What's Wrong with "Honey I Shrunk the Kids"

Created: Monday, 20 August 2007 Written by Gary Elsbernd Print Email

Don't you hate it when science fiction stories don't explain the science?  Even worse is when they explain it but very, very badly.

Science fiction often feels a strong need to explain the technology behind the gadgets and tools used.  This is not always a good thing for several reasons.

Sometimes it comes off as unnatural.  If someone were to ask me how my car works, I could give a rambling, probably incorrect answer, but it's not something I would volunteer.  People don't have to know how much of their technology works in order to use it effectively.  In SciFi, however, you often seem to have an expert in every technology who can not only explain what an object is, but how it works and the theoretical underpinnings behind it.  Sometimes SciFi is so intent on explaining the high tech that the story suffers.

Worse is when they explain just enough to get things incredibly wrong.  In Disney's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids", Rick Moranis' character develops a shrink ray that leads to hilarious hijinks.  The movie is funny and great for kids, but the pseudo-science they use just kills me.

All matter is made up of electrons, protons and neutrons, among other subatomic particles.  They are spinning around each other, attracted and repelled, and separated by emptiness.  His machine purported to "remove the nothingness, compacting the mass to make it smaller."  While this idea does retain the conservation of mass, in that nothing is destroyed, among the impossibilities this brings up are that the attraction and repulsion would cease to balance, blowing everything to bits.  Let's set that aside and assume the machine actually works the way it says it does.

The other problem is that no mass is destroyed, only the density of the mass is changed.  In other words, the 100 pound girl who stood 5 foot 3 is now 1 inch tall, but still weighs 100 pounds.  With average sized shoes, she goes from 3-4 pounds per square inch of pressure on the floor to thousands of pounds per square inch.  At that density, she would sink through the wooden floor into bedrock.  How many people could spoon 100 pounds up into their cereal spoon without noticing?  I know insects can lift many times their own body weight, but in some scenes a single ant is carrying 2 or three children.  Since we can squish an ant with our shoe, I'm pretty sure that 200+ pounds of children would be over the weight limit for these six-legged conveyances.

I know it's not supposed to be a scientific documentary, but either give no explanation or a better thought-out one.  Getting off soap box now.