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Interstellar: The movie that deserves to be called “Gravity”

Posted by Mat Kaplan

09-11-2014 19:24 CST

Topics: product review, opinion

It was my wife who realized it. We had just seen “Interstellar.” First time for her, second for me. “’Interstellar?’ That’s a terrible, misleading name for this movie,” she said, adding, “They should have called it ‘Gravity.’”

Paramount Pictures

"Interstellar" black hole
Much of the key action in the new film “Interstellar” takes place on the outskirts of—and eventually even closer to—an enormous, rotating black hole.

With apologies to that other film, she’s right. Gravity co-stars in this wonderful, thought-provoking movie that is outstanding science fiction, but is really about the loved ones in our lives, and what we are willing to sacrifice for them. It proposes that love is like gravity in that it transcends space and time, with suggestions that the connection between the two may be as much a physical reality as a romantic one.

I probably lost some hard science fiction fans with that last statement. Have no fear. “Interstellar” is also the most scientifically acute and accurate film of its kind since at least “Contact,” and possibly since “2001.” Like Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, it combines solid science with soaring speculation. There has never been a better big screen exploration of the downside of relativistic time dilation. Some dramatic license is taken, but director Christopher Nolan seems to have paid close attention to his science advisors, including the great physicist, Kip Thorne. (Thorne will be my guest on an upcoming episode of Planetary Radio.)

Kip Thorne

Paramount Pictures

Kip Thorne
Caltech physicist Kip Thorne was an executive producer of “Interstellar” and one of its science advisors.

There is another theme. It’s familiar to all members of the Planetary Society, and probably to everyone else who has visited this website more than once. “Interstellar” embraces the spirit and even the necessity of exploration. Its main character has nothing but disdain for a society that has turned its back on the passion, beauty and joy of this human endeavor that many of us believe is essential to our survival. 

Paramount Pictures

"Interstellar" spaceship
The spacecraft in Interstellar are beyond anything flying today, but are within our reach.

I first saw “Interstellar” at the glorious Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It was gorgeous in IMAX, and the sound, especially when the characters were busy avoiding disaster, was bone-rattling. But much of the dialog was lost in the music and effects, at least to my poor ears. I was left with a vague feeling that the film was flawed, though still magnificent. I’m very happy to report that watching it again in a standard multiplex box was an even more enjoyable and profound experience. See it with someone you can count on for a great conversation about the grand moral issues and majestic cosmic wonders that put this movie among the very best in its genre. Ad Astra, indeed!

See other posts from November 2014


Or read more blog entries about: product review, opinion


Ray Gedaly: 11/09/2014 09:05 CST

I'm sure there will be lots of different opinions about the movie, but I left the theatre a little underwhelmed and thinking about how much more impressed I was by India putting a spacecraft into orbit around Mars for roughly the same cost as this film.

Enzo: 11/10/2014 04:05 CST

I find wormholes one of the least convincing aspects of interstellar travel. Even assuming that they exist and can be safely traversed, the fact remain that I have never heard of even the slightest theoretical argument that would allow one to select the destination. It seems to me that they can only connect the origin point to a random point in space (and possibly time). Given that space is essentially almost 100% empty, the chances for the arrival point to get near any star, let alone a star with an interesting planet is basically zero.

Hastings300: 11/10/2014 08:53 CST

This movie was a masterpiece and for me the best "hard" science fiction movie I've seen. A major takeaway is that we're to think and be beyond Earth. We should be a species with the "right stuff" and do great things out there and here at home.

Apollo: 11/10/2014 02:30 CST

I think a serious logical plot hole of the story told in the film was, why travel all the way to Saturn to traverse a wormhole to find planets in another galaxy for humans to colonize, when Mars is just around the corner?

