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Summer action flicks can do more than thrill

A wealthy industrialist and genius watches as his products cause pain and suffering. Pushed too far, he acts, building a suit of flying powered armor. Tearing through the sky to the other side of the world, he becomes a whirlwind of justice: a tornado of destruction stopping the bad guys dead in their tracks.

A generation earlier and a continent away, an aging archaeologist shows his mettle, fighting a communist threat to his country with his brains and, when called for, his fists and a whip. Figuring out puzzles left unsolved by others, he saves the day, gets the girl and keeps the world intact.

Summer movies are action-packed this year. In addition to recent releases such as Iron Man, Indiana Jones: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Speed Racer and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, moviegoers can look forward to flicks like The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Hancock, X-Files: I Want to Believe and The Mummy III. Big-draw animated features such as Star Wars: Clone Wars and Kung Fu Panda will also be in theaters.

Everyone knows Hollywood targets blockbuster movies for summer release. If you are a cynic and think moviemakers hope to capitalize on vacationing families and students on break from classes, you’re right. Gala movie events bring in tons of money, but the really good movies – the ones that stay with you after the credits roll – can affect people on many levels. They can feed your mind and soul.

Go see Iron Man with an engineer and you may very well hear about how unrealistic it is. His flight characteristics are wrong – a human body couldn’t handle this or that stress. Where does all that energy come from? Actuators this and control surfaces that.

An anthropologist in the seat next to you during Indiana Jones may be equally unimpressed. What happened to rigorous field methods? As if there is any chance in the world that these myths are literally true. Steno’s Law of Superposition clearly implies such and so forth. Can anybody say “grave robber”?

These stretched realities, however, explore possibilities. The future technologies featured in Iron Man and the myths-turned-reality in Indiana Jones can inspire inquiry into the unknown. That’s the key word – inspiration. Don’t expect blockbusters to be documentaries. Instead, you may find yourself motivated to read the book of the movie, Google the Mayan hieroglyphs or check out state-of-the-art technology in robotic exoskeletons.

Many engineers and astronauts were inspired by Star Trek and Star Wars. The excitement of these movies is thrilling, sure enough, but the classics feed the imagination. They show the audience imagination realized in full color and volume.

Ironman might prompt an engineer or scientist to construct an exoskeletal suit like that of Tony Stark, the fictional genius inventor. It could motivate a budding businessman to build a financial empire as Stark did. Others might consider joining the military to aid in the fight against the world’s injustice in a powerful and physical way.

Like Stark, Indiana Jones uses toughness of mind and sharp intellect to succeed against seemingly hopeless odds. Always down but never out, Indy shows viewers how to push through pain and adversity to get where they want to be in life.

The movie might encourage someone to travel or study anthropology, to learn about new languages and cultures. It could be an audience member’s first introduction to the mythology and lost treasures of the world.

Take a look at the original Star Trek series and you will see computer diskettes and cell phones in use. Yet, when this show ran, the telephones were so large they could knock you unconscious if they fell on your head.

Computers at the time were the size of small buildings and all their information was saved on punched paper cards or long reels of magnetic tape. People then scoffed at the wild fiction, but within a generation, the fiction became reality. Who knows what current fiction will be brought to reality by the next generation?

Sign me up for a powered armor suit, Mr. Stark – I’m ready to lend a hand.

Jason Olivero has received a bachelor’s in anthropology from the University of Florida and is pursuing a degree in electrical engineering.