Steven Spielberg is arguably the greatest living director. He’s responsible for many of the biggest movies of all time and, in all likelihood, a number of your happiest childhood memories. But that isn’t to say that he is infallible. Sometimes, he has taken a little… artistic license when it comes to the facts.
So here’s a round-up of what he got wrong.
- These are best films you can watch on Netflix right now
- In the mood for great TV on Netflix rather than a film? We've got you covered
- Don't have Netflix but do have Amazon Prime? Then check out our curated selection of its best TV here
- We've also got a curated list of Amazon Prime's best films you can watch right now too
- Looking for great movie experiences to fill up your diary? Here's a movie for each month of 2016 that we think has promise
Raiders of the Lost Ark
In Indiana Jones’ first outing, the Nazis manage to seize the Ark of the Covenant and plan to take it to Berlin on-board a German U-Boat. Sounds plausible, right? There’s just one problem: how do you load such bulky cargo on to a submarine?
The German VIIC sub is probably large enough on the inside, but there isn’t an opening big enough to get the box down. The entrance is too small - and even the torpedo tube is only 21 inches in diameter. What’s weird is that we even see the ark on a crane, about to be loaded on too.
Oh, and this is all leaving aside the fact that Indy somehow managed to reach the Nazi base by clinging on to the outside of the sub in the first place.
ET: The Extra Terrestrial
ET won the hearts of people everywhere when it hit cinemas in 1982… but it probably left some astronomers feeling frustrated too.
It turns out that Spielberg got the moon super wrong. In shots when the moon isn’t full, the crescent is pointing in totally the wrong direction. During the Dungeon’s & Dragons scene, and at a number of other points in the film when the moon shown, it is wrong for the time of day. In the evening in the Northern Hemisphere (the film is set in California, remember), the crescent points to the right. It only looks the way it does at around 4 in the morning. Whoops!
The notorious Atari ET game also counts as a massive, massive technological mistake too. But that’s probably the wrong sort of mistake for this feature.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Riding a raft off of a cliff might sound like a good idea, but if you’re going to do it, make sure your weight is evenly distributed. Don’t be like Indy unless you can mess with the laws of physics.
As you can see in the above clip, despite Indy and his companions holding on to the raft at the front, and being at the front of the boat, it still manages to fall relatively gracefully. In real life, the weight imbalance would send the raft to point downwards, sending our heroes plumeting face-first towards their doom. No temple required.
War of the Worlds
Okay, so it is pretty tricky to poke scientific holes into a story that contains giant aliens invading Earth, right? But there is one thing we know lots about: cars.
In the above scene where the ferry capsizes, cars tumble from the deck and towards Tom Cruise and his kids, plunging them under water as it immediately sinks. In real life however, a car would remain buoyant for slightly longer. If the windows are up (which they are in the film), the passenger compartment would take much longer to flood, before slowly sinking. Perhaps Tom would have had more time to get out of the way?
AI: Artificial Intelligence
AI had a vision of a future where eerily humanoid robots were a part of life. But despite this futuristic premise, there’s one massive problem with the film that makes it appear weird and dated in 2016 - let alone the last 21st century where the film is set.
As pointed out by Inverse, one of the major plot points in the film is that David and Joe have to travel to Rogue City to meet Dr Know, a computer programme. Yeah - they have to physically go to where the computer is. Spotted the problem yet? It appears that everyone has forgotten that the internet exists.
Given we’ve reached a point now in 2016 where the vast majority of our lives are conducted online - and even in 2001 it was clear how important the internet would be - how does it make sense to keep a computer disconnected? This feeds into another problem Inverse spotted: The film treats artificial intelligence as something that exists on individual machines - whereas the reason we’ve made so many advances in recent years (Hey Siri!) is because computers are capable of learning from data shared with it. The more audio Siri has to crunch, the more accurate it will get at deciphering what we’re saying. The more driving data our Tesla autopilot collects, the better a pilot it is. So the film appears to fundamentally misunderstand how AI works.
