≡ Menu

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.

Interstellar-2014-Movie-Poster

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.

nolan_working

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.

Interstellar_ship

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.

interstellar_water

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.

ship_scene

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.

tzf_img_post

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • J. R. December 19, 2014, 15:52

    In the movie they were trying to find a new home for humanity within a relatively short period of time. What realistic interstellar travel options are there if we had to find a new home planet in another star system within the same time frame?

  • tesh December 19, 2014, 16:07

    Thank-you for saying it so well.

    There was so much self and mutual m*******tion over this movie I thought that no one would dare criticise it for offending a movie that was so positive of NASA and space travel.

    I too came away from the movie feeling robbed. Robbed of either watching a mindless but exciting and funny Armageddon or a cinematic masterpiece such as 2001. I got to see both movies I guess, only it was the worst aspects of both.

  • Ole Burde December 19, 2014, 16:36

    Well , about he film , it could actually be worse . It just takes a really well developed imagination to imagine how ….
    Or , on the other hand , you might use a dirty trick and compare it to ”Avatar” !
    The script for Interstellar , a more or less random compilation of non-sense , could have been writen by a realy patient and fasttyping monkey ,given enough time ( probably enough with a few thousand years ) .
    Avatar on the other hand is far worse than random , it has a consistent and well developed agenda , which is to destroy the NARRATIVE of exploration and exspansion of the human race out among the stars : The new worlds out there are not for us to take , they belong to the ”natives” …I guess we should have stayed in the trees with the other monkeys , what right did we have to steel the savannas from the beautiful symbiosis between zebras and lions , only to and make them into endless boring cornfields… …Definitely worse than random , suicide is the best name for it !

  • ljk December 19, 2014, 16:52

    J. R. said on December 19, 2014 at 15:52:

    “In the movie they were trying to find a new home for humanity within a relatively short period of time. What realistic interstellar travel options are there if we had to find a new home planet in another star system within the same time frame?”

    Thus the comment I made in the article that if we want to visit the rest of the galaxy we should not wait for a world-shattering crisis to happen before suddenly deciding it might be a good idea to move to Alpha Centauri. Such an endeavor will be difficult enough even under ideal circumstances.

    I also have my doubts about anyone, future humans or aliens, coming to our rescue in such a situation. We should not count on them in any event and should start planning now, primarily for exploration and colonization and therefore have it as a backup escape plan infrastructure just in case.

  • Astronist December 19, 2014, 17:27

    An excellent review of a frustrating movie. I fully agree with you!

    Stephen A.

  • Alex Tolley December 19, 2014, 18:04

    Very good review and critique. As JR above notes, other than hyperdrives and wormholes, how are you going to get the protagonists to their destination in a short time? SF novels and movies have relied on these 2 mechanisms to speed up the action and story (even 2001 had magical technology in the Monoliths to get Bowman to a distant alien world).

    The only decent movie that overcame this was “Planet of the Apes” where cold sleep allowed the astronauts to travel in both time and space yet do it in a perceptual instant. The story didn’t require them to stay within a human lifetime back on Earth.

    In many respects we are still waiting for what what Clarke said he and Kubrick were striving for – “the proverbial good SF movie” – at least in terms of exploration. We now have so many details of planets and moons in our solar system, yet still there hasn’t been a really good tale about exploration, although I enjoyed the BBC’s “Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets”.
    As we gain some clues about exoplanets, there should be some exciting exploration possibilities for our adventurers.

    Perhaps the problem is that we are bound by the forms of storytelling since the Greeks – notably Homer’s Odyssey, where the protagonists must make the journey from home, to distant shore and return home again. Currently we cannot do that for star travel, and so necessity requires our story to start and end at the destination unless we accept cold sleep as the way to eliminate journey time. And while we have comedic robots from C-3PO, #5 (Short Circuit) and Wall-E, audiences are probably not quite ready to accept post-humans who can download minds into artificial bodies as acceptable protagonists; although Spielberg’s A.I. had a very sympathetic robot boy, David, he was more human than post human.
    So we violate what appears to be traditional stories by either having the protagonist live beyond the home time frame, or eliminating the journey from the story. Is it any wonder that most storytellers find that a stretch, especially when selling to a mainstream audience?

  • Denver December 19, 2014, 18:13

    My takeaway was we should start terraforming Mars immediately.

  • Keith Cooper December 19, 2014, 18:23

    An outside agency provides us with the ability to travel vast distances across space through a wormhole in order to bring us to them.

    Sound familiar? It’s the basic plot of Interstellar, but it’s also the plot to Contact. Yet Contact doesn’t get the same criticism in this review.

    I went into the cinema with low expectations of Interstellar. I’d not bought into the hype – it felt like Hollywood was trying to impinge on the territory of our interstellar community and I guess, privately, I was worried we’d be left behind by this Hollywood juggernaut. The trailers to the film looked dreadful, and like you I wasn’t fond of the ‘Earth is dying’ motivation. Add to that an actor I’d never really liked, and I just wasn’t excited. But I walked out of the cinema feeling uplifted.

    No, it’s not a film about the realities of interstellar travel per se. If that’s what you went into the film looking for, and the only yardstick you measure its success by, then you’re bound to be disappointed regardless of its other merits. I agree maybe the film’s got the wrong title – maybe Gravity would have been a better title, but another film got there first. Kip Thorne’s speciality is wormholes, black holes, exotic physics – we were never going to get a film about the nuts and bolts of fusion-powered starships and taking decades to get anywhere, that’s not what he does. The film was about black holes, and quantum gravity and a deeper understanding of what gravity is (the ‘gravity problem’ that you refer to) . The wormhole was just a deus ex machina, a means to get to the black hole (and not the planets – the way I interpreted the film, the planets were never meant to be habitable, the ‘Bulk Beings’ had no interest in them, but human imagination couldn’t see past that, so wedded are we to planets, they couldn’t see that it was the black hole they’d been brought there for). For the science of the black hole to work, it needed a 100 million solar mass black hole. You’re not going to find one of those in our Galaxy. (And really, if something had gone wrong in another galaxy, how different would it be to something going wrong at Alpha Centauri where help is at least four decades away if travelling at 0.1c?)

