Interstellar

Interstellar. A Tardy Movie Review. A film by Christopher Nolan, based upon a story by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan. Kip Thorne deserves mention as his input was necessary for black hole and wormhole science.

I grew up in the shadow of Kubrick, in the shadow of the Monolith. One of the only movies my father and I truly discussed was 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember he clearly vetoed my mother in her attempt to hustle me to bed. My recollection also includes her voicing concern about me watching this movie: “Do you think it’s OK for him to even watch this?” I’m not sure what my dad’s response was, other than we sat side-by-side one night in February of 1977, he in his recliner, me in my bean-bag chair.

I would have been just 9 years old, and I remember not being allowed to talk during the movie, except during commercial breaks. “What do you think that monolith is? Where did it come from? Is it intelligent? Are those people beating on it, or are they some other creature? Did they know how to kill before the monolith, or did the monolith do something to them to teach them how to kill?” Those are the sum total of question I remember being asked. Have no memories of the discussion.

2001 is still, almost 50 years later, a hotly debated movie, based upon a short story by Arthur C. Clarke. Arthur C. Clarke was certainly a visionary, no doubt. As much as Interstellar is a product of Einstein, the GPS used by the tractors was foreseen by Clarke albeit infused with Einsteinian relativity. Unfortunately, I don’t think Interstellar will be as debated as 2001. I could be wrong. Fifty years into the future, people will have forgotten Interstellar. It will be that movie people refer to as, “What was that movie that people thought was the successor to 2001? It had that one guy from True Detective in it.”

While I enjoyed Interstellar, the movie was not exactly as I expected. For all the hullabaloo surrounding the science in the movie, the wormhole, the black hole, I wasn’t swept away by any of it. A few of the podcasts I subscribe to devoted hours to discussing and breaking down Interstellar.

Unlike others who reviewed the movie, I wasn’t upset by any of the science stuff, except for perhaps the actual transition through Gargantua’s event horizon. I vacillate back and forth about this but my concern isn’t so much the transiting of the event horizon but surviving the gravitational forces up to the event horizon. I didn’t see where the movie tried to reconcile gravity in many places other than to mention gravity a lot.

The planet of frozen clouds (Mann’s Planet) didn’t bother me as much as other reviewers. Nolan, or perhaps Thorne, repaired this plot problem by revealing the planet has no actual surface. All of these frozen clouds, then, provide enough mass to maintain some sort of coherent planet-thing, gravity, an atmosphere. Thing of a really dense Oort cloud, millions of floating clouds organized around some sort of core, probably. The frozen cloud planet didn’t really seem all that far-fetched.

The water planet has problems, though. If Cooper and Brand are standing ankle-deep in water, no way can a wave achieve the heights of the swells as depicted. Unless, perhaps they landed on a really narrow peninsula, a ridge of land. Again, though, the trough between wave peaks seems too large for waves of those height. I looked into this a little bit and I came to the conclusion wave height is a function of water depth at base (bottom), velocity, and probably a few other factors, maybe slope of shelf. I just don’t see waves like this happening, not without far more exposition. The rush to land on the water world seemed ill-advised without a little more survey from space, and the entire planet itself seemed a dubious candidate based solely on the time-lag; 8 minutes on Water World was about the equivalent of a year on Earth. I think Romy said one hour equals about 7-Earth years so that’s about 8 minutes. I guess if a colony didn’t plan on interacting with anyone else, or could tolerate waiting a quarter-generation for a reply. I could see where this would make binge-watching Netflix attractive.

Contact, I think, is still a far superior picture in terms of story. Interstellar is good but in my opinion, Contact did a far better job capturing the nuances of people, their anxieties about sharing the galaxy or universe, the trepidation of using unfamiliar technology, the challenges of having core beliefs challenged by discovering what something bigger than themselves really means. Interstellar never really gave me any of that; this was a story about time-traveling (which I categorically loathe) and choices, with some intriguing science-y stuff tossed in.

2001 gave audiences long, solemn shots of space; passive movements of astronauts, of Frank and Dave going about their routine astronaut duties. We get the sense of the long, boring trip of the Discovery as it drives to the interception point with the monolith orbiting Jupiter. Even prior to that seemingly interminable journey, we are treated to the basic problems of space travel to a simple space station in orbit around Earth, a flight courtesy of TWA (TransWorld Airlines) a real airline at the time, since bankrupt. 2001 provided an audience with a sense of scope, of the starkness of space travel, the dichotomy of the serenity of space existing alongside with terribly fragile human existence and our reliance upon technology, a partnership with as many dangers as potential benefits. Some of these circumstances come across in Interstellar, with the CASE and TASK robots. We don’t have any long, lingering shots of space travel, no long, lingering scenes of mundane space chores aboard a spaceship. I never really developed any sense Nolan was trying to inspire any sense of awe in us, more like: “Oh, we’ve arrived at this wormhole. Cool. OK, lets dip into it. Off we go!” I also don’t think we were especially coaxed into any sense of appreciation of Gargantua, either. “Oh, here is a giant black hole with a singularity in the middle. Gosh, we better be careful.” They applied only slightly more caution to Gargantua than I might to this pothole on the collector street by my house. “Dammit; I dropped into the pothole again!”

My overall inclination is to believe the movie-going audience simply isn’t as intelligent nor as sophisticated, nor as appreciative as previous generations of movie-goers. Look, nothing is spectacular to us any longer, not in a cinematic sense. My boss remembers being awestruck the first time the Millennium Falcon made the jump to hyperspace, the streaks of stars against the pilot’s canopy. I remember the long gratuitous scene in the original Star Trek movie as the crew takes in their new Enterprise. Even the equally gratuitous panoramic views of Vee-Ger later in the same film were sort of breath-taking. What gives audiences the sense of wonder today? Mad Max: Fury Road, with real people engaged in literal death-defying stunts pole-vaulting among vehicles at speed. No green-screens here, flesh-and-blood people driving elemental combustion machines across the Namibian desert. Our attention spans have been reduced to 90 second snippets and if anything extends beyond we dig our phones out, check SnapChat or whatever, and then bug our friend to fill us in on what happened – who has no idea, either, since their attention span isn’t any longer and she is on her phone updating her Facebook status.

I heard on NPR the other day movie trailers and movie-trailer trailers are now big business. Once, the filmmakers themselves pushed out trailers to tease people about their movie. Today, there are companies who take film snippets and compose the trailers. As much thought goes into making a trailer today as a commercial. That is not derogatory; public relation companies make huge money with good commercials. Trailers created today may cost $1 million or more to produce. My comment is more a testimony of the impetus behind making a good trailer. Trailers can make or break a film; like I have zero desire to see Superman vs. Batman strictly because the trailer is a horrible, miserable, unattractive mess When I see that trailer I am reminded of all the people drowning in the North Atlantic at the end of Titanic, and each one of them has a puppy leashed to their neck, and I think, you assholes, why did you bring all these puppies aboard an ocean-liner and then not pay attention to your route?

I liked Interstellar but I didn’t find it remarkable. I know a couple scientific papers were developed as a result of the ground-breaking special effects. Too bad more wasn’t made about the grandiosity of the wormhole or Gargantua, really. These representations of celestial objects are the closest Humankind will ever get to the real deals, barring intervention by a space-faring race, really. I’m hard on movies these days, admittedly, so take my review with a grain of salt if you need to. PAX

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