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Interstellar: Herald to the Stars or a Siren’s Song?

Not long after I published my thoughts on Chris Nolan’s film Interstellar, Centauri Dreams regular Larry Klaes weighed in with his own take. Views on Interstellar have been all over the map, no surprise given how personal film criticism can be (take a look at the critical reception of Bladerunner over the years). I like the point/counterpoint aspect of what Larry does here, and while I imagine most readers have seen the movie by now, his criticisms may provoke a few more viewings and, I hope, a look at Kip Thorne’s excellent book on science in the making of the film.

By Larry Klaes

When I first heard about the existence of the film Interstellar, I was initially hopeful yet cautious. Most science fiction, especially these days, is some variation on Star Wars, which is often about as scientific and science fictional as the Harry Potter series. Yet Christopher Nolan and his team insisted they were striving hard to stick to REAL science with their production: They even had the famous Caltech astrophysicist Kip Thorne on their side, the very man who convinced none other than Carl Sagan to go with a wormhole rather than a black hole as the means to propel Ellie Arroway across space and time to meet the ETI in his 1985 novel (and 1997 film) titled Contact.

My real hope was that Interstellar would both portray a realistic method of travel among the stars based on currently known and plausible science and technology (no ambiguous hyper drives or nearly magical wormholes) and ignite the public’s passion for true interstellar exploration – along with overall space exploration and colonization in the process. A decent and maybe even original story with characters I genuinely cared about would be nice, too. Something to counterbalance the last three decades of fantasy and soap opera that Star Wars and Star Trek had done to science fiction after the golden age of the cinematic genre in the 1960s and early 1970s.


The cry and hue that the story of Interstellar was based on real science and was very similar to the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey thrust upon the world by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke 46 years earlier only grew as the date of its general release approached. My gut feeling that Interstellar was not going to be a straightforward science film of fiction also grew, but I kept hoping to be wrong, that somehow we were going to have a cinematic creation of the genre worthy of 2001 or at least in the same room as Kubrick’s masterpiece. Heck, I would be happy if Interstellar was in the same building or at least on the same street as the original 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When I finally saw Interstellar on the big screen I sadly realized my underlying fears were true. In a number of ways the film was even worse than I predicted and not just because it felt like I was watching something created by an amateur filmmaker whom the studios had given a big budget to and told to do as he pleased. My hopes of giving the general nonscientific public an anchor to see and appreciate how we might really send our species to the stars one day were also dashed.

Now I may be wrong, for Interstellar did do a lot of positive cheerleading for the cause of science and expansion into space and that could be enough to tip the scales or at least contribute to humanity getting off this rock permanently. Nevertheless I feel the way Nolan and company went about showing how people might spread into the Cosmos could ultimately undermine the enterprise with unrealistic and even damaging expectations.

Is Interstellar a cinematic herald that will turn the public’s interest and support towards a destiny in space? Or is it an unwitting siren’s song that will lure in unwary viewers to expect our journeys and colonization of the Cosmos to be like the fantastical paths in the film, only to lead them to unfulfilled dreams, disappointment, and ultimately turn away from what has long been called the Final Frontier?

Now to elaborate….

Let’s Put On a Show!

First the film itself. I am not a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s work even though I know he has a rather rabid fan base. I feel most of his films, while nice looking and not lacking in action, are rather heavy-handed in their messages, which themselves are given a gravity I find undeserving overall. About the only film of Nolan’s that did do more than just temporarily entertain me was The Dark Knight from his Batman trilogy and that was mainly due to the late actor Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as the psychopathic villain The Joker.


In any event I expected a director and producer of Nolan’s experience to come up with something better than what I witnessed on the big screen. Yes Nolan was clearly influenced by 2001 and many parts of Interstellar were both emulations and tributes to the 1968 cinematic landmark, but ultimately that is essentially what Interstellar felt like, a tribute by someone who thought they could make a 2001 level science fiction film for this generation but ultimately fell short. It was both a bit surprising and disappointing.

Across the Internet many people were quite vocal in praising and defending Interstellar and that of course is their right. I noted in particular how many were adamant both that it was “just a film” as if this were some deep revelation and that any poor or inaccurate portrayals of science should not matter, usually reverting back to the “just a film” reason or Interstellar not being a documentary as the most common excuses. No, Interstellar was not a terrible film and it was obvious that Nolan et al tried very hard to make good science fiction cinema. Perhaps that is what makes it all the sadder that for all their talent and budget they could not match what they tried to emulate or even as a lesser science fiction film, not even in the three hours they had to tell their story. And when one has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and years on a project and loaded it with important messages for a wide audience, then Interstellar is NOT “just a film.”

To me it felt like Nolan said to himself “Hey, I can write science fiction!” and then proceeded to show why and how making a good creation of the genre is not as easy as the fluff the public has been fed since 1977. I also blame this on why certain segments of the public think Interstellar is so wonderful: When you have been fed a near steady diet of hamburger for decades, suddenly being given a better made hamburger (yet a hamburger nonetheless) makes you think you are dining on a porterhouse steak. Or cooking up one, apparently.

I am not going to delve much into the science portrayed in Interstellar as many have already done so (Google the words ‘interstellar science’) and amazingly even a science book by Kip Thorne himself was produced on the very subject, which perhaps may be the best thing to come out of this whole effort. I do not want to detract from the main points I really want to make about Interstellar next in this piece. Besides, there will still be enough of my comments on the science of Interstellar in the process.

When You Wish Upon a Wormhole…

I was honestly quite bothered by the way Interstellar went about saying and showing how humanity may one day achieve the stars. The first issue is their reason for spreading into deep space: In the film it is not due to humanity’s desire for knowledge or adventure, it is primarily one of survival. Now while needing to evacuate Earth and the Sol system is one legitimate reason for developing a means of interstellar transportation and colonization, there are two problems with this scenario: One is that it is often considered to be the ONLY legitimate reason for sending humans to the stars. The other is that if humanity and our planet are in some kind of dire trouble where the only alternative is to evacuate, the odds are probably rather high that humanity will already be in a state where building any kind of interstellar vessel, even a slow-moving multigenerational starship, may no longer be an option. So if we are ever to develop a real interstellar capability, perhaps we should start conducting one while our civilization is not in a major state of crisis or outright impending doom.

In the near future, a disease called only the Blight has decimated most crops across Earth and is steadily increasing the amount of nitrogen in our planet’s atmosphere. This in turn has led to many aspects of the society falling towards doom, including space travel in general and NASA in particular. The slow march to extinction for the human species appears to be inevitable and the efforts at preservation shown in Interstellar are only buying time.

Then suddenly it is revealed (by methods which feel like nothing less than the supernatural) that NASA isn’t gone but merely hiding underground (literally) to escape a skeptical and increasingly ignorant and panicky public while what is left of the United States government secretly funds the space agency for several plans it has to save the human race, or at least some of it. One part of the plan involves flying up to a spaceship in Earth orbit which will then take a crew of brave astronauts (and a collection of frozen and fertilized human eggs as the backup part of the plan) to travel to a wormhole which appeared near the planet Saturn some decades ago. From there the astronauts will use the wormhole to journey to a solar system in another galaxy and check out three worlds circling a black hole to see if initial reports beamed back from earlier expeditions there do indeed prove these alien planets to be viable places for human colonization.


It has already been stated multiple times elsewhere about the concerns one might understandably have about venturing to planets in the gravitational grip of a black hole. We have also been informed more than once how Thorne made some actual new scientific revelations about this type of celestial object while helping the filmmakers create a realistic black hole. What bothers me deeply is that the public will have even more firmly entrenched in their minds that cosmic wormholes are probably the only way humanity will ever achieve interstellar travel (the other faster than light speed contenders are of course warp drives and hyperdrives).