    Interstellar’s message was that by getting out into space, by exploring, we can find answers to some of our questions, and change humanity for the better. It was a scientific quest, the quest for a better understanding of gravity, allowing humans to manipulate gravity and take their place among the stars. It told this story with science. Sure, it’s not the only way to reach this future, but I don’t recall the film ever stating that it was. Maybe people might find the execution clunky in places, the characters indifferent (I’ve never been a Matthew McConaughey fan, but I thought he was brilliant in this and held it all together), the direction lacking – people’s mileage will vary on all of that stuff and the film is by no means perfection (but then again, I find 2001 to be dreary, dull and incomprehensible – but as I said, people’s mileage varies) – but the scientific quest that the film took is surely something we can all get behind and feel uplifted by. Because Interstellar had a rare quality, that ultimately it was a film about hope for the future, and if that’s not the essence of what our interstellar community is about, then maybe I’m part of the wrong community.

  • Al Jackson December 19, 2014, 19:54

    “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. ”

    It get’s really confusing in the film’s plot. Yeah it seemed the whole idea ,at first, was interstellar colonization. However the theme of the ‘Equation’ comes up and kind of drifts as dramatic narrative then comes back at the end. Supposedly with the solution to the ‘Equation’ there is a way to control gravity, which is how the O’Neil colony (colonies?) get into the story. So it seemed there were to routes … stellar colonization and solar system colonization. So that a bit of a higgly piggly way to form the dramatic narrative.
    Like I said I really would like to see Johnathan Nolan’s screenplay because Christoffer seems to have taken his brother’s script apart and to hastily put it back together again.

  • Peter December 19, 2014, 20:01

    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. (not to mention all the other hazards of travelling through deep space at relativistic speeds over decades or centuries).

  • Harold Daughety December 19, 2014, 20:28

    Science guys get excited about science. Most others do not. I worked in industrial R&D for a couple of decades. One day at lunch I was amused by two chemist ignoring their lunch already set out before them. They were oblivious to all but a notepad with hastily scribbled symbols as they postulated the mechanism of a chemical reaction. A few years later I had some vocational testing which indicated my primary interest was in the ministry, in journalism, and social work: Aha!! The last part of my working life was as an LCSW in mental health. I was paid, but would have done the work for nothing – which was close to what I was paid.

    I think that the majority of taxpaying voters will not, cannot, understand the desire for space ventures. Movies that enthuse are related to the here and now, and space opera, being horse opera recast, sells, while conquest of space does not.

  • Rob Flores December 19, 2014, 20:50

    Who thought Interstellar was going scientifically accurate?. Not me
    Could such a movie be made about interstellar travel with great special
    effects and with unknown actors and hope to be sucessfull at least covering the cost of production and marketing? No way. You must use a curve when grading Interstellar, The idea is to entertain on a higher level. Keeping an audience seated and engaged for 2.5 hours is something few films seem to be able to do these days . I exclude films based on comic books or animation as it is not the same category. The film will go in my library, and I am going to hide my copy Avatar and the Black Hole so no one will ask me to play them on movie night.

  • Agile December 19, 2014, 20:58

    Yes, Interstellar was dumb, curious why people expected otherwise. Nolan’s job is to sell movie tickets not inspire people on this board. And Star Wars and Star Trek have done much more to inspire interest in space travel than 2001 Space Odyssey and the more recent Gravity, which frankly make most movie-goers want to stay home on earth. Also, antimatter drives aren’t really “plausible” (not like it’s lying around, it takes an absurd amount of energy to generate and then can’t be contained b/c it’s um antimatter) and laser sails are just boring as hell – no one wants to see a movie about them, but maybe a PBS special. Don’t buy the “100 billion habitable worlds” stuff either – you should read Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee. And who wants to live in O’Neill space colonies? Why would that that be preferable to anyone normal versus the choice of living on earth? I think most people believe (for the right reasons or not) that earth is darn near unique and the chances of finding anything out there remotely earth-like are very dim. I cannot imagine any would-be colonists leaving this planet for the adventure of it all but only because we really, really have to (over-crowding, environmental degradation, etc). Hopefully, we as a species will recognize that the technologies needed to accomplish such an interstellar voyage need to be developed decades or centuries before we actually need to use them – but don’t look to the movies to be the catalyzer for that effort.

  • Adam December 19, 2014, 21:14

    Well I can only disagree with Larry, but he already knows that.

  • Joy December 19, 2014, 21:55

    Thank You Larry!

    That was an excellent review of a truly dreadful movie. As I 1970s era Caltech graduate, I thought Kip Thorne was a geeky black hole nerd then and my opinion 40 years later remains unchanged. Nolan would have done better to hook up with Bob Zubrin and leave the black hole/wormhole nonsense out of it.

    My partner (history major, not scientist) wondered why the shuttle craft had single stage to orbit capability – on a planet more massive than Earth – when the Earth liftoff required a huge booster. ROTFLMAO!

    Heck, John Carpenter’s low budget 1974 movie “Dark Star” was better than this for the theme music alone:

    A million suns shine down
    But I see only one
    When I think I’m over you
    I find I’ve just begun
    The years move faster than the days
    There’s no warmth in the light
    How I miss those desert skies
    Your cool touch in the night
    CHORUS:
    Benson, Arizona, blew warm wind through your hair
    My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there
    Benson, Arizona, the same stars in the sky
    But they seemed so much kinder when we watched them, you and I

    Now the years pull us apart
    I’m young and now you’re old
    But you’re still in my heart
    And the memory won’t grow cold
    I dream of times and spaces
    I left far behind
    Where we spent our last few days
    Benson’s on my mind

    (CHORUS)

    Modern review of Dark Star here:

    http://parallax-view.org/2010/11/02/dark-star-in-hyperdrive-and-tv-is-frank-sinatras-lady-dvds-of-the-week/

  • Geoffrey December 19, 2014, 22:53

    This might not go over well in this community but I think using magical wormholes to travel through space was balanced out by the more realistic depiction of system travel(cryostasis with many months/years of travel). We are, in my opinion, still many decades away from tackling an interstellar mission so shaping public perception on the issue isn’t too pressing.

