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Vort

Interstellar vs. Europa Report and Gravity: Swing and a miss

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tl;wr -- Interstellar was entertaining, but left me disappointed, especially on further reflection.

 

Interstellar is an enjoyable film. Though something like 2 hours 40 minutes long, it never left me bored or restless. It treats its subject matter with reasonable care and doesn't have any of the scientific howlers that you might find in, say, Gravity. (More on that in a bit.) Speaking of which, let me compare Interstellar with two other recent SF(ish) films: Gravity and Europa Report.

 

Europa Report was a modest, relatively low-budget 2013 SF film. It was limited in both scope and ambition, and for that reason was tremendously successful (as a film -- I have no idea how much money it made or lost). For those who might not know the film, let me explain that Europa Report is a faux documentary analyzing the efforts and tragic but heroic end of a space crew traveling to the Jovian moon Europa to investigate whether life may exist there.

 

The film works well for a lot of reasons, not least because of what I already mentioned -- limited scope and ambition. There was little film time given for the purpose of "rounding out" the characters; it was assumed that the audience could figure out for themselves that the astronauts were real people with real lives and concerns, and that if (when) something terrible happened, it would be tragic for many. Instead, the film concentrated on showing the realities of life when engaging in interplanetary travel, subtlely explaining space travel without either pandering to or insulting the intelligence of the viewers. The setting was very near future, so the science and technology were extremely believable.

 

The film is not without its flaws or its critics. Some hated the "found footage" approach, though I personally thought it worked very well for this movie. And as much as I enjoyed the film, even I can't argue that the "flashback" structure was unnecessarily complicating and would have worked equally well just telling the story chronologically. I never watch horror movies, so the supposed resemblance to a horror flick was lost on me, but I found the attempt at that sort of suspense utterly unnecessary: In the end, the astronauts were doomed to die horribly one way or another, so the "creepy monster" feel was unnecessary (though I do approve of the last scene of the pilot trying to provide some final scientific return from the mission by "sacrificing" herself -- actually opting for a relatively quick and painless death of drowning/freezing/getting ripped to pieces instead of a more protracted demise by hypothermia). And the final sign-off speech by the mission director was cloying, though perhaps realistic given that she was trying to put a good face on a privately funded space expedition that went horribly wrong and resulted in the loss of the entire crew.

 

But on the whole, the movie worked brilliantly. Europa Report was the best "hard" SF movie I have seen since, well, 2001: A Space Odyssey. (And considering the bizarre final half hour of that movie, Europa Report might well be the best SF movie I have ever seen.)

 

Gravity was a big, shiny, glitzy, typical Hollywood sci-fi film from the same period as Europa Report. It was, in fact, a mirror image of Europa Report, strong where Europa Report was weak and weak where Europa Report was strong. (Except for strong directing and strong acting, which were evident in both. In fact, if anything, Gravity was too slick in its directing; IMO, it could have used a bit less glitz and a bit more grit.) Gravity starred Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, two of Hollywood's most popular (and prettiest) actors. In addition to big-name stars, it had big-budget special effects and a big-shot director, who seemed determined to turn the movie into a parable of redeption through sacrifice, or something like that. Europa Report had neither international star power in its big-name personnel nor a huge marketing push; Gravity excelled in both areas. Gravity also put considerable effort into showing how human and relatable its primaries were, resulting ironically in cardboard characters of little depth whose trials seemed both manufactured and unbelievable. This alone makes the movie almost unwatchable on subsequent viewings.

 

The "science" in Gravity was laughable. Here, Europa Report was simply in another class entirely. Gravity was a rollicking good ride the first time, but cannot stand up to a second screening, where the viewer will inevitably wonder if Outer Space is really only one cubic mile in volume, whether destroying a single satellite might actually cause a chain reaction within minutes (and, if so, why it hasn't already happened like three decades ago), why an astronaut would casually pilot an EVA module around delicate work being done by fellow astronauts (he wouldn't), how Sandra Bullock's character managed to wear a space suit for hours on end without even needing a diaper (amazing bowel and bladder control those astronauts have!), and so forth. From any sort of technical viewpoint, the film is a huge and irredeemable mess. Literally irredeemable; to make Gravity an honest-to-goodness good movie, you would need to rewrite it from the very beginning and change many key plot points to make it somewhat believable, resulting in, well, an entirely different movie.

