Nitpickers’ shame: Interstellar

My name is James, and I am a nitpicker. I am sorry but I can’t control myself and will nitpick now, but at least I will warn people and do it in a form that can be ignored if they wish. I have not attended a Nitpickers Anonymous meeting because it hasn’t been founded yet (on my to-do list).

I am also a hypocrite. I admit that I finally watched Interstellar to see just how bad it really was, and then I almost annoyed a friend who’s normally un-aggravatable by complaining about it. I am on a slippery slope that ends reading the Daily Mail.

SPOLERS AHEAD

Another friend told me it got better in the second half, which is the only reason I finished it. To be fair, I did find the farewell with his daughter very affecting. I also had great trouble hearing what the actors were slurring even when it wasn’t drowned out by music or sound effects, so it’s possible I missed something that explains it all away. Then again, someone who normally hears pretty well also had trouble hearing Mumbler McConnawhatsit.

* Despite all the possible and plausible catastrophes that could make our stay on this planet difficult, including a pressing one we should be plugging as much as we can (greenhouse effect by the way), they make up a plant disease that goes for photogenic maize fields last of all. What is more, it is going to suffocate us because it breathes nitrogen. I’m not saying that life based on an inert gas most life-forms ignore is impossible. I haven’t looked up and worked out if combining nitrogen with carbon, hydrogen and oxygen from the plants you eat would actually yield energy instead of consuming it. But if it’s consuming nitrogen, wouldn’t that leave MORE oxygen for us to breathe? And wouldn’t the changes in the weather wipe us out long before we suffocated? Come to think of it, if it’s breathing out nitrous oxide, at least we might get a good laugh before we go.

Where did it come from? All earthly life uses oxygen, so it’s unlikely to have evolved; not to mention that no disease has yet threatened all other life at once. Creating it as a bio-weapon would require incredibly advanced genetic science, which they don’t seem to have. That leaves an alien plague, which changes the whole dynamic of the thing.

* After going through a couple of generations of war, global crisis, impending armageddon and advancing technology, it’s amazing how society, at least in the American mid-west, doesn’t seem to have changed one jot.

* How do those monolith robots walk about? We only get a single shot of one actually moving on the ground without cut-aways or obstruction, and it’s not terrbily convincing. You try walking with utterly rigid legs and no pelvis tilt.

* The main spacecraft seems to have no visible engines or fuel tanks.

* Time dilation, like gravity (well it is gravity in this case) doesn’t begin or end suddenly at a line. Unless you’ve been watching Sunshine and think it’s the same thing as air pressure.

* If you can fly so far down into a black hole’s gravity well that one hour is seven years, land on a planet and then fly back out again, it’s very impressive (even if you have a neutron star to swing around on the way). If you can build shuttlecraft that fly down from orbit in 130% Earth gravity, land vertically, muck about and fly back up again with a big load of people and equipment, that’s impressive too (and very different from the huge rocket they needed to get off Earth…) If you have this level of tech then moving the human race out to Saturn, or indeed Alpha Centaurai, would be child’s play. I suppose they must have already solved the anti-gravity drive, but only in a form that’s powered by dramatic crisis.

* Given that their space programme so vastly more advanced than ours, they must have already had bases on Mars, missions to Jupiter and so forth. Denying that it ever happened might be a bit difficult even for humans… but if they’ve been launching those massive rockets into space from farmland, someone would have noticed anyway.

* Why send humans? Those robots would be quite capable (even if they couldn’t walk) of doing preliminary surveys and reporting back. We have worked out a fair bit about where life might plausibly exist just using tech from thirty years ago and mostly orbital surveys.

* If it’s possible to send information out from the event horizon (I’ve never understood why not, actually) and solving the gravity equation is the holy grail that will save Earth’s population, why did they only ever try to do it at the end of the film? Surely that would be the first priority?

* If you’re a two-dimension being living on a piece of paper and want to take a short-cut to the other end, then folding the paper to get there is the important part. Wouldn’t punching a hole through the paper actually make it more diffficult?

* Before landing on a planet, it’s a good idea to take a look first and make sure it doesn’t have, say, GIANT WAVES swooshing over your landing site.

* …but somehow they already know that where they land the water is only a couple of feet deep anywhere they might want to wade to.

* Waves hundreds of feet high in knee-deep water? Normally they break as they get near the beach. Suppose they must be stood on top of a giant flat-topped stone column that’s the only one for a long distance and never gets eroded.

* If a giant wave is bearing down on you and it’s important you get back inside and take off before it smashes you, why would a presumably sensible trained astronaut stand outside watching the person who’s furthest away dash back, pass them, enter the shuttle ahead, then go “Duh, maybe I should get in too?” Presumably it was “Well SOMEBODY has to get killed to make this dramatic enough to power our anti-gravity drive, and she’s a potential love interest.”

* Where’s the sulight coming from? Are there suns orbiting the black hole in turn? Is the light coming from the acretion disc and if so, why didn’t they get fried mucking about it in later on?

* Flying, frozen, solid clouds? Really? Is this “surface” of the planet hidden under levitating ice castles? Mind you, if this is possible I’d be very pleased, because I loved that bit in James and the Giant Peach.

* I’m not actually bothered about mystic stuff happening in a black hole, or self-causing futures (except that they’re clichéd by now; I guessed what the “ghost” was the first time it was mentioned). They’re sci-fi staples, and our science doesn’t know any better.

* The human race has apparently been saved by moving to space habitats. While getting off Earth is certainly a problem (and one they’ve apparently already solved), it’s by no means the be-all and end-all of living in space. There’s energy, food, water, recycling, living space, dealing with radiation and meteors etc. In short, if you can survive the Blight by using sealed habitats, it would have been a lot easier to just build them on Earth to begin with.

* So Brand has spent the last century (normal time) slaving away believing she was the only human survivor, while the rest knew about it and could reach her (with a message or robot if no-one is up for time dilation) and they had no reason to think Coop would be coming back. Isn’t just leaving her all alone more than a little callous?

All in all, drama and pretty pictures have trumped science every time in this story, and as a result, little of it works for me. I can understand that it might work for other people. What makes it a crime is trumpeting the scientific adviser and the po-faced seriousness with which it’s all done. 2001 had a writer who actually understood science and science fiction; the director respected that, even if there was friction between them. The liberties they did take (like having the supercomputer circuits around the inside of a room rather than in a boring grey box) were perfectly fine. If Nolan had pulled off something both dramatic and plausible with what we know, that would have been an actual achievement instead of a travesty.

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About jamestucker1972

Aspiring writer!
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One Response to Nitpickers’ shame: Interstellar

  1. Pingback: Nitpickers’ shame: Interstellar - Todd DeanTodd Dean

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