    I do agree with the sentiment on the 5th dimensional love plot. That turned my opinion of the film from okay to dislike. Hand waving science is tolerable but actively promoting pseudoscience nonsense is crossing a line with me. I know people who will actually believe such ridiculousness and this movie will strengthen those perceptions.

    “I cannot imagine any would-be colonists leaving this planet for the adventure of it all ” -Agile
    There are nearly 7 billion people on this planet with a huge range of personalities. Finding colonists would be trivial compared to any of the other elements involved in colonization.

  • Rob Henry December 19, 2014, 23:29

    ljk, we clearly both want very different things from science fiction. You seem to thirst for the ‘appeal to authority’ and ‘written in stone’ lesson in current science. I prefer the ‘model fitting’ approach that awaits unexpected data. To me it is best of all when we are thrown us just one new idea, and this comes close to my ideal.

    In interstellar, we turn out to be flatlanders, and our encounter with 5D beings teaches much about quantum gravity. Okay, perhaps the title is a little misleading, but that is all.

  • Jonathan December 20, 2014, 0:53

    As a humanities graduate, and therefore feeling this is one of the few discussions on this blog I am qualified to contribute to, please allow me to share a few thoughts.

    As has been often stated in this forum the great project of interstellar travel will require not only the technology to achieve it but also the economic, industrial and cultural context which can facilitate the necessary investment of resources. Discussions of SF can sometimes get very fixated on the science and technology, but the cultures these stories portray can be just as much food for thought, particularly if we think of these stories as laying the foundations for the space-faring culture we would like to create. Space opera, even with it’s cavorite and hyper-drives, can be just as intriguing and inspiring as hard SF – even if it doesn’t show us how we’ll reach the stars, it can get us thinking about the kind of people we need to be to get there, or the kind of people we will be once we’ve arrived.

    Of course, as the Klingon saying goes, “the future is an undiscovered country”, so the visions of Space Opera often look back to the past for models. Star Trek was modeled on the explorers of the 18th and 19th century British navy (is it coincidence that ‘Kirk’ sounds like ‘Cook’, and ‘Enterprise’ matches ‘Endeavor’?). The lone ship, wandering the vastness, years from home. The crew required for such a vessel are career professionals, driven onward purely by an evangelical belief in their mission and the society they represent. Likewise their society must have an evangelical belief in the mission, in order to invest so much technology and resource in such a small number of the people and send them out into the unknown.

    Star Wars took the early Roman Imperium as its model, with it’s slaves and civil wars and its thriving cosmopolis, a culture which sprawls across the galaxy in the same way the Roman Empire sprawled across the Mediterranean. And it is a world saturated with technology, to the extent that synthetic people are indistinguishable in personality from natural ones, machines seem like animals, cities seem like machines and vice versa. The Death Star is a machine, a city, and a planet all in one. But the characters share our familiar flaws and virtues. They are political, superstitious, passionate, irrational. In the context of the space-faring culture many of us would like to build this can be a comforting vision – in the vast, complicated and potentially alienating technological world we envsion, people can still be people.

    I don’t want to overstate my defense of Star Wars and Star Trek, most of what has been produced in both franchises bores or infuriates me. So I’d like instead to draw attention to one of the best recent visions of our future in space, the Japanese anime Planetes. Planetes strives to be hard SF, and there are long discussions online about the merits/demerits of it’s technological vision, but I really think the cultural vision is the most positive thing on space travel that has been presented in a long time. It portrays a society in which thousands of people live and work in space in all roles, from the glamorous to the mundane. In other words, space has become an industry much like any other. But it retains its romance for all these people. The astronaut, the secretary or the middle-management administrator are still driven by a sense of wonder that they get to live and work in space. The dream of space is exciting and inspiring, but it is also attainable. Any of us could go. There is also an acknowledgement that many will not share this vision, and as a society we will have to address the fears and reservations of those who oppose the space project. All in all, Planetes is a thoughtful, complex, and ultimately positive vision of a space faring society not too dissimilar from our own.

    I’ll leave it to others to debate the merits of Interstellar’s cultural vision. Christopher Nolan always leaves me cold!

  • James Stilwell December 20, 2014, 11:44

    Larry: Even Arthur C. Clarke resorted to wormholes, hyperdrives, whatever, to send Alvin and Hilvar to the Seven Sisters, and that was way back in 1947-1956. Hollywood is meant to entertain. Maybe you know too much, Larry. Yes, that must be it, you simply know too much. I’m being serious! All I worry about is that the earth AND moon is a miracle, a one in a billion find in the galaxy, and safe harbor for animal life. And the future–I saw part of it at the very end of the Spielberg/Kubrick film, Artificial Intelligence. Their sleek artilects will withstand the ages even if Mankind cannot. Clarke proposd his self-repairing Diaspar, a city built inside a hollow mountain, in which moving machines have no wheels. At least the citizens wouldn’t have to worry about cosmic ray bombardment were they living aboard a giant space wheel. The earth will be pressed to support 6o billion human beings–16 billion will be difficult. Some tough decisions may lie in wait for humanity–deciding who lives and who doesn’t. Cheer up.

  • Justin December 20, 2014, 15:23

    I think oftentimes science and technology enthusiasts get so entrenched in discussing how realistic and unrealistic works of science fiction are that they lose sight of what science fiction is: a genre that tells a story while incorporating different scientific elements, no matter how real or unreal, into it.

    Anyway, in many science fiction works, there is an overall theme to the story, and though it may take place in space to make it feel futuristic, most of it reflects humanity and culture.