What may be even more harmful is that the wormhole was apparently not a natural cosmic formation but placed deliberately near the ringed gas giant world by some unknown advanced entities from the future in our Sol system for use by their distant human ancestors from the struggling Earth. This will merely add reinforcement to those who think humans both in the past and present are not bright enough to solve their own problems and build wondrous devices in the process, that some outside force like advanced aliens or future humans must intervene or all is lost. This is an insult to the intelligence and ingenuity of our ancestors and present ourselves, who have done and learned some amazing things without any external assistance and beaten some very strong odds against us and our societies.

Anyone who has done more than a very casual read of Centauri Dreams knows there are multiple methods for interstellar travel which are plausible and do not invoke help from remote human descendants or superior ETI and do not require abilities that seem to be almost magical in their powers. Ironically the new television miniseries called Ascension, which I thought would be little more than an imitation of Mad Men set in space for the novelty, involves a multigenerational starship with Orion nuclear pulse propulsion – both forms of star voyaging which we could build either now or in the rather near future.

It is obvious that Nolan, feeling he had to have a means for star travel grand enough to match his visions and huge film budget ($165 million, which does not even include marketing costs), while lacking a strong background in science and technology (he even says as much in Thorne’s science companion book), went for what he thought would invoke the wonder and magic of the Cosmos for his audience. Maybe it did, but maybe it also left the general public thinking there is only one real way to attain the vast realm beyond the Sol system. This implies that we should let the smart people of the future do all the grunt work to hopefully come up with a device that seems to solve the physics and technical issues resident with wormholes with little effort.

This concern of mine has a real world basis in the reactions of the press and public to some of the more recent interstellar workshops and conferences. While these wonderful and groundbreaking events have many real experts discussing about and working upon a wide range of interstellar methods of propulsion and exploration which involve real physics and technology, the media instead tends to focus on those presentations about warp drives and wormholes, both of which suffer from some major obstacles in reality.

However, thanks to certain popular genres, this does not stop the general public from overly attaching their attention and excitement onto hypothetical means of reaching the stars which may not come to fruition for a very long time, if ever. Witness the hype about the belief that NASA is developing a warp drive, when in reality there is just one person working on the subject on a very limited budget and has so far produced a few academic papers from it all. Meanwhile the more plausible methods such as the aforementioned Orion, fusion propulsion, laser sails, and antimatter, are left standing off to the side, diminished by the very artificial glare of the flashier warp drives and wormholes. Yet Orion and its brethren, while certainly having some issues of their own, give us much better chances of actually getting us to Alpha Centauri and beyond, even if it will take years to centuries rather than minutes or seconds.

Despite what may seem at first to be incongruent to common sense, many people do get much of their “education” about the world from films and television whether they think so or not (or like It or not); whether it is accurate or not is another matter, yet they still absorb it and take what the film shows as the way something is, especially if it is a place or object unfamiliar to their everyday experiences. This certainly includes space science and astronomy, as these subjects are often either taught sparingly in the public school systems or not at all. This is why the general public and the media by extension focus so much on using warp drives or hyperdrives or wormholes as the most popular and expected means of deep space propulsion. These are not only the most complex methods but also perhaps the most unrealistic, but when your education comes from Hollywood, that hardly matters – except when it comes to supporting groups that are trying to make interstellar travel a reality.


Just So Long as We Look Really Cool

Then there is the issue of where the expedition in Interstellar was going to start a new civilization for humanity. Forget for a moment that the best candidate planets are circling a giant black hole, perhaps one of the worst places to be near in the Universe between the constant threat of being torn apart and then crushed into a singular dot and the massive amounts of radiation from all the x-rays being generated as celestial debris is constantly being pulled into the black hole and heating up immensely in the process. There is also the general lack of any light from an object with a mass strong enough to keep any photons from escaping but why quibble at this point? The worlds around the black hole named Gargantua seem to get enough illumination somehow so that the visiting astronauts can see what they are doing and getting into.

No, my even greater issue with the scenario is that apparently there was not a single world of the 400 billion star systems in our own Milky Way galaxy which were good enough to resettle what was left of our species. This despite the fact that even in our early stages of knowledge about real exoplanets we can now comfortably estimate there are billions of habitable worlds in the Milky Way: With those kinds of odds at least some of them should be good enough for terrestrial life to settle upon, or at the least be made viable for colonization. Instead the superior future humans (or whatever they really are exactly) chose a galaxy so remote that the people doing the initial exploring do not even know where it is In the Universe. So if something went wrong, the people on either side of the wormhole are literally stuck with no other apparent options.

In many science fiction films and television series which deal with deep space, Hollywood has often made no distinction between a solar system and a galaxy. While the makers of Interstellar were aware of these two very different kinds of celestial objects, the fact that they still had our main characters whiz off not to another solar system in the Milky Way but another entire galaxy many millions if not perhaps billions of light years away probably blurred the distinction for many in the audience, who sadly have little better knowledge of astronomy than a typical Hollywood producer.

For that matter, this film should have properly been called Intergalactic rather than Interstellar, since any travel outside the Sol system by the astronauts led not to another star system in our galaxy but another entire stellar island. I see this as a missed educational opportunity for a cinematic production team which boasted how scientific their film is and hoped it would inspire millions of viewers.

What is Love? Baby Don’t Hurt Me

Perhaps there is one thing more derailing about Interstellar than a near magical wormhole sent from the future and that is the film’s take on the concept of love. And the fifth dimension. Of the many instances where Nolan tried to channel Kubrick’s 2001, perhaps the biggest example was near the end of the film, when our hero astronaut named Cooper rides into the black hole called Gargantua and somehow ends up inside an infinite bookcase where he attempts to communicate with his daughter named Murphy using Morse code. She in turn goes on to create what I can only surmise is some form of cavorite – the antigravity material written about in the 1901 science fiction novel The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells – which somehow saves what is left of the human race by getting them off Earth and into giant space colonies, one of which ends up around the ever-photogenic Saturn.

This then begs the question: Why did we spend the vast majority of the film focused on trying to save humanity by colonizing some really distant alien worlds when we ended up living in massive space cities in our Sol system after all?

Much of the film’s latter parts can only be described as a metaphysical mess which were actually made worse when Nolan tried to throw in explanations to make it all seem somehow plausible along with dramatic and heartwarming. Sure, Kubrick also went seemingly transcendent with the famous Stargate sequence in 2001, but at least he had the good sense to speak only with images and let the viewers decide what was going on. Nolan fell into the trap that most cinematic and television producers make these days and that is they feel they have to explain EVERYTHING. Even if it is a bunch of metaphysical technobabble.

All Nolan really did was reinforce my concern that the public will think we can reach the stars only if we do the future technological equivalent of clicking our heels together three times and wishing really hard.


And this thing called love. I literally started to sink into my theater chair when I heard the character of Brand played by Anne Hathaway declare with dead seriousness that love is not just a chemical reaction or a genetic drive to continue the species but a physical, tangible force that can transcend space and time and unite two people despite any and all odds including deep, deep space. This is how she knew her lover was still alive on one of the worlds circling that black hole.

I know love can make people do amazing, crazy, and stupid things, but Nolan really went off into the deep end of the pseudoscientific swimming pool here. This notion about love is the kind of thing one expects from a Lifetime or Hallmark Channel production, not an expensive epic wannabe that continually boasts about how scientific it is – and then immediately dances down the magical mystery tour path. If they had stuck with the melodramatic message that love can drive and unite two people even if they are very far apart in space and time in the metaphorical sense, that would have worked. But then they went the pseudoscience route, which really undermined Nolan’s repeated claims about how science-oriented Interstellar is.

How Not to Buy the Farm

For a film that I assumed wanted to inspire the average Joe and Jane to support space exploration, I was left rather wondering about their treatment of farmers and farming in general. Cooper’s son, Tom, is designated by the local school system – the same one that said the Apollo lunar landings were a hoax, please note – as being smart enough for farming. Cooper takes this pretty much as a given and for the rest of the film we see our hero astronaut bonding over and over with his daughter, the smart one who grows up to become the scientist who solves the “gravity problem” – whatever the heck that was anyway. As an astronaut who desperately wants to get back into space, everything else, including working in the terrestrial dirt, is second rate.