To be fair, it was first conceptualised by Stanley Kubrick in the 70s, before the internet - but surely in making the film adaption Spielberg could have updated things?
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
We now fast-forward Indiana Jones' adventures to The Last Crusade and to Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in an aerial dogfight. Now look, while that dogfight is definitely exciting to watch (and if you haven’t seen it for a while, if you ignore the bizarrely ropey special effects), there’s a massive problem with the dramatic conclusion to the scene.
Indy and his dad - as well as the German pilots - aren’t flying historically accurate planes. They’re flying Swiss-made Pilatus P-2s, rather than the much more notorious Messerschmitts. But there is a larger problem: Shooting out the tail, as Connery does in this scene wouldn’t have worked in real life.
Planes with guns mounted were built with a specific mechanism to prevent pilots from shooting up their own planes. The Scarff ring on which the gun was mounted contained a synchronisation gear, which by WWII were common in fighter planes and literally prevented the gun from firing when it was in danger of damaging itself.
There were other, less exciting errors in the film - such as the widespread use of the MP38 or MP40 machine guns, which in real life were much more restricted in distribution. In WWII only on average one in twenty troops had one. And the bit where Indy and Marcus fly from New York to Venice, via Botwood and the Azores? Nerds have figured out that at the time the film is set, there were no air routes which stopped off at both islands. Whoops!
It’s 2054 - why do you still need little plastic things on your fingers for gesture based controls? I thought we solved that in around 2013?
Seriously though, it isn’t that or the fact that the Facebook algorithms have essentially rendered the need for pre-cogs moot, but it is a question of physics. Take a look at this scene in which Tom Cruise jumps between cars travelling vertically along a building:
Yeah, we were sure that visual effects were better in 2002 too. But notice something weird about the scene. Though Cruise’s character is high up, and the cars are zipping along… there doesn’t appear to be any wind. Why isn’t his hair rustling? Or his jacket flapping?
It also appears that either the Earth has started rotating differently or someone messed up the calendars, as the film mentions an election being held on Tuesday April 22nd 2054… yet that day is going to be a Wednesday. Whoops!
Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan has perhaps done better than any other film at visualising the horrors of war. From the opening salvos on the Normandy beaches through to the end of the film, it removes any sense of glamour from the war - and makes you empathise with the terrified.
What it does get wrong though is the cows. Seriously.
According to one commentator on MovieMistakes.com, the cows aren’t realistic enough. In the radar station scene, you can see dead cows with oversized bellies due to putrefaction. This apparently suggests they were killed at least 12 hours ago.
The problem arises when stray bullets hit the cows, throwing up red blood. The problem is that if something has been dead for hours, its blood won’t be read, but black or brown because it will no longer be oxygenated. We can’t believe Spielberg didn’t have a bovine hematologist on set either.
There are also a few more conventional problems that have been identified. Namely at one point Reiben picks up a BAR rifle by the barrel, which would have been too hot too touch so soon after firing (they take 15-20 minutes to cool down). And during the scene where the sniper is taken out, we hear the shot before it hits as we watch from the German sniper’s point of view. But in real life sniper bullets travel faster than the speed of sound. So - terrifyingly - the sniper would never have even heard the bullet that killed him.
And finally… well, you can’t talk about Spielberg without covering Jurassic Park, right? While it is one of the greatest films ever made, the dinosaurs are quite outrageously inaccurate.
As The Guardian points out, the iconic raptors in real life would have been no more than a meter high and, as we later learned from science after the film’s release, they probably would have had feathers too. (Amusingly 2015’s Jurassic World had a throwaway line attempting to explain this away).
Other dinosaurs also had problems. Remember our first glimpse of the dinos, when Sam Neill and Laura Dern first arrive on the island? There’s a shot of the massive Brachiosaurus letting out a loud, distinctive cry. Thing is, there’s absolutely no evidence that they ever even made a noise, let alone that raucous bellow.
But perhaps this points to a greater realisation. While yes, throughout his career Steven Spielberg has got a lot wrong on the science and technology front… perhaps sometimes it is more fun to bend the truth a little.