    2001’s main theme was exploring a possible origin of our species, and how we could change even more drastically in the future, to the point that we are nearly the same beings from the beginning of the film. Gravity’s main theme was about the urge to survive and keep going, even in the face of impossible odds and horrible tragedies. Contact’s theme was exploring sentient life in the cosmos, and how a first meeting between humans and aliens could go, and how little we would understand about them.

    Interstellar’s theme was not about alien life, and although love played a part in the story, that was still not the main theme. The main theme of Interstellar was the grand scale of space beyond our planet, and how much of it we still don’t know, driving us to explore further. The wormhole, black hole and most other details are semantical. Space exploration is the main theme and focus of Interstellar, and the movie was written with an underlying purpose of reigniting public interest in space (just as Seth McFarlane has attempted with the revival of Cosmos).

  • Craig Watkins December 20, 2014, 15:39

    I don’t get all the love for 2001. It basically has the same flaws (magic alien technology), has a sleep inducing pace by modern standards, and ends in a psychedelic mess that makes no sense. I don’t see how that is any better than some feel-good love conquers all explanation. 2001 is a movie that inspires more acid trips than science careers, IMO.

    I didn’t like Interstellar’s Deux ex machina ending, but other than that, it is a solid and entertaining film that also features one of the best treatments of the emotional effects relativity in space travel I’ve ever seen.

    Why no criticism for suspended animation? We have no idea if it can be done or how to do it for long periods of time on large mammals. Sure it doesn’t seem theoretically impossible, but that’s about all you can say. Hardly the stuff that moves forward the practical plans I’ve seen put forth on this website. It’s just more Hollywood hand waving at this point.

    If you want to see a movie with good special effects and you want it to be popular with the masses, than you have to put up with a Hollywood plot. Those are the breaks.

  • Donald Bellunduno December 20, 2014, 19:14

    Interstellar, to me, was confusing. Like well written books, I like the author to draw a fine read line through each part of the story, that obviously connects it all together, at the end. That to me, is the backbone of a good story. Interstellar didn’t do that for me. The chase through the corn to pick up the drone, while fast paced and exciting (wouldn’t everyone love to ride through a cornfield in a pick up?) didn’t seem to have any connection to anything, nor did it explain why they even added it in. That’s just one part that confused.
    The second, as Larry commented on, why try to do recon on planets near a black hole? Every piece of literature I’ve ever read on the subject, from Stephen Hawking to Neil deGrasse Tyson to Einstein, stated that to be near a black hole is to risk being squeezed and stretched into a million tiny atoms, that eventually disappear beyond the event horizon, and…that’s it. Not a very positive place to relocate a population fleeing a dying planet.
    The third thing that was NEVER explained, if humanity needed to escape, WTF (Where the f***) did that huge orbiting space station come from at the end of the movie?! If we could make something like that, then why live near a black hole…in another Galaxy?

    Those were three of the most glaring. There were others. The 5,000 human eggs for one. Who the hell was going to raise 5,000 human embryos into adulthood?? And they only sent one person to each potential planet?

    Maybe it’ll be trans galactic love…that will do it.

    The only reasons I can think of for allowing the above to occur, is, that the writers and producers hoped no one would notice, and just get lost in the emotion and the actors, which many apparently did. To me, to be a true fan of sci fi, isn’t just to be entertained, but to be inspired to try to port some of those ideas into reality, and better humanity in the process. How many devices that were imagined in Star Trek are becoming real today, or, at least being theorized to a point where one day they may come true? I can’t see any of that coming out of this movie. None of it. Oy.

  • Brady December 20, 2014, 19:16

    To paraphrase the queen in Hamlet – “Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.”
    However, I liked these bits: “The … reason for spreading into deep space … is … due to humanity’s desire for knowledge or adventure … humans both in the past and present are … bright enough to solve their own problems and build wondrous devices in the process … 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.”
    Being of an optimistic bent, I’m with Paul here. Harping on again like the Guardian article doesn’t impress most people, who don’t care about space too much, but will see this film as a bit of a reason to gaze up again in wonder. That’s the point of the film, and I would suggest it achieves it.

  • Dave Weeden December 20, 2014, 19:42

    Oh no, there are worse things about “Interstellar”. I saw it in an IMAX, I was so keen. And it started well (I’ll come back to my initial doubts.) The family stuff is good, and I think the kids are convincing.

    And then it goes downhill. When did this start for me? There’s a shot of the car driving along a road and it passes a truck or a car with kids in the back: and one of them is – politely – chubby. This is when “we ran out of food”. Now Steve McQueen found plenty of hungry looking actors to play 19th Century slaves in “Twelve Years a Slave”. It’s not an unreasonable demand. But this detail was the stone-in-the-shoe moment for me. Well, that, and before the film started, that they kept showing stills from the film, and a “hero 0f the Russian Revolution” style image of Nolan squinting through a viewfinder.

    There’s a lot of good dystopian sf, a lot of it about shortages of various kinds (water, food, oil), and Nolan just didn’t take this seriously enough. Where did the beer bottles come from? Why were the school teachers smartly dressed when there’s no cotton being grown? Why are their clothes clean?

    And then – it’s already been said that the NASA base is directly under the Saturn V launchpad (poor design). Why does leaving Earth take an Apollo lift off when a heavier gravity world (the first one) only takes the space plane they went down in? And an extra 30% body weight is pretty tough, especially in a space suit in water. And, oh gee, there are massive tidal forces. You’d never know that from orbit, would you? You have to land for that.

    Not to mention Michael Caine both trying to solve the quantum mechanics vs relativity thing while running NASA. That can’t be done. Running NASA is a full time job. No one can do that and original research at the same time. Partly because the latter is a young man’s game, partly because budget-chasing and man-management would be too exhausting. Also, science doesn’t progress through people saying “I’m going to marry quantum physics and relativity.”

    The only good bit after the 2 years to Saturn (why is travel between Gargantuan’s planets so much quicker?) was Matt Damon re-enacting Dave Bowman’s entry into the spacecraft and the explosion. That bit I believed.

    The stupid, it burned.

