Friday, January 1, 2010

Elementary Mistakes (Spoilers ahead)

I recently saw a movie in theaters that hit a bad chord with me, because it's allegedly a movie based upon reason and logic. As has likely been deduced from the title of this post, this movie was Sherlock Holmes. Although I have few complaints with the movie overall, there was one scene in which terminology was so out of place that it distracted me from the story they were trying to tell.

There was a scene where Nefarious Villain was attempting to use a wireless device to poison the British Parliament, and take over England. Although the device itself was fantastical, there was no particular reason why it wouldn't work. It should be mentioned that the device had a magnetic "anti-tamper" field, which was probably impossible to generate at the time, but we're talking about the entire technological expertise of a country being directed at it, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. So, what is the problem? To discover the error, we have to take a look at the year in which the movie takes place.

During the movie, there are scenes of the Tower Bridge in London clearly being constructed. Since the Tower Bridge was opened for service on June 30th of 1894, it can be safely assumed that the movie takes place, at the latest, in 1894. The problem arises from the fact that Holmes described the device used to activate the poison dispenser as a "Radio" device. The first documented use of the word radio can be tracked to 1897, and while Sherlock is quite the detective, he never claimed to be prophetic.

Getting historical details right is just like nailing the science—there are usually details that can be corrected to avoid conflicting with the facts, without harming the story-telling.