Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

A Spoileriffic Contrarian View of "Interstellar"

Last night, November 29th, Georgie and I went to see "Interstellar." We both came away annoyed and disappointed. For Georgie, in part it was because she found being constantly manipulated by the emotional set-ups and the musical score wearing. For me, I found the "human" part of the plot (as distinct from the science problem part of the plot) turgid, melodramatic, and unbelievable. Also, despite the highly touted astrophysics in the film, it was painfully obvious that Professor Kip Thorne was not consulted about a lot of the BASIC physics, which were instead filled in by Hollywood cliches, which did a lot to ruin the movie for me.

I suppose we should be thankful to Christopher Nolan for making a success of "Interstellar" because that increases the chances that more SF films will be greenlighted. Here's hoping that one of these days we will see one where there only laws of nature that are broken are those explicitly called for by the science-fiction element.

Scroll down for my point-by-point objections, if you care to.

Planets orbiting a black hole: OK, accepting that for a moment, no matter how unlikely, where's the star that's providing the Earth-like daylight all three planets enjoy? What's causing the enormous tidal waves on planet One (I'm referring to the planets as One, Two, and Three, since, other than Dr. Mann, I can't remember the names of the scientists sent to each one)? Probably that close to the black hole, planet One ought to be tidally locked and thus have no actual tides. If they are actual tide effects due to the black hole's gravity, then the planet has a rotational period of about two hours local time, which should have been obvious from space, since the time compression factor of 61000+ to one should have made the planet appear to be spinning at approximately 511 RPM--.

I also tend to think that the region as close to the black hole as planet One would probably be uninhabitable due to hard radiation released as matter contained in the significant accretion disk crossed the event horizon, but I have no hard data on that.

Fractured Faceplate: In his attempt to murder protagonist Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Dr, Mann (Matt Damon) fractures the faceplate of Cooper's spacesuit, supposedly exposing him to the ammonaical atmosphere of planet Two. Cooper reacts by writhing around on the ground making gobbling noises until he's able to grab the radio Mann tore off his suit and call for help. Now, since the planet does have atmosphere, if the spacesuit faceplate is cracked, one of three conditions must apply: either the pressure inside the suit is greater than outside, in which case the suit has a slow leak, endangering, but not immediately disabling; second, pressure is approximately equal, which means the situation is the same; or, third, the pressure outside is higher, which means Cooper has an ammonia leak in front of his face, which seems to be what's happening, although there's no other indication the atmosphere is that thick. However, the air isn't THAT corrosive, since when Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway) comes to the rescue, she blithely flips Cooper's faceplate open and gives him a respirator. We don't see any red eyes or other trauma to Cooper's face moments later inside the landing craft. My point being that this planet is really cold, so a canny spaceman could have closed his eyes, held his breath, opened his faceplate, licked his finger and probably sealed the crack with frozen spit. That's assuming space helmet faceplates are that fragile anyway, which I doubt to begin with.

Exploding spacecraft: In an attempt to highjack the "Endurance", the mad Dr. Mann steals the shuttle, "Ranger 1" but can't dock properly and so attempts to board by overriding the airlock safeties. Note that this is essentially the same maneuver successfully performed by astronaut Dave Bowman regaining entrance to the "Discovery" when locked out by HAL. In "Interstellar" however, this results in a massive explosion, that kills Mann, destroys Ranger 1, and does serious damage to Endurance, knocking it out of orbit. Totally unreasonable! The worst thing that should have happened would have been the two ships drifting apart, propelled by the puff of exhausted atmosphere. The drifting Ranger might have damaged the rotating Endurance somewhat, but that's about it. This is the film's major case of subjugating scientific sense for Hollywood cliche. I would have written it so that the decompression pushed both Dr. Mann and the untethered Ranger away from the main ship, both to fall and be destroyed on reentry. The heroes still have to catch, board and re-stabilize the damaged Endurance, which surely would have been dramatic enough.

Then, in the movie, Cooper and one of the AIs manage to dock with the out-of-control Endurance, and use the landing craft's engines to stop the spin and lift the main space craft, many times the mass of the lander, out of the planet's gravity well, and out of orbit. Maybe not impossible, but highly unlikely in my opinion.

Note also: The Ranger shuttles are shown as being capable of landing and taking off from a planetary surface unaided, even Planet One, which has 130% Earth's gravity. So, why do they initially need a two-stage booster to get it off Earth?

Other quibbles: How could NASA have remained secret for years launching rockets from the middle of the continental United States? You'd think someone like Cooper, a former astronaut, would notice--.

"Plan B" as described, which involves only stored human embryos, would surely fail. What would they eat? Planet Three is pretty barren. There would have to have been more to it than that.

Dr. Brand's speech about relying on love when beyond the scientific data is out of character, even given her shock and upset at the death of Doyle. This is part of the unsatisfactory sentimentality of the script.

Last and not least, I consider any plot resolution involving time travel where time travel isn't part of the initial problem (as in "Looper") a cop-out.

So, a pity: serious science, a great cast, wonderful special effects, all fatally undermined by some short-sighted cliches. Rats.

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Tags: movies, science fiction
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