Not too many generations ago, most people were farmers. And even though the number of participants in this occupation are much less these days, there are still plenty more whose jobs are much closer to farming than those of science. So why does Interstellar implicitly put down the average Joe and Jane even if it thinks it doesn’t mean to? Son Tom grows up to become the farmer he was more or less assigned to be, one who is so focused on his trade that even when his sister and her boyfriend warn Tom that he and his family have to consider leaving their home and fields due to health problems from all the dust caused from the Blight, his reaction is a very negative one tinged with growing hostility.

In the end we don’t know what becomes of Tom or his family in the later years, because Cooper’s bond is mainly with his scientist daughter and not the son he pretty much wrote off the day the school determined he was good enough for farming.

While I for one was very happy to see a film which verbally promoted and elevated space and those who want to explore it, I was also surprised at all the underlying negativity towards what I guess can best be described as Middle America. If anything Nolan should have been trying to find ways to show folks who were not science minded or ever considered the possibilities that space holds for our species and our planet that they too could participate in the Great Adventure; that space truly does hold the keys to our future. Instead we get Cooper making comments such as: “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” He may have been largely right both for his world and ours, but putting up a further divide between the two modes of thought that also treats Earth as something separate from the rest of the Universe, which as a big ball of rock circling a star through space certainly means it is not, is not going to help the cause in our world to get off that dirt – or use space to help it, for that matter.

Oh Look, O’Neil’s Space Colonies – Hey, Wait, Come Back!

Despite the fact that it kind of felt like defeating the whole point of spending so much time and effort with those astronauts trying to find a new world to colonize on the other side of that mysterious wormhole, I was rather pleased to see the scenes near the end taking place aboard an honest-to-goodness O’Neil space colony.

In the 1970s we were presented with huge artificial space cities looking like either long cylinders or wheels with spokes. Thousands of people were going to live on them and construction would begin by the start of the 21st Century: The Bicentennial issue of National Geographic Magazine devoted an article to the concept, complete with very nice artwork showing how we could all be living in these floating space colonies fifty years hence – that is how serious and widespread the idea was becoming, at least in the minds of space fans
Of course just like the manned missions to Mars, we are still waiting for them to happen, but the ideas have taken on a form of reality in science fiction cinema. The Stanford torus version of the O’Neil space colony is a key player in the 2013 film Elysium, although it isn’t doing space utilization any favors by showing that only the rich and powerful get to live way up in Earth orbit while everyone else gets to struggle for existence on a dying planet.

For Interstellar, the space colony is for everyone, or at least all those who could manage to survive long enough to escape Earth and start new lives on these huge artificial worlds thanks to Cooper’s scientist daughter solving the “gravity problem”, whatever that was exactly. Again, why the film did not depict humanity expanding into the Sol system, which would have been a lot easier than even more conventional forms of interstellar travel let alone a wormhole that appears by virtual magic, I still do not quite understand. Just as I do not understand why those future humans let machines, resources, and lives be wasted attempting to colonize a few really distant and rather inhospitable alien planets which being from the future they should have known about already. So that Cooper and Brand could hook up on the one planet that was livable? I know Brand also had all those Plan B frozen fertilized eggs with her as well, so maybe they were supposed to start a new branch of the human race in another galaxy, but I did not see how exactly they were going to gestate all those eggs and then raise the children into successful adulthood on their own? Were those monolithic robots supposed to help?

We the audience did get a more satisfying and plausible answer to solving the dilemma of settling space with those big artificial colony worlds, but it took most of the three hour long film going down some rather murky and even dead end roads to get there. I wondered how many viewing Interstellar could appreciate or even remember what an O’Neil colony was and what it promised humanity by then? And what about settling actual worlds in our Sol system, namely the Moon and Mars? Did they get colonized and Nolan just didn’t bother to have anyone mention it? Are the planetoids and comets colonized too? Why didn’t they get at least a mention considering just how important their roles will be when real space colonies come along? I think a real opportunity to present how we could colonize our celestial neighborhood was missed here.

Teaching Them to Long for the Endless Immensity of the Sea

Ironically, for all my views on and concerns about Intergalactic – I mean Interstellar – my fondest hope is that I am wrong when it comes to the film succeeding in its intentions, that Nolan’s effort does pay off with the public supporting space in their minds, with their words, and with their wallets. Especially those who so vocally defended Interstellar. We have enough pretend space programs and actors portraying astronauts; we need to do our part to show how much more amazing and exciting the real Universe is and can be.

Perhaps the author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, has it right about how to get the public interested in settling the stars when he said the following:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

And while you are at it, as Interstellar said multiple times, do not go gentle into that good night. Rather, go boldly with a sense of adventure and purpose, all of which space can give us – and which we can do on our own with our minds and tools. We are the ones who will create the future, not the other way around.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mike Lockmoore January 5, 2015, 15:30

    Late to the party here… OK, despite several eye-rolling moments, and several scientific and plot elements that don’t hold up to later consideration, I rather enjoyed ‘Interstellar.’

    I think it is unreasonable and perhaps a bit selfish to review and critique it negatively on the basis of it not being close to the movie you’d hope it would be — based on what exactly, the title? A one-line blurb? Larry, you seem to have had a lot of specific expectations for this movie. Is the fact that there is a huge gulf between what you expected/wanted and what it actually is the film’s /filmaker’s fault, or yours? ‘Interstellar’ is a drama/action movie that uses several SF elements and setting to explore themes of abandonment, conviction, commitment, destiny, trust, reconciliation, trade-offs, aging, survival, and yes, love. I tried to go into seeing this film with an open mind, and as such I was able to mostly enjoy it very much. Too bad your expectations were so far off it prevented you from doing the same.

    Several people have suggested a better title would have been ‘Gravity,’ had that not been already taken, but I don’t think that quite gets it quite right. ‘Space-time’ might be better… the movie seemed to be be mostly about exploring what, if anything, can cross or manipulate the boundaries of space-time, in situations both mundane and extraordinary. So enjoy it for that, just be sure to take it in with more than a few grains of salt! (To use an old expression.)

  • Kyle Lillard January 5, 2015, 21:58

    “Although, we’ve gone over this before, I disagree that there are practical options for manned interstellar travel other than warp drives and wormholes. Multi- generational ships assume that a closed system is sustainable- an assumption that lacks evidence.”

    I agree with the sustainable part. The movie has its flaws, but choosing a wormhole over centuries-long interstellar nuclear-pulse or lightsail was a smart move if you want to save millions of people and not just a few thousand embryos. Remember that one of the main points of going through the wormhole and investigating the blackhole is to save everyone on Earth (or as many as possible) by building a workable Mothership (or Motherships) capable of ferrying millions (billions ?) of people out to Saturn by “solving gravity” after Coop and his team send back the new data they gather from the blackhole to NASA. NASA is designing a massive ship to fit as many people as possible in it, not as a permanent home, but like a temporary RV until they get to the new planet. The ship is so massive it can only overcome escape velocity by “solving gravity”, if I recall correctly, i.e. new physics. I don’t know why they can’t build it in space and launch mass amounts of people out to it over decades with conventional rockets, but whatever.

    So, if we want to save everyone on Earth, and we “solved” the problem of getting them onto a mothership and into space, while a wormhole is arguably very unrealistic, it’s a very necessary fictional device to accomplish this. Sending a significant fraction of Earth’s population through a wormhole next to Saturn might be just within future ~21st century technology, especially if they have Orion-esque motherships to play with. Once you solve the logistics of building and launching the thing, it simply takes a lot less time to reach Saturn and that new planet, than if Nolan were to rewrite the plot and replace it with, say, a multi-generational ship on its way to the Gliese system 20 ly away. Even with Orion, that mission would take centuries with 21st century tech.

