Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 798, November 23, 2014

There is no one in charge.
There are only lies.

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Interstellar: A Movie Review
by Jeff Fullerton

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Mission to Greenburg Friday night was a smashing success!

After picking up a 40 gal breeder tank at Petco, and dinner at the New City Buffet I was off to see the movie Interstellar. In this busy season I had not been to a movie in ages and figured it might also be a good subject for a movie review—as well as some much needed relaxation given I have already missed the opportunities to catch others like the new Planet of the Apes sequel, part 3 of Atlas Shrugged and a few other possible good ones in local theaters.

The new film Interstellar which debuted about a week ago has been the subject many reviews already most of which sounded bad and my perception of Hollywood science fiction has always been influenced by something my former mentor Big Bob said about SF being a form of propaganda to warn people about the perils of destroying the world with atomic wars or environmental pollution. Something I kind of was aware of already then and have continued to experience since. Like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov who had me sold for a while on the idea that we needed global unity to prevent nuclear war and pool resources to reach the stars ala Star Trek! But then as it became obvious that the actual movers and shakers had no intention of ever taking us there and I started getting into the hard SF of Heinlein and Niven and a few Jerry Pournelle editorials that suggested maybe we should flat out reject and rebel against the dystopian world view and policies of the Malthusian Left.

As for the movie last night—it was being toted by some as another "Hollywood Ecofascist 'We destroyed the planet and now we're off to ruin another one'" propaganda piece while the producers were arguing it was not. So I had to go and find out for myself. In reality it turned out somewhat in between. Just one little comment about how "the world once had 6 billion people who thought they could have it all", which I suppose was enough to get their message across. And the earthside backdrop was mostly a combination of the Dust Bowl on steroids and crop blights that were in the process of rendering Earth uninhabitable and a secret NASA plan involving the use of a wormhole discovered near Saturn as a means to reach a system of several promising planets where humanity might hope to migrate to start over again.

Hardly the drunken can kicking ramblings of Jeff Goldblum about ruining the earth so the alien invaders wouldn't want it anymore in Independence Day or self righteous aliens from the remake of Day The Earth Stood Still who are more preoccupied with stopping us from destroying the ecosystem of our own planet than preventing us from spreading violence and war to others as had been the case of the earlier version from the 1950s.

As for Interstellar—the focus is less on the details of the causes of the ecological collapse and laying blame for who might be at fault and more on a pragmatic approach to adapting and trying to survive the crisis and when the realization that the damage is irreversible; finding a way to save the human species by the namesake of going "Interstellar" as it is deemed that no other place in this solar system can sustain human life.

The story focuses mainly on "Coop"—Matthew McConaughey who is a former astronaut haunted by memories of a mission gone bad in a world that has for the most part turned its back on the stars. Trying to avoid spoilers—which I'm getting better at—there are some interesting tidbits worth sharing to make for a decent review. The not so distant future looks very much like the early 20th Century with some leftover high tech devices like iPads and "Indian Air Force spy drones" from a previous war fought over dwindling resources are still wandering harmlessly about and are worth chasing and bringing down for their valuable electronics and the solar cells that keep them powered and aloft.

Because society is strapped for food—even with a dramatically reduced human population—farmers are more important than scientists and engineers and even a little historic revision has been done to convince the public that the Apollo moon landings were faked to bankrupt the Soviet Union in the Space Race of the Cold War Era. Because authorities thought space was too much of a distraction when humanity should be concentrating on saving the planet instead of trying to leave it. A point of contention for Coop's daughter Murphy—"Murph" who is the subject of a PTA conference because she got into a fight at school arguing with other students against the the false history. And Coop brings up a few of his own lambasting the idea that space science and high technology are a waste of resources in his own cynical way as he laments the fact that his wife died from a tumor that might have been detected if they still had access to CT scans and then she could have been there to endure the insult of the conference in his place!

