Han Solo as a experimental research scientist? In Extraordinary Measures, which opens wide tomorrow, Harrison Ford plays Dr. Robert Stonehill, a medical researcher seeking a cure for a life-threatening muscular disease. Though the film is inspired by the true story of John Crowley (played by Brendan Fraser) and his family, Stonehill is a composite of several doctors. As portrayed by Ford, the good doctor is strong-willed, hard-working, and ultimately heroic. Han Solo's cheeky bravado occasionally shines through in Ford's defiant countenance, though the sullen, oft-irritated facade of Rick Deckard (Blade Runner) is more often on view in Dr. Stonehill's bearing.
Not all experiments have happy endings, of course, and not all research scientists are heroic, especially in science fiction movies. When researchers on the cutting edge of science make mistakes, the results can be catastrophic. Here are the top ten sci-fi experiments gone wrong -- the movie edition.
1. The Fly (1986)
Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) has made incredible strides toward a working teleportation system, which could be the invention of the century. But it's not until after he meets Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) that he dares to experiment with a living creature: first a baboon, then himself. If only he had noticed the tiny winged insect in one of the experimental pods ... David Cronenberg's version of the Vincent Price-starring shocker is a character-driven thriller that feels like it's teleported into your nervous system. "Be afraid. Be very afraid."
2. A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece is about much more than an experiment gone wrong, but one of the key theories that's explored is the idea that science can curb or even eliminate violent criminal tendencies. The fictional Ludovico Technique is tested on convicted criminal Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and appears to work -- at least to the extent that Alex is released from prison. The experiment, though, has devastating and far-reaching consequences.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Who doesn't want to forget a painful break-up? Joel (Jim Carrey) is hurt and outraged when he discovers that his ex-girlfriend has undergone a new procedure to erase her memories, and decides to do the same thing. Despite being unconscious for the procedure, Joel changes his mind at the last moment and struggles to regain his lost love, exposing the procedure as more of a cracked experiment than a proven process.
4. Frankenstein (1931)
"It's alive, it's alive!" The grandfather of all science experiments gone wrong, James Whale's classic brings a corpse to life (Boris Karloff) and into an accidental encounter with a little girl that turns tragic. What if Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) had a different assistant, someone other than the clumsy, mean-spirited Fritz? Good help is still hard to find these days, though I'm not convinced that a great assistant (i.e. someone who knew the difference between "good brain" and "bad brain") would really have made that much difference in the outcome of the experiment.
Dark, macabre, gory, and funny, Stuart Gordon's take on H.P. Lovecraft follows Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) in his continuing experiments to re-animate the dead, with increasingly unhinged mayhem the result. The film is a ripping good yarn that goes where others fear to tread. Beware medical students with a glint in their eyes and a sudden interest in your cat.
6. The Incredible Hulk
A fair number of comic characters were created from experiments gone wrong, more often on the negative side of the equation. For every hero like Spider-Man, there are always villains like Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, the Rhino, and so forth. But I keep coming back to poor Bruce Banner, the physicist whose condition is the result of an accidental explosion of a gamma bomb, one of his inventions. While I have no big issues with Ang Lee's version, I prefer Edward Norton's rendition of the tortured character.
7. Jurassic Park
Oh, those marvelous dinosaurs! "I wanted to give them something real, something that wasn't an illusion, something they could see and touch," reflects kindly grandfather / entrepreneur / unintentional unleasher of Hell, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). As Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, this time a more reserved scientist) points out when Hammond protests that all theme parks have delays: "But, John, if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists."
8. Hollow Man
Under Paul Verhoeven's direction, Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) does all the things you might do if you were suddenly invisible -- and also happened to be a homicidal maniac. Caine is already primed to do evil things as the movie begins, which makes his descent into insanity a very short trip indeed.
9. Resident Evil
Evil begets evil. The Umbrella Corporation is a hundred degrees more evil than most humans on their own, so when one of their deadly experiments goes wrong, it turns hundreds of scientists into ravenous zombies. Oops?!
Poor little Drew Barrymore. For her follow-up to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, she became Charlie the Firestarter, the unfortunate offspring of telekinetic parents. It all started with a secret government experiment, and now the government wants their secret back. I've known girls with scary fiery eyes before, but this is ridiculous.