Friday, 9 October 2015

Movie Review - Interstellar

Interstellar is a movie that I had been looking forward to for quite a while. After watching the movie I started going through a lot of the movie reviews that people started posting. I was quite disappointed to see so much negativity and nitpicking directed towards the movie. 

The movie is set in a dreary post apocalyptic earth ravaged by dust storms. Food is scarce and blight is creeping in on the last of humanity's food supplies. To survive, people are forced to take up farming. In one of the farms Cooper - a NASA engineer turned unwilling farmer reminisces about the time humanity used to look up at the stars and wonder about our place in the universe.

Cooper soon discovers that all hope is not lost when a gravitational anomaly leads him to a hidden NASA base full of people who are working on one last mission to save humanity. A wormhole has appeared near Saturn that put a new galaxy full of potentially habitable planets within the reach of humans. Cooper is asked to help NASA with visiting the most promising of these worlds to investigate. They visit a world with tidal waves the size of mountains and a world of ice and snow all the while having to deal with the time dilation of a super massive black hole.

The movie excelled in its depiction of space travel and the realities of time dilation. It very realistically depicted the science of gravitational time dilation. The graphics of the worm hole was brilliant, dwarfed only by that of the absolutely gorgeous black hole. 

The AI of the robots TARS and CASE were an unexpected delight! The movie did not try to make the AI look humanoid or impossibly advanced. The shape and movements of TARS were practical and realistic. The highly advanced natural language processing and fluid intelligence that the robots displayed was truly remarkable. As a person who is reasonably familiar with robotics, I know that these are areas where active research is going on. In fact, quite recently robotics research has started shifting from conservative control systems - that are very slow and careful - to control systems that make full use of the dynamics of the body of the robot - very similar to how TARS controls itself - to create robots that can make quick and acrobatic movements. The humor settings were a nice touch.

The harshest criticisms were leveled at the slightly unusual finale with Cooper floating around in the black hole and sending messages back in time. Many say that this ending was unsatisfactory and ruined what was otherwise a good movie. I disagree. Science fiction movies and novels can be characterized as a spectrum with hard science fiction on one end (like the work of Arthur C. Clarke) and soft science fiction on the other (like Doctor Who). Maybe people were complaining because most of the movie can be classified as hard science fiction while the black hole scene is more 'soft'. However, I find the idea of an advanced species manipulating a black hole to send messages back in time no more outlandish than the idea of them creating a wormhole at will. If there are species that are capable of the kind of engineering required to construct a stable wormhole, I think it's safe to assume that they have also figured out the mechanics of a black hole. 

Also, a lot of the reviews that I've seen of interstellar keep looking at it from the  point of view of a movie critic. They look at the movie as though it was designed to give them some sort of intense entertainment experience and that the movie fell short of giving it to them. I think it's unfair to expect Interstellar to be like that. Movies like interstellar are not good because they are packed full of action or witty dialog. Movies like interstellar are good because they make us dream about a better future. Just like Carl Sagan's COSMOS and Neil deGrasse Tyson's awe inspiring monologues on space, this movie has the power to inspire us. Perhaps one day in the future we'll become a space faring civilization and some of the people working on it will talk about how this really old movie about space travel captured their imagination.

So Interstellar is not a movie to watch if you're looking for action or comedy (although the movie has its fair share of both). It's a philosophical movie that is intended to make us think and wonder; and at least in my case, I think it succeeded in doing exactly that judging by the unusually long post-film trance I was in.

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