Then Coop takes his daughter to a baseball game that brings to mind the movie Field of Dreams—which is cut short by yet another of the many frequent dust storms that plague the land. There is also the issue of strange happenings on the old farm house where they live that Murph attributes to "Poltergeists" which has an important connection to future events in the storyline. There is a strange magnetic anomaly in the house that is somehow feeding coordinates in morse code that leads Coop and his daughter (who stows away in the old pickup) to a secret military installation run by NASA where a clandestine space effort is underway. And this ultimately leads Coop back to his lost calling of astronaut on a mission to find a new world for humanity to migrate to before the old one dies. On the other side of the black hole which the space agency has known about for at least 50 years there are several promising planets in a far distant galaxy to which manned expeditions have already been sent and some are still transmitting data back through the hole. Resources being limited—the crew of the starship Endeavor must chose carefully which ones to visit. If only the "aliens" or whatever the beings believed to have constructed the hole had put it a little closer to Earth—as the trip to Saturn alone is a 2 year affair—mostly spent in suspended animation.

And it is a strung out conflict of a regretful Coop and a resentful Murph who is so embittered by her father leaving her behind that she won't speak to him until many years later when she sends a message to the mission. That is the day of her birthday when she is the same age as her father the day he left. That was Hollywood's attempt at portraying the social and emotional impact of interstellar travel as it relates to the distortion of time by relativistic flight and time spent by space travelers in suspended animation. Most of us who like science fiction are familiar with Einstein's Theory of Relativity and the paradox of the traveling twin—one who goes away on a mission at the speed of light and returns to Earth a few years later to find his brother an old man while he has scarcely aged at all. I think the first of the original Planet of the Apes movies with Charlton Heston and his crew returning to an Earth dominated by Apes in the distant future with the iconic ruin of the Statue of Liberty on the beach—did a much better job at that!

The first world visited by the crew of Endeavor turns out pretty much a goldilocks planet but has too much water—the shallowest point where they landed was knee deep and there were ocean swells thousands of feet high! They barely got out of there alive and one of them didn't make it. The next planet was a frozen shithole that puts both Wisconsin and Antarctica to shame!

They bent quite a few rules as far as hard science goes—why did they need something like a Saturn 5 booster to loft the same shuttle orbiter to the mother ship in Earth orbit but could land and take off again unassisted from the water planet which had gravity several more times that of Earth and every hour they spent on the planet was equivalent to 7 years back home because of "relativity". I know gravity fields slow time but it can't be that much? Can it? I think they may have made a big mistake there the likes of the bad astronomy of Lost in Space! Nit picky hard SF fans could have a field day with this movie.

But I will still give it a thumbs up for not being defeatist and dystopian and going light on the propaganda. The ending is quite redeeming despite the bad science which kind of butchers the twin paradox—in this case parent being passed up by his daughter. And hopeful and heartwarming enough to make it worth watching.

End Notes: The gravity induced time distortion on the first planet in the movie could be attributed to its close orbit around another more massive black hole which the system was centered around as the closer in you get to a really massive black hole the noticeable and dramatic the slowing of time is. However for the planet to be close enough to produce such relativistic effects—it would likely be torn apart by tidal stress which would also tear apart spaceships and their occupants. Or else the planet would be sucked in and devoured.

Also the environs of a black hole might not be ideal for a planet with life on it because black holes emit deadly radiation as they devour stuff that falls into them. And they are essentially remnants of dead stars that exploded as supernovae: a process even more detrimental to nearby planets—total destruction of the system and spreading havoc in the form of sterilization of neighboring systems and mass extinction events on planets of even more distant stars out to a distance of hundreds of light years!

Yet recent detections of extrasolar planets have proven that some unusual systems do exist. Planets orbiting neutron stars and even reforming around white dwarfs are possible. And they found one system with several planets and stars orbiting in unusual configurations. That could possibly be the case of the system that Endeavor travels to in the movie with two black holes and I presume one or more sun-like stars were included because a "Sun" was visible from the ship when it was in orbit around the second planet which was said to have 67 hour day & night cycles. Considering how God awful cold it was there in the daytime damned if I'd stick around for nightfall!

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