 

So my review of the movie can be summarized as follows: When I went to see Interstellar, I was hoping for Europa Report, but I got Gravity. Though not exactly, since I think Interstellar is a better movie than Gravity. But with all the fanboys swooning and the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson (badly overrated both as an entertainer and as a science explainer, not to mention a seemingly compulsive liar) singing its praises, I assumed it would be something really, really special. And it was not.

 

The mere fact that the "distant galaxy" apparently consists of three adjacent rooms, weeks or perhaps months apart, obviously within relatively easy flying distance of each other, is bizarre and eye-rolling enough to write off the "science" part of this supposed science fiction. But it wasn't the SF weakness of the film that I found really disappointing. Rather, the movie claimed to be about The Power of Love (cue Huey Lewis). But that whole theme was simply unconvincing. To offer just one example from many:

 

When, after an entire lifetime apart of more than 90 years from the daughter's perspective, Dad finally gets to see his baby girl again, and she's 106 or whatever while he's only about 40 -- THEY DON'T EVEN TOUCH EACH OTHER!!!!!! ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? Here lies the girl who has been his motivating force in all he's done! So does he throw his arms around her? Does he smother her with kisses? Does he say, "I don't care if you're three times my age, you are my baby girl and I adore you!"? No! He stands there and SMILES at her while they exchange pleasantries, without so much as a handshake!

 

But it gets much, much worse. When this supposedly "adoring" daughter dismisses her dearly beloved, long-lost, cruelly missed, finally returned father with a lame "No father should see his child die" -- HE LEAVES!

 

That's it. No need to watch any further.

 

How about, "I was there when you came into this life, and I'm going to be here when you leave it, sitting quietly by your head and stroking your cheek while you say your goodbyes to the wonderful family you produced, who are mine even though I don't know them"? Yeah, that would have been good. But no, no time to WATCH HIS BELOVED DAUGHTER DIE! Heaven forbid. Our hero has far more important things to do, like fly off in search of a woman who in reality hated his guts and never showed the least romantic interest in him, nor him in her, the emotional pinnacle of their entire relationship being when he undocked from her spaceship and they waved goodbye to each other as he fell into a black hole.

 

Interstellar : B+ for the original idea, but no better than a C- for execution. And honestly, that's being way too generous.

Edited by Vort

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Forgot to mention, Interstellar is currently in the buck theaters, so it should be available in a home viewing format shortly.Europa Report is available for free on Netflix and (I have been told) on iTunes. I assume you can still find Gravity wherever, e.g. Redbox, just like any other big-ticket Hollywood film.

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I do not want to burst anyone’s bubble but science fiction of our generation is rather flawed and in essence ends up more fiction than science.  Part of the problem of dealing with the vastness of space is trying to weave in some kind of interesting storyline and a way to ingesting recognizable characters that have meaning to our very specialized view of things.  I also think this is a problem with religious epochs as well.   I have not seen Europa Report but I have seen Gravity and Interstellar.

 

Gravity is obviously a story created by someone that understands almost nothing about orbits.   Sadly being in and dealing with orbits is the central theme in the story line of Gravity.  Gravity is a fun Hollywood movie but has zero value in reality.

 

Interstellar is out of the same mold as Gravity.  That is the sacrifice of reality to try to make a story.  However, with Interstellar the central theme is dimensional space time.  The story line is fun but do not try to understand space time from any of the depictions in this movie.  For example space time is compressed in a black hole not expanded.  Even if it is possible for a black hole to be a threshold to other space time dimensions – there is nothing in interstellar that has any verifiable reference to any known reality.  The story is pure fantasy without reliable science.

 

I would like to make a comparison of science fiction with religion.  But pointing out how religion has turned many scriptural epochs into fun and endearing stories (fables) but lost moral reliability of the divine does seem to offend more than it seems to help.

