examine its eye. They squeeze some eye goo on a microscope slide and put it under a microscope and… they find, recorded into the eye goo, all the images the alien intelligence previously stored into the monkey had seen during its long life, including dinosaurs, pterosaurs and Earth from space. You know, I was going to complaint about the dated reconstruction of the dinos, but then I realized that that wasn’t the biggest problem with this scene. Yes, neuroscientists all over the world, the key to visual memory is apparently the vitreous humour! Fuck the brain, just squeeze some eye goo on a microscope slide and enjoy the show!

And those are only the three major problems with Horror Express‘ science. But you know what? It’s not a documentary, it’s a silly old-school horror movie, and a pretty funny one too. So I recommend you all to watch it and have a good laugh, and in the next installment of Popcorn Biology we’ll address some other examples of bad science in sci-fi movies!