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A Very Good But Somewhat Flawed Film & A Truly Excellent Story - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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November 24th, 2014


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03:19 am - A Very Good But Somewhat Flawed Film & A Truly Excellent Story
teaotter & I saw Interstellar today. It was very well done & definitely worth seeing, but also not without problems, including a few serious ones. The good bits are easy to list – the special effects are gorgeous, and it's especially nice to see high end special effects not in the service of war or other forms of murder. Also, unlike far too many films, in addition to excellent special effects, it also features first rate acting. In addition, it's especially worth seeing for anyone who knows even a modicum about SF films of the past 50 years. It was swiftly obvious that Nolan, and likely everyone else involved had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, many times. While the kinship between these two films was most clear in the scenes inside the black hole, they were present throughout, from the spaceships, the general look and feel (although all of it was updated, so the film thankfully didn't feel retro). There were also a multitude of other homages, from the robot TARS' dialog to the scene near the end where Cooper & TARS climb into the spacecraft on the space-station, the scene vividly reminded me of Luke and R2D2 climbing into Luke's X-wing fighter, and I'm certain that's not a coincidence, especially given the way TARS's central section leaned up right before the cockpit closed. So, beautiful, well-acted, and full of homages to other well done films, all of which definitely make it definitely worth seeing.

The problems were unfortunately also in some cases all too obvious. I'd really like the whole women as the bringers/guardians of emotions to go away, but given that much of the film was driven by the love of a man for his daughter, the female = emotion parts were annoying, but perhaps less bad than many similar treatments of mainstream culture, but I'm rather intolerant of that aspect of mainstream culture. The lack of women needing rescuing was nice.

However, the film did less well on race. First off, there was one person of color in the entire film. Sure, the main cast was fairly small, but with a main cast of around 10 people, one of them was non-white, and also, the black guy dies, which is just as stereotypically unsurprising as you'd expect.

Other than that, the films biggest problem was the ending – specifically the very end, the last 5 minutes or so. So, Cooper is picked up in his spacesuit and taken to one of a number of space colonies orbiting Saturn. So far so good – we can assume that the gravity equations he sent to his daughter allowed humanity to evacuate Earth and build lots of space colonies. I'm a bit puzzled why people could grow plenty of food on space stations but not in vast sealed greenhouses on Earth, but I'll give the movie that one. Unfortunately, there are two far larger (and closely related) problems – people are living in space colonies and not on a planet and Cooper goes off to rescue Amelia Brand, who is marooned on the planet she went to.

If that planet was habitable, then why didn't people move there decades ago. The space colonies are clearly not new, and presumably have been around for at least 10-20 years, and they're built around Saturn, so they are within easy distance of the wormhole, especially given that humanity now has large scale gravity control. If the planet Brand went to was actually habitable, then once gravity control was possible, someone should have visited it, and decades after that, she should arrive to find at least a small city, if not tens of millions of people living there.

Those problems could have been averted with less than a minute of dialog. Either, Cooper finds out that the planet was habitable and thus is now settled, and he's just going there to see Amelia Brand, because she's the only other person from his time left who isn't exceptionally old or he finds out that the planet was only barely habitable, and that humanity either found that with gravity control and other technological advances, they could now happily live in space colonies, or people were in the process of colonizing other planets in other star systems, because learning more about gravity allowed them to use the wormhole to travel to lots of star systems, some of which have planets that are actually worth living on. As a result, since no one, other than Murph, was ever expecting to see Cooper or Brand again, no one bothered to visit the planet she was going to, and so Cooper was going there to be a familiar face, since no one had gotten around to organizing an expedition there to get Brand once they found out that she was still alive.

I'd have happily taken either of these explanations or in fact any explanation, but the utter lack of one was seriously annoying in an otherwise good film. The two key points in the entire film was making gravity control work and finding a habitable planet. Entirely dropping the second of these at the ending was seriously jarring.

I was willing to suspend my disbelief about most humans needing to farm, despite still clearly having plenty of fuel for vehicles and mechanized farm machinery, but when a film ignores half of its premise at the end, I'm annoyed, especially since fixing it would have required only tiny amount of dialog. Also, Murph urging Cooper to go find Brand seemed to have some sort of matchmaking implications and that's quite honestly the first hint of anything like romance between Cooper & Brand, and it also felt a bit jarring. Nevertheless, the film is worth seeing, just problematic

OTOH, last night I encountered a truly awesome novella (or whatever you call stories between 10 & 20,000 words) - The Litany of Earth by Ruthanna Emrys . It was breathtakingly good – it's a piece of modern Cthulhu mythos fiction that handles the inherent racism in most mythos stories exceptionally well, and is compelling and powerful, with excellent characters, and it's also not horror (which is almost always a plus for me, especially for modern mythos fiction).

This story has some of the same aspects of reworking the meanings of various events of the Cthulhu Mythos while keeping the facts basically the same and then integrating them into the world that I used in my RPG Eldritch Skies, but this story has writing that is exceptional, and an exceedingly different feel - it's social science fiction that is full of compassion for all of the characters.

After you read the story, here's a truly impressive discussion of it - oddly on a blog which I've frequented in the past for excellent essays on Renaissance history. Better yet, clicking on the author's name on the Tor.com site (where the story can be found) reveals both another truly excellent (non-mythos) story that it filled with magic, kindness, and wonder. This link also contains a series of excellent discussion/reviews of many of Lovecraft's stories. Best of all, I found that the author has an lj, and on it, she mentioned that she was writing a novel about the protagonist in The Litany of Earth, and while the novel is clearly still being written, I'm greatly looking forward to it.

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From:heron61
Date:November 25th, 2014 09:43 pm (UTC)
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It had... conceptual issues. On a variety of levels. Like, if you have an SSTO shuttle capable of operating in 1.3g's without incident, the premise is frankly silly -- we don't need a grand unified theory to save the day here. You could fulfill the kind of spacelift promises O'Neill was making without breaking a sweat. Your happy spacefuture in giant rotating cylinders is not terribly hard at that point. Plan A's not an issue.

I don't see that at all. It's definitely set in a future that has somewhat fewer resources than ours (despite presumably having a considerably lower population), and even with our wealth, with that sort of tech, building enough space colonies to support 1 billion people (as a first guess estimate of Earth's surviving human population) is way beyond impossible. What I really liked about the move was that the victory condition wasn't any sort of crapsack brutally-"realist" victory of saving the human species, but leaving most people to die, but finding a way to save everyone on Earth, and the two most obvious supporters of plan B (Dr. Brand & Dr. Mann) were clearly in the wrong. To have a hope of saving most or all of Earth's population, you'd need large-scale gravity control (as well as a bunch of other stuff, including the ability to build mostly closed ecology habitats, which could have presumably been used on Earth, so it still only makes so much sense).

As a side-note, one thing that irritated me was that there's was clearly plenty of fuel for cars & automated farm machinery, and I'd expect a world in that bad shape to be running out of fuel, since making ethanol means taking food from someone.

Also the frozen cloud planet. I have no idea if there are conditions under which that would actually make sense (how do you freeze the volatiles and leave them suspended among other volatiles at higher temperature, far above the surface, and not just have them precipitate out as snow until it reaches equilibrium or the whole atmosphere freezes? And what did they have to slip into your mission pack for you to think you could pass it off as potentially habitable? It sounds like some weirdass KBO...)

I entirely agree - that planet made no sense at all as a potentially habitable world and should have been obviously non-habitable from first scan (although, I could still see investigating if you got signals that it was, but it should definitely have been 3rd on the list).
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