Stephen: 11/11/2014 06:30 CST

I found "Interstellar" to be a huge disappointment. Yes, there is science in there, but there is also a mad (literally!) scientist, a poltergeist, super-mysterious super-aliens who send us a convenient wormhole to save humanity for reasons that far from clear (not unlike the mysterious aliens in the film "Knowing" who come in flying saucers to save humanity for reasons that are never very clear), and a certain amount of wanton stupidity. (As in the screenwriters having otherwise smart people doing dumb things to advance the plot.) Plus there is a denouement which has elements lifted out of "2001: A Space Odyssey". Plus there is one sequence involving what look like flying mountains (or were they merely icy clouds?) which might have been lifted from "Avatar". The wormhole sends the cast to planets in another galaxy. Why ANOTHER galaxy is never explained. (Were there no habitable planets in our own galaxy?) Furthermore, as I understand it,travelling through that wormhole should have resulted in a journey time of millions or even tens of millions of years (depending on how far off that other galaxy is) each way, yet the film treats it as essentially instantaneous travel--just like travelling through the the movie (& TV show) "Stargate" was. WHy the aliens put the wormhole all the way out at Saturn instead of somewhere more convenient for poor suffering humanity to reach is also not explained. More cheesily, love is presented as a "quantifiable" quality, thus setting us up for a scientifically justified version of America's favourite movie theme: love conquers all.

Mat: 11/11/2014 12:32 CST

Hi, folks. Your thoughtful opinions regarding "Interstellar" are as divided here as they appear to be everywhere. Bravo for that. A few thoughts: I think putting a wormhole near Saturn may have been a safety precaution by "them" or the future us. I wouldn't want one floating around anywhere in what we know as the habitable zone. There actually has been responsible, if far-fetched, speculation about how to stretch a wormhole from your home to some far-flung destination, just as there has been thought given to keeping it from collapsing. And I've read that the trip would be quick. You are bypassing normal spacetime, after all. Do they exist? The math says they can, so I'm willing to bet they do. Call it a matter of faith, if you like. It's no more outlandish (and probably less so), than any civilization ever being able to build a 3D tesseract inside a black hole that allows a simple human to manipulate time and space. That's why they call it speculative fiction. I wonder about those "ice clouds," too. Lots of stuff I can ask Kip Thorne about when I get to talk to him soon. Thanks for following this, and for giving it thought. Mat Kaplan

Stephen: 11/11/2014 01:55 CST

@Mat "I think putting a wormhole near Saturn may have been a safety precaution by "them" or the future us" 1) I do not recall that explanation being in the movie 2) It would have been just a safe at Mars or Venus. Just less photogenically located for Hollywood movies (and less like "2001: A Space Odysey", where a similarly conveniently located plot device is located. (Albeiit that movie put it round Jupiter. I suspect Nolan would probably have wanted to locate his wormhole there as well, but this is no longer 1968. We now know there are intense radiation belts around Jupiter which might have killed his astronauts.) "Do they exist? The math says they can, so I'm willing to bet they do." What mathematics allows us to calculate the likelihood of the existence of super-science alien civilisations--as distinct from alien civilisations in general (with the Drake equation)? "Call it a matter of faith, if you like" Many kids believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. That's also a matter of faith, but science kind of takes a holiday when you put faith in the driver's seat rather than rationality. "That's why they call it speculative fiction." I'd be careful with that label. Depending on how you define the word "speculative", TV shows and movies like, "Game of Throne" and "Santa Clause: The Movie" could be rebadged from fantasy fiction to speculative fiction. If you're going to invoke super-science aliens as a plot device "I wonder about those "ice clouds," too" I have no problem with clouds of ice CRYSTALS. That's basically what cirrus clouds are. Clouds of SOLID ice are, however, another matter. There is this little thing called gravity which gets in the way of them floating way up in the sky. When hail (balls of solid ice) form they come crashing down to the ground. To prevent clouds of solid (water) ice doing so you may need to invoke the sort of exotic atmospheric pressure conditions more likely to be found in a gas giant that a terrestrial planet.

Philosoraptor: 01/15/2016 08:54 CST

Why is Interstellar more about gravity than the movie Gravity?

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