    I’m sorry but there’s zero chance we could pull something off like that with millions/billions of people on board. Not until at the very least we learn how to live very sustainably on Earth. Maybe with a crew limited to under 1000, but not the millions-billions from Earth living on the Orion mothership that they’re wanting to evacuate in the movie. There’s just no way that by 2070 or whenever the movie takes place, we’ll have matured enough scientifically, let alone socially or culturally, to live the strict, disciplined lives that would be required to sustain millions of people on a closed-system ship of limited means for centuries, vs the few years/months it’d take to get to Saturn and through the wormhole. Still implausible, but one is much more likely than the other, even if we have to accept wormholes and “gravity solving” physics to get there. That’s why at the end I took the ship to be only a short-term “ferry” that was still in the process of getting the last people off Earth.

    Nolan is far from my favorite film-maker, but what would you have him do? Change the script and ditch the wormhole for a nuclear propelled ship off to the Gliese system and leaving everyone on Earth to die while he gets comfy with Anne Hathaway? Kind of a downer ending. If this were a book series, he could do what many authors do and set it millennia in the future when we might have sufficient tech to build “multi-generational” ships capable of traversing to the stars with millions on board. But you can’t do this with a Hollywood movie because the studio would want it to take place sometime in the near future to alienate the audience less. And yes, of course, if we see our doom coming centuries in advance we should plan for it so it’s not a desperate last gasp mission, but does anyone really think that would happen so perfectly? Especially if some strange new disease like “Blight” appeared and gave us just a few generations to stop it? Witness the inaction over climate change if you have so much faith in contemporary humanity.

    Also, I find it funny that everyone here is so up in arms about small things like how they launch off that water planet with only that little shuttle thing and no Saturn V (legitimate criticism) but everyone gives the time-paradox a pass. Yes, it is a time paradox-time loop. Hawking thinks their impossible, but since their not completely ruled out yet, I guess you can do mental gymnastics to justify them. It doesn’t necessarily follow from a wormhole, either, although both are improbable, together, the two are even more improbable. Neil deGrasse Tyson noted this and his attitude is “go with it”. It doesn’t ruin the movie for me, but it’s just amazing to me how if you’re going criticize the “realism” of the movie, you concentrate on the perhaps-impossible wormholes as a method of travel and not the probably-impossible time loops, for which no clear explanation in the movie is ever given.

    I realize the movie is not perfect but I enjoyed it for what it is. At least it gets people thinking about space exploration and the need to get off this rock. We can work out the finer details after we can convince the public it’s an ambition worth pursuing… something this movie may in some small part help to do.

  • ljk January 6, 2015, 13:04

    Mike Lockmoore said on January 5, 2015 at 15:30:

    “Larry, you seem to have had a lot of specific expectations for this movie. Is the fact that there is a huge gulf between what you expected/wanted and what it actually is the film’s /filmaker’s fault, or yours?”

    I expected a good science fiction film that portrayed interstellar travel using plausible scientific methods of propulsion from a veteran film producer with lots of resources at his command. I received neither. Interstellar also came up short in the general story and character departments.

    I do not think it is too much to ask for a good science fiction film with good science, seeing how relatively few films of the genre have ever been made. Failing that, a decent drama with characters I can believe in and care about will be better than nothing if they expect me to spend 3 hours and $12 with them. That too fell short. But I was mostly disappointed that Interstellar did not show a viable way to the stars for the general public.

    Yes the special effects were nice, but in this age of CGI I expect a Hollywood blockbuster which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce to have nothing less than excellent special effects.

    Nolan thought he was making the next 2001: A Space Odyssey. So did the folks who made the 2013 SF film Oblivion. The problem is they largely mistook style for substance.

    To quote from my article regarding the state of SF cinema since the start of the Star Wars era:

    “When you have been fed a near steady diet of hamburger for decades, suddenly being given a better made hamburger (yet a hamburger nonetheless) makes you think you are dining on a porterhouse steak. Or cooking up one, apparently.”

    Despite all I have just said, I will be happy if Interstellar does inspire the public to support the space sciences and exploration as Nolan intended. There are certainly a lot of people out there who are quite publicly passionate about this film. Now let us see if this verbal support turns into financial support.

  • Mike Lockmoore January 6, 2015, 14:19

    ” I will be happy if Interstellar does inspire the public to support the space sciences and exploration as Nolan intended.”

    Me too! I like to see accurate representations of science in film and other forms of entertainment too, though I can admit that realistic space travel is tough to make ‘sexy’ enough for the short attention span of many viewers, especially ticket-buying viewers.

    Maybe ‘Europa Report’ has a good depiction of space flight and exploration while staying entertaining as a movie? I have not seen it yet, but I’d like to.

  • ljk January 6, 2015, 18:12
  • Dmitri January 7, 2015, 8:52

    Just get used to it Transformers rake $1bn per episode & get sequels but Europa Reports is unknown nowhere featured film that no one heard of and Blu-ray available on Amazon for $6.

    I can’t come to terms your claim on Interstellar being deliberately a new 2001 ASO as it has not been nor was it intended nor has 2001 ASO any qualities that has to be cherished in such way that it’s the only hallmark creation that sets everything apart or every new has to be coupled with it arbitrary. 2001 ASO is so unbearably deeply mythological up to occultism alike way it’s awfully hard to watch more than couple of times. Whatever Kubrick intended he did for showing what you can have as a Sci-Fi movie. It speaks the language of abstract art with some elements of space flight specifics. That’s it.
    Kubrik & Clarky collaboration was first at the time as was the movie. Please note Kubrik was directly influenced by 1957 Klushansky documentary “Road to the Stars” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXt30Ing3Kk) that made him to think to do 2001 ASO .

    Interstellar is no 2001 ASO nor vice versa but Interstellar clearly opens doors for the coming unknown to us movies. Before LOTR trilogy there was not a single serious masterpiece on that subject or such gravity. Even then Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter flopped financially and H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness failed due to unbearably small predictable profit for the studio. Before LOTR no one considered make these books to movies and one leads to another regarding putting money into such movies. People are highly visual creatures. This is the reason movies makes so much money despite the fact there are more fantastic books to be screened than movies that deserve to be watched. I personally can’t get over how come Star Wars is such a cult in the states yet Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas is not even under consideration.

    Interstellar will open the door and usher such brilliant movies to come we never anticipated or predicted opening a specific niche. One can’t like everything that’s why it’s better to let it go. Maybe in later years the roads might cross again and the relationship reconsider but the fact remains one creation will open opportunities the others never had before and the consequent descendants will have the way it was to be expected.

    I truly hope to see what Interstellar have for generation in 50 years time to understand how societies related to it. It’s the same principle with 2001 ASO to contemporary people but here the similarities between those end.

  • ljk January 7, 2015, 11:30

    Dmitri said on January 7, 2015 at 8:52:

    “Just get used to it Transformers rake $1bn per episode & get sequels but Europa Reports is unknown nowhere featured film that no one heard of and Blu-ray available on Amazon for $6.”

    Dmitri, I sincerely hope you are not saying a film is better based on how much money it rakes in?

    Many people have been comparing Interstellar to 2001, including Nolan. So although I think the former is inferior to the latter, the comparisons were made just the same. Which for me was an early red flag, along with their constant touting about how scientifically accurate Interstellar was because they had Kip Thorne on their team. He ended up spending most of the time just doing what Nolan wanted rather than really influencing the film in a more realistic direction. Just read the science companion book if you need evidence for this.

    “Interstellar will open the door and usher such brilliant movies to come we never anticipated or predicted opening a specific niche.”

    That would be nice, but I will be surprised if Interstellar itself has the holding power 2001 has in terms of being remembered decades down the road.

    What I really want to see is all those folks who are praising Interstellar to the skies and claiming it to be the Second Coming will now put their money where their mouths are, literally, and support real space science. I will forgo a few good SF films for the real thing, which is always more inventive and surprising, to say nothing of beneficial to our species and society.

