I saw Interstellar today. It is visually stunning, in places, but on the whole… meh. I was disappointed.
Like prior Nolan flicks, “Interstellar” tries to be “mind blowing.” But in doing so, it comes across more as “tries too hard to be mind blowing.” Additionally, i am capable of the “willing suspension of disbelief” required to enjoy Hollywood’s idea of “science” fiction, but there is so much just plain wrongness in the science here that it’s really more of a fantasy movie. So… here’s the basic setup.
It is something like 50 years from now. The world isn’t getting ready for a collapse, as you might have gathered from the trailers; the collapse has already happened. The population has plummeted; things have fallen so far that there isn;t even war anymore. No more Marines, no more armies. At least partially responsible is “the blight,” which has already made wheat essentially extinct, has just taken out okra, and corn is about to be attacked by the blight. Dust storms sweep much of the planet.
That’s ok for a premise, I suppose. But here’s what bugged me:
1) The blight is a magical plague. Somehow or other it “breathes nitrogen,” but will also remove the oxygen from the atmosphere to the point that in a few generations people will suffocate.
2) So, Earth is doomed. The only possible option is to leave. And there is nowhere else in the solar system to go (somehow forgetting Mars, the asteroids, comets, moons of Jupiter…).
3) As seen in the trailers, a 3-engined two-stage Saturn V-like booster is used to launch a goofy-looking wedge-shaped spaceplane into orbit. And that’s fine. But as it turns out, these spaceplanes have fantastic propulsion systems far superior to old F-1 rocket engines; they are capable of dropping from orbit over an alien world, landing vertically like a Harrier, then taking off all the way back to orbit again. If they are capable of this… why use the rocket booster? My WSoD gets especially shaky when movies are *internally* inconsistent.
The wormhole (which arrived near Saturn 48 years ago, apparently courtesy aliens or God or somebody) leads to a number of different place. Our Heroes go to the black hole system seen in the trailers. The system has three possible planets. Unmanned probes outside the wormhole have picked up minimal data on the three worlds, indicating they each may be promising. OK, sure, I guess. But the black hole system made me twitch. Yes, they clearly listened to Kip Thorne when he described what a black hole with an accretion disk would look like. But they must’ve kept pretty shoddy notes on how a black hole *works.*
The innermost world is deep in the black holes gravity well. Well outside the accretion disk, but far enough in so that time dilation is massive: one hour on the surface is seven years back home. Still, it looks promising, so they decide to go take a look.
4) The main ship stays well beyond, but the wedge-lander goes down and spends a few hours, leading to 23 years back home. The world has 1.3 G’s surface gravity, yet the spaceplane is still able to achieve orbit. So that’s really pretty good for only 50 years from now. But… the spaceplane not only leaves the surface of the planet, it also crawls up out of the black holes gravity well, back to where spacetime is fairly smooth and non-relativistic. I haven’t done the math, but I’m pretty sure that that would indicate that the spaceplane has a delta V of… what? More than 0.9 c? Yeah… no. A target that deep in that massive of a gravity well is attainable for a flyby probe or an impactor, but for rendezvous? Yeah… no.
5) The inner planet is the one with the massive waves seen in the trailers. The only logical source for these waves would be gravitational tides from the black hole. But tides that bad wouldn’t just make mountain-sized waves, they’d distort the planet as a whole. It’d be a ball of lava with an atmosphere of superheated water vapor. Not a promising home for humanity.
6) EXCESSIVE USE OF WORN-OUT SCI-FI TROPE: Once again, the astronaut who goes bugnuts and psychotic, causing a ruckus. Bah.
7) The next world they visit has frozen clouds. Not clouds of snow particles, but Avatar-esque floating glaciers. Solid, structurally unified masses just hanging in the sky. When you bump them with your ship, you break chunks off… chunks which, if memory serves, promptly fall downwards. Ummm…. no. On so many, many levels.
8) When you bump your orbiting ship, it does not *immediately* begin plummeting out of orbit into the atmosphere.
9) To get to the third world, they need to slingshot around the black hole. And to do that they plunge inwards deeper than the first world. In fact, they skim the accretion disk. This… would be bad. Not only is that close enough to get roasted and nuked, the reason why accretion disks are glowing hot is because the tidal forces are so strong that shear in the gas in the disk causes aerothermal heating like a re-entering spacecraft. This means the tidal forces would be enough to tear the ship to bits. Probably very, very small bits.
10) OK, so the accretion disk is a plane that bisects the “sphere” of the black hole, much like the rings of Saturn. Now, imagine you were in orbit around Saturn at a radius smaller than the outer radius of the rings. There is no such thing as an orbit that wouldn’t actually take you *through* the rings. Yet the ship here somehow manages to stay on one side of the disk. Hmmmph.
11) You cannot survive entry into a black hole by careful piloting, proper trajectory planning or just going fast enough. If the hole is small enough to have an external accretion disk, then passing the event horizon will be an experience which will cause your *atoms* to get torn to bits.
12) Mystical personal revelations. Hrrrrmmmphgah.
13) Love is *not* some amazing force that can change the universe or whatever. Love ain’t even The Force.
All that said, it was a masterful movie. There were moments of greatness… the most heartbreaking “driving away scene” I can recall; just about the best parental response to idiotarian school authority figures; one really good use of “Do not go gentle into that good night” (and several “meh” uses); a number of spectacular scenes. It was clearly heavily influenced by “2001.” A lot of the musical cues were taken straight from “2001;” there are robots clearly modeled on the Monolith (thankfully, their personalities are not HAL clones); and the end… well, it’ll sure seem familiar. But I have to admit to being as let down as I was by Prometheus. The characters weren’t as mind-bogglingly stupid as those in Prometheus, but it was just as much of a letdown in the hype.