    Sorry, been needing to vent all that for about a month.

  • Harold Daughety December 20, 2014, 19:56

    There is a notion throughout this discussion that “we” can go to the stars. I cannot. Not tomorrow, probably not next year, but relatively soon I will die, a fate that all of humanity shares. So why would one forgo one’s personal goals so that in a future generation some minute sample of humanity can maybe leave for the stars? “Humankind’s Destiny” ends for each of us with our death. There are no fictional depiction of space exploration that will persuade the majority to support the effort with personal sacrifice. That is our nature.

  • megis December 21, 2014, 0:58

    I couldn’t hear most of what they were saying because of the horrible “music” on the sound track, so I’m not even sure about the amount of sense/nonsense in this film. I didn’t think much of the FX either.

  • Erik Landahl December 21, 2014, 3:40

    >>Don’t buy the “100 billion habitable worlds” stuff either – you should read Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee.<<

    To say Ward and Brownlee are the modern analogy of Ptolemaic epicyclists would be disrespectful to Ptolemy. Ptolemy focused his great intellect on a massive question, with a sincere motive of attaining understanding of the truth, and he used the limited knowledge of his day to the fullest, creating a brilliant geocentric for explaining the movement of the planets that worked (somewhat reliably) for 1200 years.

    On the other hand, Ward and Brownlee, although knowledgeable regarding the massive amount of scientific information available to them, choose to selectively pick and choose from their massive information base in order to construct a worldview that serves their vaguely quasi-religious agenda. Rare Earth puts forth a manifesto as parochial and arrogant and self-limiting as any seen since that of Pope Urban VIII. Ward and Brownlee are the modern analogy of anti-Copernicists.

  • steven rappolee December 21, 2014, 17:24

    or,

    very slow worldships that wait for stars Ort clouds to come near to our Ort cloud, I have a question about this on my blog not sure of the maths

    http://yellowdragonblog.com/2014/12/19/rappolee-interstellar-low-energy-transfer-trajectories/

  • Dmitri December 21, 2014, 19:36

    The criticism to the movie is too harsh. The forced marriage between Interstellar & 2001: it too far fetched. To be exact – they have zero intersections & was never intended to be comparable. To be more blunt – they must not be compared in any circumstances as they are totally, parseks, away from each other.
    The only similarity between afore mentioned married by force movies is the notion and perception the society will have towards the movies in 50 years in time. No more no less.

    If there is a movie to what Interstellar could be compared then it has to be Metropolis (1927). The thing with Metropolis is the fact in 2014 it has it place in society and – the most crucial – it’s absolutely watchable & captivating movie.

    I’m actually not interested to know would anyone remember Interstellar in 2101 rather than to check in 50 years time the depicted physics in the movie has played out correctly and has it the appeal it was intended to have? That’s a very crucial point. No one gives an F about a 3 hour long “technically absolutely correct satellite soldering” movie. The same applies to 2001 – there’s not a single episode or hint to that. Instead it has the appeal to evoke thought process of understanding what has been during the movie.

    Interstellar does exactly that – it provokes thinking. It requires knowledge of things represented. I’m a person who had strong believe there’s no point to go to see it. I didn’t have any expectation & was very open for a flop. I understood people who left the cinema in mid screening.

    The movie is not for everyone.
    The movie deserves to be done.

    There are no movies on such subject whatsoever nor is it easy, even possible, to shoot such a movie on such a topic.

    It tries to dig deep into such subjects. It succeeded (IMDB 8,7 #15).

    Forget everything you knew abt Sci-Fi / Hard-Sci movies.
    This is the very first & sets the bar for successors.

  • RobFlores December 22, 2014, 12:27

    We need a little perspective when comparing 2001 A.S.O. to Interstellar.

    Imagine for a moment that a Star Wars-like film had come out in 1973.
    with very nice space cinematography, and was just as popular.
    And Then imagine Kubrick’s 2001 had been finished a Year later and
    released in 1974. IMO It would have had weak box office.

    The source story for 2001 is very simple. And it shows by it being a very slow film. Sure it is landmark film but it relies on special
    effect for much of it’s special draw. It’s high minded concept I think is
    something the average film goer dismisses, unlike ourselves on this board.

    The among the things that was not special effects that was eminently successful is in showing what it would have been like to send Neil Armstrong on an long duration mission. Because Keir Dullea by accident or design re-created Neils persona very faithfully IMO according to materials about his work as test pilot/engineer.

  • Michael December 22, 2014, 14:45

    After seeing the reviews on here about Interstellar I have decided not to go see it and purchased the PC game ‘Elite dangerous’ instead, a remake of the original, and it looks like I made a good choice, 400 billion stars to explore…wow.

  • Chris S. December 22, 2014, 15:22

    > Yet Christopher Nolan and his team insisted they were striving hard to stick to REAL science with their production.

    Which is why the primary vehicle was launched from Earth using a 3 stage rocket, but a measly shuttle on a high-G world didn’t require that since its engines were powerful enough to escape.

    “Science”.

  • ljk December 22, 2014, 16:57

    I think this little film titled Wanderers did more to promote and inspire people to reach for space in three minutes than Interstellar did in three hours:

    http://www.erikwernquist.com/wanderers/

  • ljk December 22, 2014, 17:29

    Interstellar: 15 Huge Differences From the Steven Spielberg-Developed Script to Christopher Nolan’s Movie

    Posted on Monday, November 10th, 2014 by Peter Sciretta

    You can now see Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar in theaters, but the movie was originally developed by Nolan’s brother Jonathan Nolan for director Steven Spielberg. In fact, I first reported on the project almost eight and a half years ago.

    As the story goes, Spielberg got the idea for the film after attending a Caltech workshop. There, physicist Kip S. Thorne, an expert on relativity known for his prolific contributions to the fields of gravitation physics and astrophysics, presented his controversial theories about wormholes.

    Jonathan Nolan was hired to develop the screenplay for Spielberg, which he originally hoped to direct after Lincoln. Of course, that didn’t happen.

