Dec. 10, 2012 at 7:18 PM ET
If the sets for "Decay," a super-low-budget flick about zombies at the Large Hadron Collider, look incredibly realistic — well, that shouldn't be surprising. The movie was filmed at the home of the LHC, Europe's CERN physics complex on the French-Swiss border, right under the noses of the authorities.
But don't worry: Everything's cool with CERN, even though they didn't know about the film in advance. The 75-minute movie is a hit, especially when you consider that it cost the grad students who made it just $3,500. And there's no danger that the Higgs boson has a "bio-entanglement" effect that turns underground workers into zombies, as portrayed in the movie.
The film was written and directed by Luke Thompson, a Ph.D. physics student at the University of Manchester who has been working on a project at CERN known as the LHeC experiment. The other masterminds on the "Decay" team included Manchester Ph.D students Hugo Day (stunt coordinator) and Clara Nellist (assistant director). The 20 cast members had no real film experience and worked with props that were scavenged or built by the crew, according to the Mancunion newspaper.
"Decay" was screened for the first time last month in Manchester, and this weekend it made its online debut as a free video on YouTube and the DecayFilm.com website. Thompson told me in an email that he and his fellow filmmakers have been "overjoyed at the reception thus far":
"Reactions have been hugely positive (especially considering it is, after all, the Internet!) and it's great to be getting so much coverage. The premiere in Manchester on the 29th of November was fantastic, and the audience really got into the film, which was great for all of us to experience.
"The tunnels in the film are indeed at CERN, but they're not the LHC tunnels. 'Our' tunnels are the basement-level maintenance tunnels linking many of the buildings at CERN just below ground. These mainly allow access to water pipes and so forth, but nothing critical for the running of CERN or the LHC. As such, they're not restricted access. On the other hand, access to anything important or dangerous, such as the LHC tunnels themselves, is tightly controlled. There are many kilometres of these maintenance tunnels, so of course the film doesn't show them all, but it does show a wide range of them. Many areas have their own unique 'feel,' and where possible we chose locations based on that, depending on what atmosphere we wanted to convey. We show some of the overground part of CERN as well, including (the outside of) the real ATLAS control room building, but of course most of the film is underground. We did try to give an 'overview' of what CERN is really like in the opening credits, before going crazy with the bad science :)
"The idea was entirely based on the location; some of us had been exploring CERN early in our Ph.D.s and, particularly in the case of the tunnels, thought it would make a great setting for a horror movie. We didn't think much more of it at the time, but a few months later it came up again, and we decided to actually make a zombie movie. We perhaps didn't realise how ambitious the project was at the time!
"As for the future: My Ph.D. will be done within about 6 months, after which I'll be doing a further six months' work on the LHeC project. Beyond that, I'm not sure. I've really enjoyed doing this film and have added filmmaking to my already too-long list of hobbies, so it's absolutely something I'll at least continue casually. That said, it's a tricky industry to make a living in, and as great as the reception has been, it's still an amateur film — so I'm not expecting any Hollywood projects to fall into my lap!"
CERN spokesman James Gillies told me that "Decay" wouldn't have been green-lighted if the students had asked, but now that it's out, there's no harm done. Gillies played it cool in his email:
"That film was made by a bunch of grad students in the kind of locations you describe [non-sensitive areas such as conference rooms and maintenance tunnels]. They did not ask permission until the whole film was in the can, at which point they asked us for an endorsement. We took the position that, even though we would not have granted permission had they asked before filming, it would not make any sense for CERN to try and block the film. The underground areas were the basements of the CERN main building complex and connecting tunnels on the Meyrin campus.
"Our criterion for accepting filming requests is based on the portrayal of scientists, not on the accuracy of the science. As you know, we worked with Sony Pictures on 'Angels and Demons.' Even though the science in that film was far from accurate, the scientists were well-portrayed. That's not the case for 'Decay.'
"What do folks think? For my part, it's the product of a bunch of grad students doing the kind of thing grad students do in their spare time.
"Can the Higgs field cause zombification? Well let's just say that the science in 'Decay' is at least as wide of the mark as the science in 'Angels and Demons' ..."
So, once again, LHC zombies are nothing to worry about. It's only a movie. That will surely come as a relief to the kid in this video.
More about physics at the movies:
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.