  • william January 8, 2015, 1:20

    @Mike Lockmoore and @Kyle Lillard, Sirs, I couldn’t agree more thoroughly with both your extremely fine analysis and what you wrote in your January 5th analysis of the movie. Bravo, absolutely bravo for a for what you said. And for the extreme eloquence that you used in explaining your arguments.

    If I may suggest, humbly, you both should seek employment, either as a science writer or perhaps an author in your own right, and I mean that with entire sincerity !

    I have to agree with you that Interstellar was a movie that for the most part had a great deal of magic in it, and that to nitpick it is to degrade it unnecessarily. It seems to me that the problems associated with removing the entire population of earth to a departure point, such as Saturn would be absolutely intractable and that in all reasonableness probably could not be accomplished in reality.

    For example, what do they mean when he said he would ‘solve’ the problem of gravity ? I kind of take it the way you did, that they wanted to find an easy way to lift the body of humanity to a Saturnian orbit in preparation for the wormhole, but that’s just my guess. The reason I point this out is that even in the best physical theories that Einstein has constructed there is no explanation of what happens in a lot of these physical situations: singularities. For example that do not have any type of mathematical or physical analysis behind them. So what to do here with such an idea?
    It becomes hard to answer, but the moviegoer is not exposed to this and perhaps in a little bit of detail, he or she should be allowed to get a glimpse of the difficulties. It certainly would add some realism !

    Perhaps the most familiar aspect to the movie that I saw had nothing to do with mathematics are physics; it had to do with the rather selfish motives behind Matt Damien’s character to mislead others at their expense, and risk their lives so that he would be ultimately saved !! Such a typical frailty and also so typically human! We really have to ask ourselves WHO WOULDN’T one to attempt such a ploy if it meant that we might not survive ? I saw that that was interesting as an inclusion rather than the heroics that we have often seen in so many different movies, even if they are not science fiction.

    In addition, as I pointed out earlier, the extreme difficulties of docking two ships, especially when the are in a rather precarious maneuvering situation is in fact what you could expect in real life. Don’t forget Apollo 13 had its oxygen tank blown out and that offset the ability to try to fire up the thrusters to perform the different orbital maneuvers that normally would’ve been fairly easy. Yes, all in all interstellar is a very good movie on so many levels.

  • Dmitri January 8, 2015, 14:50


    Movies like 2001 ASO & Interstellar do not get a go from the studios. From steady profit calculation by industry such gems like 2001 ASO and Interstellar get to be made purely by chance or accident because someone visualized & intended them to be made. The person has all the gravity one needs to influence the decision making. 2001 ASO (+ 2010 Odyssey Two) and Interstellar are films that stand on their own from all the rest. They are truly something that no one else came up or industry willing to bet on. Pillars that will withstand all the erosion of time.

    Jonathan Nolan is now considering turning Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series into TV series. It comes along with GoT success + he has confidence to pull of such feat for holy grail of holy grails of SciFi + he knows where finances are.

    When I bought tickets for Interstellar in front of me was a physics teacher with her whole class who she convinced to come to see Interstellar instead of having physics class in school. The only nasty surprise was the movie length that eventually stopped to purchase the tickets. Regardless the fact they didn’t see the film then the notion she convinced pupils to follow & and they were in for that is a fact of something extraordinary Interstellar holds.

    The same mechanism that allow Transformers to have sequels or Independence Day 2 to be made for its 20th anniversary in 2016 is now thanks to Interstellar profit, media coverage, people reactions, opening a completely new page in cinema industry that had no chance at all.

    Kip Thorne said he’s fine people have grudge on the theories he presented in the film. He has had a brilliant career in theoretical physics and doesn’t see any need to argue over weather he’s right or not. I must agree with him. Everyone has now a chance to make a script that will do better science on screen than his version.

    Because Scott Ridley is directing Andy Weir’s The Martian movie I have blacklisted it due to my deepest disappointments in his last works and his constant reluctance to admit he fails. This is my personal prejudice but most likely it has nothing to do how the movie will perform at box office.

    What I’m saying is some cinema directors we like and some we don’t and with some we connect on many levels on every work they release.

    My benevolence towards Christopher Nolan most likely has nothing to do with my feelings toward Interstellar but definitely I have enjoyed Christopher’s recent movies more than the others.

  • Dmitri January 8, 2015, 14:55

    ** GoT = Game of Thrones. **

  • ljk January 9, 2015, 14:10

    To quote from this review of the 1968 science fiction novel His Master’s Voice, by Stanislaw Lem:


    One of the most memorable passages in the book is a mere
    tangent to the plot. Peter Hogarth, the scientist narrating His
    Master’s Voice, encounters one of his colleagues reading
    science fiction novels–which he uses, he claims as a “generator
    of ideas.” Hogarth responds with his own view (which we can
    assume represents Lem’s own opinion): “The authors of these
    pseudo-scientific fairy tales supply the public with what it
    wants: truisms, clichés, stereotypes, all sufficiently costumed
    and made ‘wonderful’ so that the reader may sink into a safe
    state of surprise and at the same time not be jostled out of his
    philosophy of life. If there is progress in a culture, the progress
    is above all conceptual, but literature, the science-fiction
    variety in particular, has nothing to do with that.”

    It is to Lem’s credit that he writes science fiction that is
    immune to these criticisms. In the place of truisms, clichés,
    stereotypes,” he offers us an open-ended vision of the universe
    that defies our best efforts to simplify and sterilize its
    meanings. In a genre that is too often constrained and
    demeaned by conventions, Lem offers us powerful examples of
    a type of sci-fi that can stand comparison with the finest
    literary fiction of our time.

  • ljk January 12, 2015, 9:57

    Care for Some Science in Your Science Fiction? (Op-Ed)

    R.L. Akers | January 09, 2015 06:08 pm ET

    We Americans love our science fiction. But what’s the proper balance between science and fiction? Is it possible to spin a yarn that is simultaneously satisfying and scientifically solid?

    Sometimes I wonder. Especially when it comes to Hollywood movies, I think many writers must live by the maxim, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

    Blockbuster “sci-fi” franchises like “Star Wars,” “Star Trek ” and “Stargate” might be forgiven if they require some suspension of disbelief; after all, no one suspects them of striving for plausibility. But what about more serious fare, films like “Interstellar ” or “Gravity ,” which set out to tell a story that could really happen?

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    I propose that plausible science fiction is more satisfying than the alternative. It needn’t be a question of balancing science and fiction. Why even frame the question as either-or? Why can’t we have it all, allowing scientific plausibility to form the foundation of the writing process, then serve as a litmus test for every plot device or story element under consideration?

    The answer is that we can have it all, but it takes more time: more time writing and then rewriting, more time researching and fact checking — and then, after all that, more time rewriting again, because even if a storyteller managed to attain plausibility and consistency in each scene, chances are he or she introduced some overarching issues along the way that must be addressed.

  • ljk January 12, 2015, 10:05

    The Similarities Between Interstellar and Queen’s ’39

    November 16, 2014 By Sam Islam

    Way back in July 2014, I wrote a little article suggesting that Christopher Nolan’s then-upcoming film Interstellar may be a feature-length adaptation of the Queen song ’39. This was all in good fun–I obviously didn’t have any insider details, and was basing my speculation solely on the official trailers and a few Wikipedia articles.

    Cut to November, and Interstellar has been released (read the spoiler-free review here). The aforementioned article I wrote has been gaining quite a bit of traction as of late, so I decided that it’s time to revisit this idea and see if it actually holds up. Surprisingly enough, many of them do, and there are a lot of similarities between Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic and the Brian May helmed song from A Night at the Opera. So let’s break it down!

    Full article here:


    I thought Nolan was just following the path laid down by Spielberg’s original script in 2008, but now I guess I can add a rock song to the mix of explaining Interstellar.