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I have a threshold of suspension of disbelief, that is dependent on the media. Falling off a cliff and surviving breaks the suspension of disbelief, but in a cartoon not so much. This is how I approach most films, interstellar mostly passes, not because of solid science, but that it is reasonable within the fantasy universe that it creates. (However, Strong gravity tidal forces should rip things apart, or fingers "touching" a wormhole.)

 

The resolution towards the end was unbelievable, I don't think he'd go searching for the woman that hated his guts, nor leave his daughter to die alone.

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ok when you say time is compressed if you are at the point of compression do you see the rest of the universe aging much quicker or hardly at all?

 

You would see the destruction of dimensional space time of our universe collapse and cease to exist as we know it.  Most likely to a lower order of dimensional space time.

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The great thing about blackholes is the amount of observation evidence that simply doesn't exist...I wonder why that is :P

Edited by Crypto

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I read a quote, don't know by whom, saying something like, "999,999,999 out of every billion physics events take place at the event horizon of a black hole." True? No idea, but it does raise the idea that the "science" we "know" fails even to scratch the surface of the reality of our universe. I personally am sure that idea must be true, whether or not the quote is accurate.

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I'm not quite sure when you say "that idea must be true" when you use the word "that", that you are referencing to the quote, science fails to scratch idea, or both.

It is an intriguing idea. :)

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I was referring to the statement "the 'science' we 'know' fails even to scratch the surface of the reality of our universe." Sorry for my convoluted and unclear use of "idea". It was a badly written paragraph.

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We do know some things about black holes and event horizons.  Perhaps more than some think.  The movie Interstellar makes an effort to depict what we will see as we approach a black hole.  Again Hollywood does not quite get some details correct.  As a star collapses into a black hole the star accelerates rotation.  This rotation alter forces and as the black hole is formed the event horizon is formed like a ring at the equator of the black hole.  As particles approach a black hole they are forced by tremendous forces to the event horizon.

 

Just getting to an event horizon of a black hole will subject particles to greater forces and change than passing through a star like our sun.  This is just on the way to the event horizon.  Strangely the forces acting on approaching particles are so great that it is almost impossible to get into the black hole.   On the way to the event horizon the forces acting on a particle are even greater than that is taking place in a thermal nuclear reaction.  All this is done drawing particles to the event horizon that is positioned like a Saturn ring at the equator of the black hole. 

 

At the event horizon the most powerful and efficient engine known in the universe is in operation.  As the fuel is being burned at the event horizon an incredibly powerful light (mostly gamma) is emitted from the poles of the black hole.   We have known about these brilliant stars when the light beam have been pointed toward us as the brightest stars of the universe - we called them quasars.  The quantum effect of a reaction at the equator of a black hole creating a source at the poles has been one of the great challenges of modern physics and proof of large scale quantum effects far beyond particle physics.

 

From Einstein's equations we mostly summarize that very little matter ever makes it into a black hole (even less than one ten thousandths of a percent).  And as we are learning more about our universe we are having to also deal with unknowns in all this in the form or dark matter and dark energy.  We may not know anything about what is on the other side of the event horizon but we do know that getting to the event horizon is much more than a bumpy and turbulent ride.  And again referencing Einstein's equations even the very fabric of dimensional space time is folded over on its self in the process.

 

The one aspect I have left out of this is what happens as a black hole acquires enough mass to go super critical or as the theory goes -- a Big Bang.  That is a whole other conundrum.

Edited by Traveler

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You would see the destruction of dimensional space time of our universe collapse and cease to exist as we know it.  Most likely to a lower order of dimensional space time.

I don't mean at or past the event horizon, but before you get there.

Edited by Blackmarch

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as for interstellar I also found the lack of tidal forces for entering the the wormhole irksome.... however considering that it was an artifact being created by whoever "they" are also shows that they have a means of manipulating gravity/time/reality at least to some extent.. so the wormhole-ish thing wasn't a full blown blackhole type wormhole is probably a decent assumption if you want to fill plotholes with something story valid. Actually most issues i'd have with that movie was how people behaved (but it wasn't that much of an issue)

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I don't mean at or past the event horizon, but before you get there.

 

For what happens approaching an event horizon of a black hole see post #11 on this thread.

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