    Christopher Nolan explained how he got involved during a press conference I attended in Beverly Hills:

    http://www.slashfilm.com/interstellar-script-differences/

    Percolating for years in Hollywood, major change of directors and writers, etc., can certainly contribute to harming a film. Interstellar might not have been terribly better in Spielberg’s hands, but I bet he would have at least made the experience more palatable.

  • Peter Popov December 22, 2014, 18:48

    Keith Cooper, Dmitri, I agree.

    A short comment on the wormhole: it is not deus ex machina in the movie’s context. Faster than light travel (e.g. wormholes) implies time travel and vice versa. As the movie suggested, the wormhole was put in place by our descendants. If faster than light travel is assumed, a time-loop is a perfectly reasonable scenario. In such case, one travels back and forth in time, so the concept who is smarter (the descendants or we) and who is not, who is the chicken and who is the egg, loses traction.

    A second obvious point is, that if you assume wormholes, it is natural to put the source near a place with big gravity fields, e.g. black holes. So, don’t blame the black-hole system. As a side note the first exoplanet was discovered near a neuron star.

    Finally, and this is also obvious, there are only two ways to transport humans in their biological forms across the stars: a very slow generation ship (alternatively, a slow diffusion through the Oort cloud), or some bizarre solution to General Relativity equations, commonly referred in the mass literature as a wormhole (which may or may not exist). I would like to remind everybody, that the Daedalus probe had a payload, if memory serves me well, of 450t. Even the general public understands, intuitively, that near term technologies (fission, fusion, etc) will not transport humans to other stars, within a lifetime.

  • Peter Popov December 22, 2014, 19:00

    And, to comment on the aesthetics of the story of Interstellar. For reasons personal to myself, I find the emotional motivation of the characters complex and appealing.

    In contrasts, Arthur C. Clarke’s books (all of them) represent weak literature, consisting of single-plane plots driven by simplistic characters, created by a third-rate writer. The Kubrick movie was good, because of the novel set-up (for the time), the special effects and the novel concept of AI (for that time). Same applies to Carl Sagan’s fiction. Scientists make poor writers, with few exceptions. Asimov started writing good literature long after he terminated his scientific career. So, comparing 2001 with Interstellar, on artistic grounds is … irrelevant. But as the story goes, in matters of taste and colors there are no friends.

  • Ashley Baldwin December 23, 2014, 21:50

    Never has a film caused so much debate. Love it or hate it , Interstellar certainly has something out of the ordinary about it. Personally I didn’t need to analyse it in detail, I just enjoyed the overwhelming visual and musical spectacle and partuculstly the human element. Never seen time dilation demonstrated better than the emotional scene depicting the return from Millers planet where a distraught Matthew McConnaughty puts in a powerful performance as he watches the recordings of his children growing old . I think Interstellar is Nolans take on what 2010 should have been like . The scene in the tesseract is reminiscent of Bowman deactivating HAL in 2001.

  • ljk December 24, 2014, 11:49

    ‘Interstellar’ Visions: Space Epic’s Amazing Special Effects Explained

    by Rod Pyle, Space.com Contributor

    Date: 23 December 2014 Time: 06:30 AM ET

    LOS ANGELES — Paul Franklin and Kip Thorne worked hard to make science jump off the screen in the 2014 film “Interstellar.”

    As the movie’s visual effects supervisor, Franklin oversaw the creation of the lavish and impressive visual effects of “Interstellar,” which was released last month. Thorne is a top-drawer astrophysicist at Caltech, and an advisor to (and executive producer of) the movie.

    The duo worked with a multitude of other dedicated folks to get the science and visual presentation of black holes, wormholes and other cosmic phenomena right — or as right as possible, given the narrative constraints of a sci-fi blockbuster. Franklin filled Space.com in on this complicated process.

    Full article here:

    http://m.space.com/28090-interstellar-movie-special-effects-paul-franklin.html

  • Shaun Steenkamp December 25, 2014, 3:41

    I love this article, but in the section “When You Wish Upon a Wormhole”, you make the following assertion in regards to humans requiring third party intervention to undertake interstellar travel: “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.” I find this stance hard to reconcile with some later commentary regarding wormholes, and perhaps intervention from ‘future beings’: “but maybe it also left the general public thinking there is only one real way to attain the vast realm beyond the Sol system.”

    Personally I think the general populace that is actually interested in what humanity can do to reach the stars will understand that wormholes and other fanciful means of Hollywood travel are not the only potential methods available. Those that are at risk of thinking that wormholes are the only possible means of interstellar travel are likely not to be interested in humanity’s current progression toward that goal and would probably be no more likely to support/oppose public spending on space travel research than before.

    Perhaps leaving the method of travel aside, the topics of wormholes, black holes, time dilation and time paradoxes themselves could easily interest a fair few young minds into the fields of science. Perhaps even the discussion generated by the transport method of choice in Interstellar would ignite flights of fancy for those aspiring for a career in science. I think these discussions themselves are evidence enough that Interstellar has caused many to think about, and question, humanity’s future in space.

  • James Stilwell December 25, 2014, 12:33

    It will be ironic if Arthur C. Clarke is shown to be prescient believing it is the stars that will come to Mankind and that if humanity eventually goes to the stars we will be piloting starships other races have built…Otherwise, the chief skeptic may be on to something when he recalculates the Drake equation to produce the 3.25 civilizations in the entire galaxy…
    Maybe Earth is the .25…

    Meanwhile I can imagine the foregoing 35 thought provoking comments on Interstellar will add greatly to the riches of film school libraries…

  • Dmitri December 26, 2014, 5:40

    Interstellar has ZERO ETs. There are no aliens. Not. A. Single. One.

    The term “the 5th dimensional beings” are coined by “perception of contemporary people for the ongoing event”.

    Note phrasing. It’s crucial. Protagonists explain the phenomena for themselves. It’s just unfortunate the viewers equating said by protagonists with themselves.

