Last night I went to a preview screening of the new Ghostbusters film. This isn’t a review, all I’ll say is that if you liked the first one, you’d probably like this one too.
In the first film, an early scene was set here at Columbia University, with Bill Murray an experimental psychology professor (you can watch it here). Academia doesn’t come off too well… In the new film, again an early scene is set at Columbia, but now the protagonist is a theoretical physicist played by Kristen Wiig. She first appears in a lecture hall with a huge blackboard filled with equations relevant to GUTs and supergravity. For some explanation of how that came about from Lindley Winslow, who provided this and other advice, see here.
Theoretical physics comes off better in this version of the film than experimental psychology did in the first version. Academia is still made fun of though. The chair of the Columbia physics department is portrayed as telling Wiig’s character that if she wants to get tenure she needs to do better than to have a letter from Princeton, since that department is well known to no longer be what it once was.
Update: For more about the physics background, see here. The Lindley Winslow piece doesn’t mention that Janet Conrad took over from her when she had a baby, and it was Conrad’s stuff that went into the Kristen Wiig character’s office. I’d somehow missed that the bad guy had a string theory paper:
Meanwhile, an antagonist named Rowan North got a string theory paper on Feynman ghost diagrams, which offered the opportunity for a little interdisciplinary ribbing. “Of course we made the woman a neutrino theorist and the bad guy a string theorist,” Conrad says.
String theorists really do get no respect these days…
Update: More here, including
Conrad made Wiig’s character a neutrino physicist. She decided the bad guy would probably be into string theory. There’s just something sinister about the theory’s famous lack of verifiable predictions, Winslow says.
String theorists can also be lovely people, though, Conrad says, and “I wanted to make [the bad guy] as evil as possible.” In the scientific paper she wrote for his desk, “he doesn’t acknowledge anyone. He just says ‘The author is supported by the Royal Society of Fellows,’ and that’s it.”
Also, she wrote for him “an evil letter where he’s turning someone down for tenure.”
Update: There’s a profile here of Kate McKinnon, the most entertaining of the new Ghostbusters, emphasizing her interest in physics.