  • william January 12, 2015, 16:24

    So the 64,000 dollar question here; how did you Mr. Gilster enjoy the movie ‘Interstellar’ ? I don’t believe I heard you stating your opinion on the liking or disliking of the movie, and why or why not you felt that way ?

    In a similar but slightly different vein, I had the thought is there any possibility that you Mr. Gilster in some possible way could in fact, contact say the director or producer of some of the science fiction movie and perhaps if their busy schedules could permit it, maybe one of the directors or producers might be able to squeeze out a quote or two for Centauri dreams ?

  • Paul Gilster January 12, 2015, 17:07

    My thoughts on the film ran back on December 10. I was impressed with it and think it will inspire a lot of young people to choose careers in science:


  • Dmitri January 16, 2015, 5:44

    @Paul Gilster
    “…and think it will inspire a lot of young people to choose careers in science”

    After reading Kip Throne Science Behind Interstellar would say regardless anyone feelings toward the movie, or has it seen it, the book itself will be most influential in recent times for younger people shaping their future and making decisions who they want to become in one or another way. Not necessarily due to content, very likely due to additional literature & experiments/people to follow. These paragraphs at the end show how much there’s into what Interstellar or Kip Throne wrote in the book.

    Must admit I was deeply moved and intrigued by the book. Hoping libraries will advertise it as recommended reading.

  • Dmitri January 16, 2015, 5:51

    Neatly wowing into film / TV series presenting realistic picture of space travel topic. Definitely a surprise to see it been made into miniseries.
    Daily Mail runs a story on premiering on an UK TV channel SyFy 3-series TV drama Ascension what is based on project Orion & interviews Freeman Dyson on his participation of the real project.

    Ascension takes project Orion space ship as if it’s built & what the space mission on it would look like.


  • Paul Gilster January 16, 2015, 12:37

    Dmitri writes:

    After reading Kip Throne Science Behind Interstellar would say regardless anyone feelings toward the movie, or has it seen it, the book itself will be most influential in recent times for younger people shaping their future and making decisions who they want to become in one or another way.

    That was my take as well. In my view, younger viewers who are intrigued by the science will take a look at Thorne’s book, a synergy between film and publishing that may well turn some toward careers in the field. Thorne is a persuasive writer and he gets across the excitement of his subject.

  • Dmitri January 16, 2015, 14:46

    I’m actually pleased how Interstellar depicted many many features I recognized & accepted as it is the closest I’ll ever get in my lifetime. I’ve seen description / depictions of such features on various hard science documentaries but this was truly first time to see with my own eyes how it looks:
    a) habitable planet around the black hole
    b) tsunami waves due to gigantic gravitational pull (& very shallow sea due to that.)
    c) 1 g in space (!!) and how it’s made
    d) means for hibernation
    e) embryonic interstellar travel
    … etc …

    I truly was intrigued can I somehow somewhere read about what is behind the movie. I didn’t know about the book and would have been so if I haven’t crossed Centauri-Dreams again. I’m not joking – this was the case. Not an avid book buyer over the Internet this time I bought it and the rest is history.

    What I’m concerned there may be many people why know about the movie but nothing about the book. That’s why I’m hoping libraries will make their part into spreading the knowledge of the book. I would consider reading the book a bit more important as it refers to many more work and people around the world. The movie is just piece of work. One takes it as he/she perceived. The book in the other hand says at the end pages “here is the list what you can research (even for the ones who didn’t like / understood the book)”. That is many many times more efficient. It literally opens for some eyes what else is out there.

    Personally I hope the book will be translated into Estonian.

  • ljk January 18, 2015, 9:17

    I am surprised the Internet took this long to make a parody….


    My favorite bit is the goof on the robots whose design did not make practical sense. Plus they did the time honored tradition of being comic relief in a science fiction film.

  • ljk January 20, 2015, 23:32

    “My God, it’s Full of Physics!*” The Sciency Science of Interstellar

    by Calvin Johnson

    Let’s get something out there right away: most science in science fiction is wrong. That’s okay, because most science fiction isn’t actually about science, anyway, but about our relationship with science, exploring how science and technology intersects with our lives. Frankenstein is about the quest for knowledge, no matter the cost. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea chronicles how one man’s rejection of the violent machinery of war and power leads him to be the ultimate, terrible instrument of that same violence. The movie Gattaca warns us of the dangers of using a single technological lens for measuring humanity.

    Interstellar had Kip Thorne, a prominent Caltech theorist and expert in gravity, as a scientific advisor. But in the end it was the sci-fi equivalent of Peter Pan: if you clap your hands and believe, everything will turn out all right.

    As I’ve written elsewhere, a good narrative should be much a good joke: surprising yet ultimately logical. In the original version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the Nautilus is trapped in a mighty maelstrom; in the movie version the crew are ambushed by a naval blockade. Both outcomes arise naturally from a central character’s underestimate of the forces arrayed against them: in the book, Nemo underestimates the power of nature; in the movie, Ned Land underestimates the cold brutality and hatred of the military. Both are surprising, but make sense in the context of the story-so-far.

    By contrast, the plot of Interstellar basically boils down to this: a magical plague nearly extinguishes humanity. Then more magic saves it.

    Full article here:


  • ljk February 13, 2015, 10:27

    Yes, It Matters If The Science In Your Science Fiction Story Is Accurate

    Charlie Jane Anders

    Tuesday 12:44 pm

    There’s been a lot of debate lately over whether science fiction needs accurate science — or whether it’s even worth discussing the accuracy of science in science fiction. What kind of person expects a science textbook instead of just a fun romp? But as a new essay points out, this is really a matter of suspension of disbelief.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson, in particular, has come in for a lot of flak as a spoilsport, who nitpicks the science in movies like Gravity and Interstellar to an unhealthy degree. Why does Tyson have to take everything so seriously?

    In fact, the accuracy of the science is just one of many rubrics by which you can judge science fiction. You can judge a story by the believability of the plot, whether the story makes any sense, or the emotional and psychological depth of the characters. Or you can judge a story based on plausibility — and scientific accuracy is just one form of plausibility, which is a larger issue in fiction.

    If someone wrote a story set in the “real world,” in which a person who has never learned to read or write goes to Harvard and becomes a famous professor, you might have a hard time buying the basic idea — and many of the scientific inaccuracies in today’s science fiction are on that same level, for people with some scientific literacy. (The Moon’s an egg, and you can fly from the International Space Station to the Chinese space station in no time, etc. etc.)

    Full article here:


  • ljk February 13, 2015, 10:32

    Interstellar’s true black hole too confusing

    10:44 13 February 2015 by Jacob Aron

    Even black holes wear makeup in Hollywood. Last year’s hit film Interstellar used real scientific equations to depict what happens when a team of space farers venture near a supermassive black hole.

    Now, a joint paper published in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity from the movie’s visual effects team and scientific consultant reveal that the real black hole was deemed too confusing for audiences, and some of the science had to be toned down.

    Interstellar’s premise was first conceived by physicist Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology, who wanted to make a realistic movie about black holes. He got together with director and co-writer Christopher Nolan, and also with London-based visual effects studio Double Negative to create the movie’s black hole, Gargantua.

    “I’d ask him a question and maybe a week later, sometimes a month, I’d get a beautifully presented paper that he’d laid out with references going into the history of the problems I’d been asking about,” says Oliver James, chief scientist of Double Negative.

    It’s not the first time physicists have used Albert Einstein’s equations of general relativity to produce images and movies of a black hole’s space-warping properties. But these were much lower resolution and less detailed than a Hollywood production, so the team had to make a few changes.

    To avoid flickering discontinuities, rather than tracing the paths of individual light rays to generate an image, they used bundles of rays, which serve to smooth out the resulting movie. “That involved quite a lot of research to calculate what would happen,” says James.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Alain Riazuelo of the Paris Institute of Astrophysics says he appreciates the team’s efforts, but a pure science project would have done things differently, because astronomers want to create models of what their telescopes might see from afar. “From an astrophysics perspective you would want to simulate different configurations of matter around the black hole, then try to predict what your observations would give you,” he says – the team just choose a disc they thought looked nice.