    Not to spoil the experience of (re)watching Interstellar (again) would add only that the phenomena in the movie, including what Kip Throne said in his book as controversial theory, is already well described by Robert A. Heinlein short novel “By His Bootstraps” (1941). Highly recommend to read it.

    (Robert A. Heinlein [pen name Anson MacDonald] October 1941 «Astounding Science-Fiction» magazine publication)

    Even 73 years later there is no refute such mathematical space-time loops are impossible. Rather contrary – this is the best depiction of the phenomenon in the spirit & way Nolan & Throne wanted to express based on mathematical understanding civilization has by 2014 not even knowing they circumstantially proved correct what Robert A. Heinlein depicted.

  • ljk December 29, 2014, 15:26

    How ‘Interstellar’ Science Could Push Us to the Stars (Opinion)

    DEC 24, 2014 09:00 AM ET // BY ADAM CROWL, ICARUS INTERSTELLAR

    As Chris Nolan’s “Interstellar” slowly moves out of the theatres, it seems to have divided science-aware SF Fandom, space advocates and the viewing public alike along strong opposite lines.

    Are the time-dilated planet, the wormhole parked near Saturn and the journey into a supermassive black hole accurate, albeit dramatized, ideas or at best semi-scientific fantasies? Does the reference to love being 5-dimensional diminish the movie’s credibility with “New Age” platitudes, or is it a clever way for the writer of humanizing the idea of our Universe being a 4-dimensional “brane” in a much vaster 5-dimensional “bulk”? Also, do the NASA ships work, or are they just aesthetic toys?

    The Icarus Interstellar organization’s main occupation is exploratory studies of interstellar issues — engineering, propulsion, communication, exotic physics, and biological technology — and the movie is full of advanced concepts worth exploring further. So we looked at the movie with an interested eye, and came away with the following perspectives.

    Full article here:

    http://news.discovery.com/space/how-interstellar-science-could-push-us-to-the-stars-141224.htm

  • ljk December 29, 2014, 15:49

    Reactionaries in Space

    by Eileen Jones

    Interstellar celebrates American-style frontier expansion and retrograde masculinity. It’s an ideological monstrosity.

    Full article here:

    https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/interstellar-review/

    This article hits squarely on the points I made in my piece about how farmers and their trade are viewed in the film and the perils and flaws of moving out into space only when a major global disaster is looming.

    Above all is the fallacy in Interstellar that humanity can only either save Earth or expand into space, not both. We can of course do both – if we want to. I can see a lot of environmentalists being less than pleased with the film’s message and turning away from supporting and promoting space even more than many of them already do.

    The fact is that Interstellar’s displays of colonization via those hostile alien planets circling a black hole cannot help and I can see certain viewers who witness the huge artificial space colony towards the end of the film wondering why all that money spent on building them couldn’t have been used to solve the problems here on Earth instead, to closely quote a mantra heard many times since the dawn of the Space Age.

    Once again, I do realize that the makers of Interstellar meant well. It was refreshing to hear positive things said about space exploration and colonization in an era where the mere suggestion of the need for a manned lunar colony by one recent U.S. Presidential candidate brought derision from his rivals and the public at large. However, I still maintain the effort was done in an awkward and overly long fashion that could have derailed the whole purpose behind this cinematic project. Though I do note the numbers of comments I have seen on Facebook and elsewhere where the general public does seem thrilled at the experience of seeing Interstellar. Fine, now let us see them translate that into supporting real space science and utilization. Though I will add that box office returns have been far better in Europe than the USA, take that as you will.

  • ljk December 29, 2014, 16:44

    A review of Kip Thorne’s book The Science of Interstellar linked here:

    http://www.space.com/28075-science-of-interstellar-book-review.html

    An excerpt from that book here:

    http://www.space.com/28077-science-of-interstellar-book-excerpt.html

  • Jazz88 December 29, 2014, 18:51

    Interstellar is one more fairy-tale escape from the reality that we are quickly, systematically, and greedily destroying the only place we can even remotely dream of inhabiting. Delusional hope makes it so much easier to avoid the painful realities we need to face. Carl Sagan, my former professor, described it so clearly in the image of intelligent civilizations flashing into existence and destroying themselves in the same flash, on a galactic time scale. Sagan saw fireflies flashing in an out of existence all over the universe. In Carl Sagan’s memory, let us not forget that we are just a flash on a cosmic time scale.

  • ljk December 30, 2014, 15:24

    According to Dr. J. Richard Gott 3d, “intelligent human beings would probably exist on Earth a maximum of 7.8 million years, a minimum of 5,128 years, or somewhere in between.”

    The details here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1993/06/01/science/limits-seen-on-human-existence.html

  • ljk December 30, 2014, 17:03

    Another on-target review here, expanding on what I said in many places:

    http://thebooksmugglers.com/2014/11/movie-review-interstellar.html

    I actually bought both the novel adaptation and the book of the script both to make sure I accurately quoted Interstellar and to make some kind of better sense of the last parts of the film. Sadly both works further confirmed for me that the relationships and the dialogues were forced and often as bloated as the film itself.

    Plus the link above links to other linked review articles, including discussions on the science of Interstellar.

  • James Stilwell January 1, 2015, 12:37

    It seems to me that all the Centauri Dream writers are secretly members of Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation…I’ll never tell…I guess that makes Paul Gilster a realistic Hari Seldon…I like my miracles to look realistic…The story of the Christ has endured for 2000 years because it could never be disproved…and those who pieced together the tale knew it…There’s a lot of guess work going on inside this Centauri universe of thought…But that’s where the fruit is…out on a limb…
    Happy New Year

  • ljk January 5, 2015, 10:04

    Rob Henry said on December 19, 2014 at 23:29:

    “ljk, we clearly both want very different things from science fiction. You seem to thirst for the ‘appeal to authority’ and ‘written in stone’ lesson in current science. I prefer the ‘model fitting’ approach that awaits unexpected data. To me it is best of all when we are thrown us just one new idea, and this comes close to my ideal.”

