Celebrating The Laser

In honor of this week’s laser-rific cover story, which takes a look at the laser’s impact on chemical research during the past five decades, I’m also giving a nod to its influence on pop culture. After all, what would movies and television be without lasers that blow up planets and sharks that use them for frickin’ nefarious purposes? Here, then, are my top five picks for the Best Uses of Lasers in Film: 5) Countless movies have used “laser fields” to protect some sort of data or priceless artifact from being stolen. And characters have always gotten by those laser grids with a lot of practice and, well, flexibility. Take Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Entrapment,” for instance. She and Sean Connery practiced really hard to defeat a laser-based security system and steal a desirable Chinese mask in the film. An even more elaborate dance through a laser field in a much better movie, however, was undertaken by the Night Fox in “Ocean’s Twelve.” He dances his way through the lasers to steal the Coronation Egg, an antique he eventually finds out was a fake all along. 4) No one could forget the moment the Death Star blows up Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan in “Star Wars.” An entire planet gone in the blink of an eye, my friends. And what technological wonder was responsible? You guessed it: a really, really big laser. 3) James Bond has gotten into a number of sticky situations over the years. In one of the most memorable, though, Bond (I'm clearly partial to Sean Connery) was strapped to a table, staring down an industrial laser in “Goldfinger.” The laser begins cutting the table in half and threatens to slice 007 up the middle as well. He gets away, of course, but the scene is a classic. 2) “Lasers” feature prominently in the first Austin Powers movie, “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.” And, yes, as I’m writing this, I’m pausing to make the air quotations with my fingers. Dr. Evil had only one simple request: sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads. Alas, he had to initially settle for some ill-tempered sea bass. We all had to wait until the final movie in the trilogy for Scott Evil, his son, to bring his grand vision to fruition. 1) Drum roll, please. Say what you will about the cinematic quality of the movie, but there is no question that “Real Genius,” a gem from the ’80s, pays tribute to geeks and laser jocks everywhere. Brainiac students at Pacific Tech, a fictional school modeled after Caltech, use their smarts to build new lasers and, in their spare time, to play practical jokes on one another. In what other movie would a character (Val Kilmer) describe his laser breakthrough as such: “It is possible to synthesize excited bromide in an argon matrix. Yes, it's an excimer frozen in its excited state. It's a chemical laser but in solid, not gaseous, form. Put simply … it's like lasing a stick of dynamite” ? And in what other movie would a laser be used to pop enough popcorn to destroy a house? A little far-fetched, sure. But a guilty pleasure nonetheless.

Author: Lauren Wolf

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