Russian scholar Vladmir Propp famously came up with seven character types that appear in fiction. However, as Propp came up with his theory based on fairytales in 1946, he missed one other major character type from contemporary cinema: the ageing science guy. You know, the scientist in charge of making the futuristic bits sound plausible, played by an ageing star who is trying to remain relevant. And there is no better (read: more frequent) old science guy than the reliably samey Morgan Freeman, who turned 78 yesterday. “I’ve consulted my books and run some tests and I have successfully identified this species as a ‘dolphin'”
- Dolphin Tale
Based on a true story, when a dolphin loses its tail (or it might have been born without a tail – it’s a long while since I watched it) some whiney kid calls on a passing old science guy to fashion a new prosthetic fin for the dolphin. It’s basically Free Willy with a less suggestive title and a marginally more intelligent cetacean mammal. And fortunately the real-life science guy he’s based on (Dr Cameron MacCarthay – pictured) looks just enough like Morgan Freeman (30 years ago) that we can justify casting him in the part to artificially boost the credibility of this film in a slightly dishonest way – like cinematic quantitative easing. This film also has the honour of being the first film my co-goblin Dan ever reviewed.
- Transcendence (full review here)
Rumour has it that the director of Transcendence, Wally Pfister, wanted a mousy British everyman with a face like a deflated lilo but due to a mix-up ended up calling Morgan Freeman. Before they could iron out the misunderstanding he’d already picked up his lab coat and got on the next plane to Hollywood and the part had to be re-written as an ageing science guy instead of a cartoon platypus.
- Lucy (full review here)
You’re a movie producer. You’re financing a new sci-fi film and you’re feeling good. You’ve got your director, Luc Besson, and your main star, Scarlett Johannssen. Quality guaranteed. Then you remember that rather than ending up where we thought they would after their promising early careers, both of them opted to gradually deteriorate over time like human faces. Your film’s in trouble and you only have the sexy young scientist to cast. And which actor happens to have walked into the audition room? Why! It’s Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, who recently played a scientist in the very similar Transcendence, his very presence here emitting credibility. He tells you he’s looking for Christopher Nolan’s office because Nolan is casting an elderly physicist and it’s between him and Michael Caine. You make him an offer he can’t refuse and your film is saved. That’s also how Michael Caine got the part in Interstellar.
Lucius Fox is a character that was neglected by previous cinematic adaptations of the Caped Crusader. And in some of the comics he looks like he could probably be played by Morgan Freeman. But to be fair, Fox’s appearance varies so much in the books he could be played by anyone from Bruce Lee to Estelle Getty. As the provider of Bruce Wayne’s performance-enhancing technology he is both old and sciency, delivering electro-fabric, plausibly-explained baterangs and a Batmobile that looks like a tank. Still nothing on the shark-repellent Batspray.
Why does he play so many science guys? Maybe after he got so well known for playing God he thought that to avoid being type-cast he’d spend the next ten years playing the exact opposite: scientists. Maybe it’s because he’s got a face it’s easy to trust, making it easy to digest hastily-written sci-fi dialogue. Would it be harder to accept that a billionaire secretly built a fusion reactor under a city which is three buttons away from being turned into a ticking time bomb if it was coming from Tom Cruise or Chuck Norris? Probably, yes.