    Riazuelo met with Thorne a few years ago and gave him some early visualisations, so was slightly disappointed when the film wasn’t totally realistic. “I understood after a few minutes why they had done this, but I would have preferred they stick a little more close to realism,” he says, though it could have been much worse. “You should keep in mind there was nothing that obliged Christopher Nolan to try to stick to realistic science.”

    Yeah, who wants all that sciency nerd stuff getting in the way….

  • ljk February 13, 2015, 15:23


    Visualizing Interstellar’s Wormhole

    Oliver James (1), Eugenie von Tunzelmann (1), Paul Franklin (1), Kip S. Thorne (2) ((1) Double Negative Ltd (2) California Institute of Technology)
    (Submitted on 12 Feb 2015)

    Christopher Nolan’s science fiction movie Interstellar offers a variety of opportunities for students in elementary courses on general relativity theory.

    This paper describes such opportunities, including: (i) At the motivational level, the manner in which elementary relativity concepts underlie the wormhole visualizations seen in the movie. (ii) At the briefest computational level, instructive calculations with simple but intriguing wormhole metrics, including, e.g., constructing embedding diagrams for the three-parameter wormhole that was used by our visual effects team and Christopher Nolan in scoping out possible wormhole geometries for the movie. (iii) Combining the proper reference frame of a camera with solutions of the geodesic equation, to construct a light-ray-tracing map backward in time from a camera’s local sky to a wormhole’s two celestial spheres. (iv) Implementing this map, for example in Mathematica, Maple or Matlab, and using that implementation to construct images of what a camera sees when near or inside a wormhole. (v) With the student’s implementation, exploring how the wormhole’s three parameters influence what the camera sees—which is precisely how Christopher Nolan, using our implementation, chose the parameters for \emph{Interstellar}’s wormhole. (vi) Using the student’s implementation, exploring the wormhole’s Einstein ring, and particularly the peculiar motions of star images near the ring; and exploring what it looks like to travel through a wormhole.

    Comments: 14 pages and 13 figures. In press at American Journal of Physics
    Subjects: General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology (gr-qc); Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph)

    Cite as: arXiv:1502.03809 [gr-qc]

    (or arXiv:1502.03809v1 [gr-qc] for this version)

    Submission history

    From: Kip S. Thorne [view email]

    [v1] Thu, 12 Feb 2015 20:57:01 GMT (6257kb,D)


  • ljk February 13, 2015, 15:25


    Gravitational Lensing by Spinning Black Holes in Astrophysics, and in the Movie Interstellar

    Oliver James (1), Eugenie von Tunzelmann (1), Paul Franklin (1), Kip S. Thorne (2)

    (Submitted on 12 Feb 2015)

    Interstellar is the first Hollywood movie to attempt depicting a black hole as it would actually be seen by somebody nearby. For this we developed a code called DNGR (Double Negative Gravitational Renderer) to solve the equations for ray-bundle (light-beam) propagation through the curved spacetime of a spinning (Kerr) black hole, and to render IMAX-quality, rapidly changing images. Our ray-bundle techniques were crucial for achieving IMAX-quality smoothness without flickering.

    This paper has four purposes: (i) To describe DNGR for physicists and CGI practitioners . (ii) To present the equations we use, when the camera is in arbitrary motion at an arbitrary location near a Kerr black hole, for mapping light sources to camera images via elliptical ray bundles. (iii) To describe new insights, from DNGR, into gravitational lensing when the camera is near the spinning black hole, rather than far away as in almost all prior studies. (iv) To describe how the images of the black hole Gargantua and its accretion disk, in the movie \emph{Interstellar}, were generated with DNGR. There are no new astrophysical insights in this accretion-disk section of the paper, but disk novices may find it pedagogically interesting, and movie buffs may find its discussions of Interstellar interesting.

    Comments: 46 pages, 17 figures. In press at Classical and Quantum Gravity

    Subjects: General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology (gr-qc); High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena (astro-ph.HE)

    Cite as: arXiv:1502.03808 [gr-qc]

    (or arXiv:1502.03808v1 [gr-qc] for this version)

    Submission history

    From: Kip S. Thorne [view email]

    [v1] Thu, 12 Feb 2015 20:56:05 GMT (1503kb,D)


  • ljk February 24, 2015, 15:53

    Interstellar won the 2015 Oscar for Best Visual Effects:



    Details on the FX company:


    Don’t worry Interstellar devotees, 2001: A Space Odyssey was snubbed by the Academy in everything but special effects:


    And this was Kubrick’s ONLY Oscar ever.

    2001 FX guy Douglas Trumbull had some pointed views on Kubrick’s one win:


    This all just continues to prove that when it comes to the Oscars, you cannot be too innovative and different unless you are also pressing a current political or social hot button. And then it has to be the right kind of button in that category.

    Some day a science fiction film may win the Oscar for Best Picture, but will it ultimately matter, especially to the real devotees? Do you remember the film that beat out 2001 for that award? Exactly.

  • ljk February 27, 2015, 12:53

    Here is an explanation of the ending for Interstellar:


    Doesn’t make it any less wonky, please note.

  • ljk March 20, 2015, 8:41


    Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To ‘Interstellar’ Was “Much More Straightforward”

    By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist

    March 19, 2015 at 5:18 PM

    s anyone who followed the run-up to the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” last year knows, the project didn’t start with him. It was actually eyed by Steven Spielberg long before Nolan came on board, and had a script by Jonathan Nolan, with input from science brain Kip Throne. Once the older Nolan came onboard to direct, he made significant changes his brother’s script (among them, Murph was a boy in the first drafts of the screenplay), and what you saw on the big screen was Christopher’s take on the material. According to Jonathan, his version had a conclusion that was less cerebral and more science based. **Spoilers ahead**

    Okay, so we know that in “Interstellar” Matthew McConaughy’s Cooper flung himself into the black hole, Gargantua, and landed in the fifth dimensional Galactic Bookcase of timelines, which he uses to speak to his daughter with sand. Or something. At that point in the movie, you’re kinda just going with it, but according to Jonathan, his conclusion “had the Einstein-Rosen bridge [colloquially, a wormhole] collapse when Cooper tries to send the data back,” he said during an event to promote the film’s upcoming Blu-ray (via Nerdist).

    So what does that mean? Well, in short, no happy ending. No reunion with the elderly daughter and no space dates with Anne Hathaway. It’s theoretically a much darker finale, one that sees the hero succeeding in the mission but dying in the process. While Nolan spent much of the press circuit talking about how scientifically accurate his film is, it should be noted that the gravitational weirdness that Coop and Murph discover was supposed to have been caused by “gravity waves” and detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory. However, C-Nolan ditched that too.

    “That was very near and dear to me, but Chris thought it was too much science for the public to digest at once,” Thorne said.

    Thoughts? Did Nolan’s approach make his movie more relatable by focusing on character or getting loose with science? Let us know below. “Interstellar” hits home video on March 31st.

  • ljk April 1, 2015, 13:36

    Review: The Science of Interstellar

    Several months after its theatrical release, the movie Interstellar will be available on DVD this week. With the risk of spoilers now subsided, Jeff Foust reviews a book that goes into detail about the science that formed the basis for the movie.

    Monday, March 30, 2015


    The Honest Trailer for Interstellar here:


  • Mark Zambelli April 3, 2015, 12:13

    Wow… never underestimate Hollywoods ability to generate tens of thousands of hours worth of typing/discussions based on 2hrs and 40mins of screentime.

    I’d love to have had the chance to see ‘Interstellar’ on the big-screen but I only saw it the day of its DVD release. I’d also like to lay my take on the many points taken up by so many here but I won’t… with one exception.

