I've told this story before, and I am going to tell it again. A long time ago, I was on submarines. The military kind; like the ones in both good and bad James Bond movies, or Crimson Tide, or The Hunt for Red October. That does require some substantial technical training (and even some physics!). During a deployment in 1998, we had pulled into a port in Italy that maintains a small Navy base. On that small base was a theater. They were showing the brand new Godzilla (with Ferris Bueller and Leon). I saw it with several of my friends from the boat, because it looked cool, and anything from home was a good thing. This was the most hyped movie of the 98 summer, to boot. So we're watching this turd and, as you may dimly recall, at one point Godzilla jumps into the Harbor to escape yet another attack by the military. There are several submarines lurking in those waters which attack her (remember, Godzilla was a her [I guess] in this turkey). That was the moment my co-horts derisively chortled at, and the scene that they made fun of after the film was over and we were briefly discussing it.
Now don't get me wrong, the film Godzilla (1998) got all of the submarine facts wrong in. From uniforms, to outward appearance, to how things work aboard, etc. All wrong. But these men I went with, trained engineers, quite a few with technical Masters degrees, sat stone faced watching a giant nuclear lizard wander an empty New York set, beset by the least aerodynamically sound helicopters I've ever seen, flown by incompetent actors that gave better performances in commercials through their careers. Nothing. Now once an element in which they were familiar showed up (and was subsequently botched) in the film, my friends got derisive.
So what is my point? Everyone is an expert at something, and they can get defensive about it when something far reaching gets it "wrong." Filmmakers often know better but choose an altered representation for dramatic purposes. Because most of us aren't spies, or superheroes, or cops, or lawyers, or doctors, we just let it pass by.
Cuaron is one of the good ones, probably one of the best ones. I have no doubt that he was aware of the liberties he was taking, but he took them anyway for dramatic purposes.
What is interesting is how laser-focused criticisms like these tend to be. Focused around what people do know, but assuming everything else is rock solid.
As an example, I have heard NO criticism of another narrative element (non-physics related) that is, for my money, as crazy as any of the physics. For example, what are the chances that NASA sent up a very experienced mission commander that did NOT know the psychological makeup of every member of their team? Would Kowalski actually not know exactly where Ryan Stone was from, that she lost a child, the name of her parents and dog and high school? Of course he would. Even with only 6 months of training, Stone would have trained with Kowalski quite a bit (they don't "wing" spacewalks), and he would have read her entire file cover to cover. And I imagine that NASA keeps incredibly dense and detailed files on each and every single person that they spend millions of dollars to put into space at great risk to all involved. But the characters spend plenty of time, relevant meaningful time, having that conversation (for us, obviously).
Either you can roll with the punches (as many as there may be) or you can't. Either you choose to accept dramatic license or you don't. The challenge to a director is to make the audience either not notice the discrepancy or to not care as much, because the drama of the story is more powerful.
The point of my story is to not get too wrapped up in pockets of expertise. One person's ignorance is another person's passion.
Edited by Chuck Mayer, October 23 2013 - 12:46 PM.