    Rob Henry, I happen to like the kind of science fiction that plays with new ideas as well. It just so happens my article was on Interstellar so I focused on its version of science fiction rather than critique all of the genre.

    Rob then said:

    “In interstellar, we turn out to be flatlanders, and our encounter with 5D beings teaches much about quantum gravity. Okay, perhaps the title is a little misleading, but that is all.”

    I am still scratching my head over exactly what Interstellar taught us about the fifth dimension among other things – except perhaps it allows an astronaut to see his daughter through the back of a bookcase and communicate with her via Morse code, yet somehow with all that dimensional power and quantum whateverness Cooper could not have just burst through the books and made his message very clear to Murphy.

    Maybe I’m just too stuck on all those “authorities” when it comes to quantum physics and multiple dimensions, but this struck me as a bunch of nonsense written by a filmmaker who clearly doesn’t know much in the way of actual science. I also did not find much in the way of new ideas from Interstellar, only a collection of dead ends and one good one which they should have done from the start: Colonizing the Sol system.

  • ljk January 5, 2015, 10:57

    http://eeditionmobile.latimes.com/Olive/Tablet/LATimes/SharedArticle.aspx?href=LAT%2F2014%2F11%2F23&id=Ar03101

    The real ‘Interstellar’

    The scientific hunt is afoot: Is life on Earth a rare albeit accidental gem or a common cosmic speck?

    BY CALEB SCHARF

    HUMANS HAVE HAD QUITE A ride in the 500 years since Copernicus. We’ve built and tested a rational vision of the universe in which our circumstances, and those of the Earth, are unexceptional and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. We are fleeting specks on a crumb of cosmic dust, among countless other crumbs in the briefest sliver of a far bigger story.

    This perspective has guided us to the innermost sanctums of matter and to the origins and nature of space and time itself

    — an expanding fabric that has no spatial center, in which all places are shining examples of unimportance.

    Except our great hominid egos have always nagged at us, resisting the soothing embrace of cosmic mediocrity, looking for excuses to be special. Surprisingly, science has now come across reasons to think that life, and life on Earth in particular, may not be quite so ordinary after all. It might be a rare albeit accidental gem. Its presence could even offer clues to the deeper functioning of the universe.

    There is now a burgeoning, supremely ambitious scientific endeavor to answer the gem-versus-common speck question by seeking life elsewhere in the cosmos. The outcome of this quest will influence not just our perception of the nature of existence but also the way in which our species chooses to make use of its time.

    A piece of the puzzle emerged in the 1970s, when physicists pointed out the apparently coincidental alignment of fundamental properties of the universe and the requirements of living organisms. We live, for example, in a cosmos that makes and disperses plenty of the element carbon, the central piece of known biochemistry. We also live in a galactic landscape of stars that’s neither too sparse nor too crowded, and we live at a time when the universe has cooled but not yet succumbed to thermodynamic extinction. If nature’s forces were tuned just a little differently, all these things would change, and life might not have ever occurred.

    If the universe is the one and only such reality, it’s disquieting that it would be tuned this way, because life — even if there is only a single instance — is also providing predictive information about physics. In other words, “anthropic” reasoning leads to a suspicion that there is indeed something special about us.

    However, theoretical physics and cosmology have come up with a possible answer to that. If our reality is merely one of a vast number of universe-like phenomena — part of a multiverse — we naturally find ourselves in a type of universe that allows for life. The catch is that no multiverse theory can yet tell us how much life there should be in a given cosmos — how exceptional life on Earth is.

    Clues may be emerging from more parochial directions. The remarkable new science of exoplanets — worlds orbiting other stars — is at this frontline. On the face of it, the discovery of a wealth of exoplanets simply verifies the doctrine of mediocrity that Copernicus helped seed. We’re surrounded by billions of planetary systems that could, in principle, play host to life.

    But exoplanets are incredibly diverse, ranging from giant balls of gas to small rocky worlds and large super-Earths, the likes of which don’t exist around the Sun. Their configurations also come in an unanticipated range: from tightly packed clusters of planets to systems with highly elliptical orbits and histories of playing gravitational dodgem. And the types of stars that harbor planets include those that are far more numerous than the family the Sun belongs to.

    By these measures, in very crude terms, our solar system is somewhat unusual. Is there a connection to the presence of life here? Is this a clue to the fertility of the cosmos? It could be.

    The story of biological evolution on Earth may also hold important lessons about what we can expect elsewhere. A seemingly improbable merger of two single-celled organisms here gave rise to complex cells containing the marvelous little power generators, mitochondria. Otherwise there would be no animals, no insects, birds, fish, reptiles, fungi, sponges or celebrities. Some biologists argue that the low likelihood of this microbial tango implies that a similar step could happen only in very, very few life-bearing planets across the universe. Once again, life that is like us could be the exception rather than the rule.

    Yet this might be just a cautionary tale of how we make inferences. Events can take on new meanings after the fact. For example, when something lucky takes place — a winning lottery ticket, for instance — we can always trace the history of small choices leading to that point. Except that history becomes relevant only in retrospect

    — the snap decision to play, a number that sticks in your head — regardless of whether the end product is actually rare or common.

    Speculation has almost had its day, though. The solution to understanding life’s cosmic status is at hand. Whether it’s through the eyes of a robot on Mars, the probing of a dark ocean on the moon Europa, or in the telltale chemical imbalances seen on a distant exoplanet, the hunt is afoot. The challenges are extreme, but scientists’ efforts to count the instances of biological origins across the galaxy will yield an empirical — not philosophical — answer. It will let us crack the puzzle open.

    Discovering that cosmic context is an old ambition made new. It comes as we find ourselves living in our own planetary filth. It has the potential to teach us much about our future prospects. Being exceptional would have little value if we choose to remain carelessly and perilously locked to the Earth. Whatever else we are, we are the first arrivals at this particular horizon — whether or not we cross it is entirely up to us.

    CALEB SCHARF is director of astrobiology at Columbia University and author of “The Copernicus Complex” and “Gravity’s Engines.”