Cinema Science is Put To the Test

May 7, 2001

“That just can’t be done! There’s no way they could do that!” If you find yourself shouting at the TV screen because you find some of the special effects you’re watching on video too much to believe, a new BBC/Open University programme could give you the answers you’re looking for.

In Hollywood Science, actor and presenter Robert Llewellyn and research scientist Dr Jonathan Hare put to the test six of cinema’s more unusual stunts by staging back garden experiments that replicate the film incidents.

Could those prison bars in the Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson vehicle Shanghai Noon really be bent using a urine-soaked shirt? Could Paul Newman’s stomach really cope with the 50 boiled eggs his character downs in Cool Hand Luke? And would the aluminium boat used by Pierce Brosnan and company to cross the acid lake in Dante’s Peak really reach safety without being eroded?

They’re all among the questions to be answered by Robert, well-known as one of the presenters of TV’s Scrapheap Challenge, and Jonathan, a scientist at the University of Sussex who was among the experts in the popular BBC/ OU Rough Science programme.

At the end of each ten-minute programme Jonathan and Robert give the cinema special effects a plausibility rating based on the findings of their own back garden experiments, many of which use readily available household objects.

Other cinematic exploits that come under their scrutiny include the scene in Die Hard in which Bruce Willis jumps from the top floor attached to a fire hose and the scene in Speed in which the runaway bus jumps the gap.

Hollywood Science producer Mark Bridge says the series, whose investigations are based on some of the principles of mechanics, biology, chemistry and physics, should appeal to both movie and science fans.

“When we started planning the experiments we really had little idea of what the findings would be,” he adds. “The experiments were staged for the first time during filming – there were no rehearsals – so the reactions viewers see in Robert and Jonathan are for real.

“Without giving away the results of the experiments, there are some surprises in store as we discover that some of the effects that some people may not believe really are plausible.”


Hollywood Science will be shown weekly at 12.30am from Friday, May 11 with a one-week break on Friday, June 1. The six programmes will be shown as part of BBC Learning Zone.

For more information about BBC/OU science programmes, visit the BBC/OU website at www.open2.NET

Photographs from the series and preview tapes are available from Neil Coaten on the number below.

Neil Coaten
Open University Media Relations
01908 652580

Mark Bridge
Hollywood Science producer
01908 655281