    Picking up on Matt Damon’s character; the reason for his character to be in the film and his important vocal realizations, I see a mirror there to the whole point of the wormhole and its creator’s motivations in playing-out their role. It is mentioned in the film that the ‘aliens’ are infact our far future descendants (who exist in five dimensions, have the ability to manipulate wormhole-mouths and their placement in both space and time, and who have the knowhow to modify (or even create!) SMBHs with either no singularities, or, to construct a ‘tesseract’ (surrounding said singularity) that is still connected to an ER-bridge to save Cooper once he performed his pre-ordained messaging to young-Murph (after which the tesseract is dismantled having served it’s purpose)).

    Come back to that ‘pre ordained messaging’… to me that is the crux. These far-future descendants descended from whom? Answer… either the frozen embryos of Plan B OR the many O’Neill habitats that i) rendezvoused at Saturn before making their own wormhole trips (that probably took place after the film ending), or ii) flourished back home in Sol’s system leading to eventual interstellar colonization WAY after the end of the film.

    They became their own salvation and must play their role else humanity perish and they couldn’t exist. In a way these descendants are driven by their own selfish, evolutionary programming… send the wormhole or else die and all is lost (I never said closed time loops in movies are anything but paradoxical). That alone is the mirror to the message uttered by Miller.

    I enjoyed Interstellar but with some of the caveats mentioned above (yes I cringed an awful lot at Hathaways love nonsense but I also loved the obvious O’Neill reference as Caine’s ‘Brand’ showed ‘Cooper’ what it was the ship was about to launch from within… even with the 90 degree camera rotation and the reminder at the end

  • Mark Zambelli April 3, 2015, 12:16


    … when ‘porchbound’ Cooper looks to the end of the habitat.

  • Mark Zambelli April 5, 2015, 13:56

    However, our descendants seem to have evolved away from that genetic selfishness for without the point I raised above they are acting altruisticly… they have learned to cooperate in an endeavour that saves us all, not just their immediate family but their entire race, the ultimate in ‘genetically linked extended family’.

  • ljk April 8, 2015, 11:20
  • ljk April 21, 2015, 9:42

    Kip Thorne’s book, Black Holes and Time Warps, is twenty years old now:


    To quote:

    The purpose of writing about science for the public goes beyond influencing future scientists, and I think Thorne said it very well when I talked to him:

    “It’s partly an issue of trying to generate interest among young people in science, so that at least some of the most brilliant young people still turn to science, when they might otherwise go into the financial world, for example.

    “It’s also a deep feeling that it’s terribly important for the general public to understand science, to understand not necessarily the details of science and how black holes work, but rather the scientific method; the difference between well-established scientific fact, which includes climate change and evolution, and things which are speculative. And an appreciation for the power of science to deal with the problems that society faces, such as climate change, such as the Ebola virus and other viruses which evolve over time and you have to deal with the science of evolution in order to deal with them in the long haul.

    “We have huge problems that face the human race, particularly when you think in time scales of decades and centuries. And science really is an extremely powerful force for solving them. And I would hope that the books that I’ve written may have some role in educating the public about the power of science for dealing with these kinds of things.”

  • ljk May 4, 2015, 14:39

    StarTalk Radio Show

    The Science of Interstellar with Christopher Nolan

    May 3, 2015

    Unravel the mysteries of Interstellar when Neil deGrasse Tyson interviews filmmaker Christopher Nolan. Find out how Chris got interested in physics when he was 10 years old, why he uses non-linear story telling in his films, and what it was like balancing narrative and science with the help of the film’s advisor, astrophysicist Kip Thorne.

    In-studio, Eugene Mirman and cosmologist Dr. Janna Levin bring the conversation down-to-earth, but there’s no doubt that the real star of the movie, and this episode of StarTalk, is science. You’ll explore Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the math that supports the possibility of time travel, the physics of wormholes and the practicality of warping space-time. Learn why clocks tick faster on the ISS and GPS satellites than they do here on Earth, why neutron stars have powerful magnetic fields, and why hydrogen appears twice on the periodic table. Plus, Neil recites his poem about falling into a black hole, and Bill Nye “rants” about why there’s no place like home, not even on an exoplanet or Mars.


  • ljk May 8, 2015, 11:07

    Everybody wants the easy, fast way to the stars, even hoping the cosmic speed limit is wrong:


  • ljk June 23, 2015, 9:33

    Interstellar’s true black hole too confusing

    10:44 13 February 2015

    by Jacob Aron

    Even black holes wear makeup in Hollywood. Last year’s hit film Interstellar used real scientific equations to depict what happens when a team of space farers venture near a supermassive black holeMovie Camera. Now, a joint paper published in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity from the movie’s visual effects team and scientific consultant reveal that the real black hole (see above) was deemed too confusing for audiences, and some of the science had to be toned down.

    Interstellar’s premise was first conceived by physicist Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology, who wanted to make a realistic movie about black holes. He got together with director and co-writer Christopher Nolan, and also with London-based visual effects studio Double Negative to create the movie’s black hole, Gargantua.

    “I’d ask him a question and maybe a week later, sometimes a month, I’d get a beautifully presented paper that he’d laid out with references going into the history of the problems I’d been asking about,” says Oliver James, chief scientist of Double Negative.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Alain Riazuelo of the Paris Institute of Astrophysics says he appreciates the team’s efforts, but a pure science project would have done things differently, because astronomers want to create models of what their telescopes might see from afar. “From an astrophysics perspective you would want to simulate different configurations of matter around the black hole, then try to predict what your observations would give you,” he says – the team just choose a disc they thought looked nice.

    Riazuelo met with Thorne a few years ago and gave him some early visualisations, so was slightly disappointed when the film wasn’t totally realistic. “I understood after a few minutes why they had done this, but I would have preferred they stick a little more close to realism,” he says, though it could have been much worse. “You should keep in mind there was nothing that obliged Christopher Nolan to try to stick to realistic science.”

    My comments:

    That last statement may have been true from an artistic standpoint, but then Nolan shouldn’t have been crowing so much about how scientifically accurate he was with this film. And then tried to back out of those comments when people in the know had the nerve to start criticizing his work.

    Again, Interstellar tried to be a cut above the dreck we are seeing more and more in Hollywood these days (money talks, what a shock – thanks general public, you keep asking for the same stuff over and over), but sadly and ironically, the film also shows just how far we have fallen from the true golden age of SF cinema thanks to Star Wars, which emphasized spectacle over story and ideas.

  • ljk June 24, 2015, 8:59
  • ljk June 24, 2015, 14:45

    The Fatal Science Flaw of the Premise of Interstellar

    Mike Brotherton

    December 12, 2014

    There have already been a lot of scientists and science popularizers and others looking at the science of Christopher Nolan’s ambitious film Interstellar. Kip Thorne, the eminent Caltech scientist powering much of the science, has written a book and there’s even a TV documentary.

    Interstellar is a gorgeous film with fantastic visuals that takes us to places I’ve never seen before on screen, namely the environment around a supermassive black hole some 100 million solar masses, dubbed Gargantua. I enjoyed the film while watching it, but felt unsettled about some things. I hoped these things would make more sense in hindsight, but they don’t unfortunately.

    Let me be clear. I recommend seeing Interstellar, and enjoying the many things it got right and the spectacle it created. The rest of this post will be my take over the science elements relying on my expertise as an astrophysicist who studies supermassive black holes and as a science fiction novelist who tries to put exotic but accurate astrophysical environments in front of readers. This is the kind of blunt and honest report I’d write to a screenwriter asking me to provide feedback on the scientific aspects of their story.

    There are a few things early in the story I’d be critical about (e.g., our characters apparently drinking beer seven years after the blight has wiped out wheat), but let me focus on the astrophysics, aspects of which I have not seen considered elsewhere. More specifically, let me focus on the astrophysics that makes the entire plot of Interstellar kind of ridiculous.

    Full article here: