November 18, 2014

Movie Review - Interstellar is Stellar

First quick note: NO SPOILERS here!! Also, if you don't like spoilers, try to stay away from too many reviews. If you do, or don't care to see the movie, then revel in more than a bit of Climate Realist schadenfreude.

The movie has inspired a bit-storm by not embracing the Hollywood meme about CAGW, and much electronic flame is unfurling. I suspected as much when reading a review on Rotten Tomatoes (which only gets two stars in my books), that lamented over an opportunity lost to scold movie goers about CO2 emissions. This reviewer also struggled with too much technobabble, which I found (as did my date, who had a year of college that is now happily forgotten) to be trimmed to bare necessity. There was a terrific (short!) scene demonstrating wormholes cutting through space-time, and the background to astronomical singularities and time dilation seemed appropriate (interestingly synergistic with the new movie on Dr. Hawking), and even added to the story. First script I've ever seen that treated Time as a resource (tho' Prisoner of Azkaban may qualify).

So, w/o spoilers, I can say that TS'ers who wish to see this will not have it spoiled by Hollywood proselytizing. It's excellent, scientifically weighted but not too jargon-laden, has several nods to what me and my friends refer to "Yankee Know-How" which (as noted in reviews at NRO and WS) is a pro-American, pro-liberty theme. It's 168 minutes; take a pit stop before going in!

My favorite quote was:

We used to look up and wonder about our place in the stars. Now, we look down and worry about our place in the dirt.

Matthew McConaughey is excellent and family themes are very powerful. Jessica Chastain is every bit - perhaps even more - as intensely engaging as she was in Zero Dark Thirty. Micheal Caine and John Lithgow are very good, and there are no T&A distractions. Cinematography and effects are as fantastic as one expects from the Nolan brothers, and the script moves quickly, but takes time to allow us to get to know characters. The score is powerful, but a little too much so, as it overwhelms dialog at times, which may or may not have been important.

The bad guy is strange, and not done very well is a problem that delivered on all the wrong levels but one (which is another spoiler). The script is tight, grants suspense without mustache-twirling, and is more than up to the mind tricks that so intrigued in Memento and Inception.

4/4 stars; tho' not quite enough to knock Contact or Serenity off my personal pillar as the best of sci-fi. If not for Fury I might go back and pay theater prices again!

Posted by nanobrewer at November 18, 2014 1:12 PM

Nano: no spoilers from me either, but that's only because I haven't seen it yet. I famously avoid the first weekend or two of any movie release, largely due to being antisocial and not wanting to share the theater with the kind of Californians that typically must-must-must see their cult film on opening weekend, thereby ruining the moviegoing experience for civilized humans who know such nuanced habits as shutting up during the movie, and turning off their cellphones. I think most ThreeSourcers would agree that there is in fact a special hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the theater.

I love movies, I love speculative fiction, and I especially love intelligent speculative fiction; for those reasons, Interstellar has been high on my list, and is my only must-see movie this year. Everything I've read, including an article on how much care Interstellar put into getting event horizons right scientifically, has kept me waiting with anticipation for the chance to go see this movie.

My one fear of this movie was that they were going to use man-caused climate change as the vehicle for the need to find a new home in space. I was fully expecting to be subjected to the usual left-wing scold about how we humans didn't respect Mother Gaia enough, ruined our planet, and now we need to learn our lesson and move away. Even a movie I love like few others, Serenity, suffers from the premise that Earth-That-Was got used up, and mankind had to build century ships to transport the inhabitants to a new home; I comfort myself with the solace that it is the single flawed thread is Joss Weadon's magnificent Persian rug that keeps it from perfection and thereby avoids offending the gods. I watched The Day After Tomorrow (and admit it, that movie is number two on my list of movies that cause my eyes to roll from Getting Science Wrong*) hated being beaten over the head with the manmade climate change BS.

So, thank you for the good news that Interstellar doesn't go this route. Nano, you have waved away the one detail working against my enthusiasm.

By the way, I'm delighted that Contact is so high on your list; even though I suffer from being persuaded that there are no space aliens and we're all there is living in this universe, Contact is one of the smartest movies I've seen.

*Number one on that list: The Core. Yikes, this movie gets wrong just about everything it touches.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at November 18, 2014 2:29 PM

Child molesters may get leniency under special mitigating circumstances.

Thanks for the superb review -- but it sounds like first I had better see "Contact."

Posted by: jk at November 18, 2014 3:31 PM

I am a huge sci fi fan as well. Both literature and movies. But I must say that I didn't really like Contact, book or movie. Now JK is really going to have to see it. :-)

Posted by: dagny at November 18, 2014 4:41 PM

Can't we all get along?

Posted by: jk at November 18, 2014 5:30 PM

Cool; I'll keep the spoilers and Realist schadenfreude off this page for a while longer. Yes, the script was very smart (or so it appeared to a mere MSEE like me) esp. with singularities. So, KA and Dagny, you'll have to find another reason than hollywood-science to dislike!

I liked Contact on almost every level, very probably b/c I did NOT read the book. My impression was they'd stayed with Sagan's sagaciousness and away from his preachy side. I like it's deft touch on religion (for once! a preacher-man who wasn't a foam-spewing dupe), populist culture (Viva-vega, and the luddites too), clever CGI, scheming bureauRats (a bit of J. Woods goes a long way), an intriguing mystery as to what or the aliens were (or even IF they were) and a fascinating way to portray the lead up to and final Contact with aliens who are much farther along the e-scale.

Liking well-explained radio astronomy, Ms. Foster as lead, and not knowing much about Sagan (1-2 eps of "Cosmos" is all) were key; the people I knew who didn't like Contact oft expressed a level of discomfort with Sagan I didn't grok.

JK: don't read the book!

Posted by: nanobrewer at November 19, 2014 12:53 AM

I have to confess, I have a personal investment in intelligent speculative fiction: I'm nearing completion of my lifelong dream of becoming a published science-fiction writer, and Brother JK has done me the honor of critiquing the prologue and the first couple of chapters. I will warn you up front, once it's finished I will be unabashedly pimping the living hell out of it. If I can just get 100,000 of my closest friends to be willing to plunk down $5.99 for the Kindle version of it, I will count myself a happy man.

This humble story is entitled Scheherazade, taken from the name of a small, independent cargo ship at the center of the tale. It's set in the sort-of-near future, at a point when mankind is making its first early steps into the permanent colonization of nearby space - primarily Luna, Venus, and especially Mars. The sci-fi device I posit is the harnessing of the quark-gravitic reaction to make use of gravitic energy (yeah, we're talking Higgs boson theory here). I've put a lot of work into making the science plausible, or pseudo-plausible.

On top of that, a big theme is big government and bureaucracy versus little governments and free markets.

In a nod to what SpaceX could well become, the framework is that as a result of economic and regulatory principles that good ThreeSources will hail as nearly prophetic, national governments are nearly bankrupt. Welfare and dependency abound, innovation and productivity are stifled, and governments don't have the resources to reach into space. The migration into space is driven by private individuals and their companies (hello, Elon Musk!) seeking the opportunity to excel and to achieve, and populated by hundreds of thousands of people willing to risk in return for a chance at a job, freedom, or just a better place to plant roots and raise their families. One such place is a town on the frontier of Mars called Cornwall, a middling town in the middle of a mining and agricultural region that gets the opportunity to prosper because one small ship takes a gamble on circumventing the larger cities of Mars and carrying Cornwall's output directly to markets.

There is everything you could ask for: space travel, politics, guns, economics, science, terraforming, terrorism, rape, rescue, justice, love, crime, intrigue, religion, guitars, business, smuggling, injury, mayhem, Objectivists, Baptists, romance, explosions, radiation, pirates, fashion, cattle, and thrilling heroics.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at November 19, 2014 11:34 AM

I provided very detailed and nuanced literary criticism to help my Brother realize his full potential. But I think I can share it here:

It's Awesome!

Posted by: jk at November 19, 2014 12:15 PM

Very interesting, and very impressive. "I knew him back when..." This being the first I've heard of it, I can give my first impression. And, from the jacket notes given it does seem very much like, if I may, ahem... Atlas Shrugged Part 4? I was one among the doubtless millions who yearned for more when that story came to end.

Posted by: johngalt at November 19, 2014 1:40 PM

Happy to spend 5.99 on KA's book. Sight unseen. Unfortunately the last time I had time to read a book all the way through for fun was in the hospital when my last daughter was born. Not willing to be pregnant again to make time to read the book.

Also, not willing to discuss my issues with Contact here at this time. Too many spoilers involved.

Posted by: dagny at November 19, 2014 2:35 PM

Shameless self promotion does go a long way --

JK thanks for the endorsement.

Posted by: Mrs. KAA at November 19, 2014 3:49 PM

I look forward to any help I could provide and know all ThreeSourcers feel the same.

The approbation was honest -- as is the jealous rage I feel from the others 'round here. "How come JK got to read a preview?" The answer was that I made a fortuitous reference in a post to an plot element. Keep swingin' kids.

Posted by: jk at November 19, 2014 3:57 PM

I'm going to come to JK's defense; my enlisting his opinion did result from an exchange on a post that had touched on a plot element I was using. It was my fault for not broadcasting it at that point; I suppose you can write that off to what passes for humility in me. I would gladly share with the others here; JG, I believe I still have your e-mail address tucked away for safekeeping, but if you'd like to send me a reminder of it by way of a Facebook private message or something, I'll be happy to make use of that.

Atlas Shrugged Part 4? I'm not worthy. I'll posit that I've set it against a background of a future Earth that results from the worst of an Atlas Shrugged kind of world.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at November 19, 2014 5:34 PM

Huh. Did I imply that I disliked being the object of jealous rage?

Posted by: jk at November 19, 2014 5:59 PM

No jealousy from me, with or without rage. Envy, yes. JK was indeed the best choice for this assignment but I prefer to, much as the chef whose senses are overwhelmed by the work in the kitchen to the point he doesn't fully enjoy the meal, wait and enjoy the full, completed product.

Perhaps a more suitable subtitle would be: "Picking up after Atlas shrugged."

(Or, "A funny thing happened on the way to the end of humanity.")

Posted by: johngalt at November 19, 2014 6:21 PM

"Shrugs." I meant to say, "Picking up after Atlas shrugs."

Posted by: johngalt at November 20, 2014 1:23 PM

Brother KA: please open a new post on this when it's ready for publication. I'm interested, in the story and in the journey (one I've thought of taking, and whose BFF is already 3/4 down).

Posted by: nanobrewer at November 20, 2014 2:42 PM | What do you think? [16]