Interstellar (2014)

It’s All Relativity

interstellar poster

A long and tedious film with some fantastic ideas and beautiful imagery.

Now this is a film that I wish I could have loved. Some time in the future, humanity is in a precarious state. It’s difficult to grow food, and one blight too many could kill everyone off. Our protagonist Joseph Cooper was once a NASA pilot, but now he–like everyone else–has to eke a meager living attempting to grow dusty corn. This of course changes when NASA (secretly operating in a nearby facility) enlists him to head off into space to find a new world for people to settle on. To the dismay of his daughter, Cooper accepts the mission. The astronaut crew flies through a wormhole near Saturn, but what planets will they find on the other side?

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Interstellar is a slow and tiring film. It presents a lot of interesting concepts to mull over–but the film’s execution just felt lacking. The story’s heart is in the relationship between the protagonist and his daughter, but I just couldn’t get myself to care much about either of them. They were both just too boring. I’m not sure if the film needed better acting or better editing more.

The movie is nearly three hours long. There are scenes that demonstrate true ingenuity, such as a particular set in the final act that I found rather mind-blowing in terms of visuals. But as a whole, Interstellar feels a lot like outer space: mostly empty. Though I complained about the film’s length, I actually think this story could have worked much better had it been a TV mini-series (six 1-hour episodes?), which could have fleshed out the characters more and expand on some of the science behind the plot.

Available on Amazon or Best Buy.

Sunshine (2007)

Here Comes the Sun

sunshine poster

This movie is a real trip. A unique combination of grim, pensive, and wild.

Around fifty years in the future, a crew of eight astronauts is sent to the sun. For whatever reason the sun is dying out, and they need to set off a bomb inside it to give it a jump-start. From what I’ve read this is not a scientifically sound premise by any means, but for the sake of a different kind of space journey film it works. This is a movie that I feel is much more about the mood it wishes to convey, rather than the plot (which I’d say is worth not thinking about too deeply). It’s an intense film, and not just in terms of action.

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The best thing about Sunshine is how it gets across just how massive and overwhelmingly powerful the sun is. As things increasingly grow worse for our main characters during their dangerous trip, they’re forced to come to terms with some fairly heady topics approaching philosophy and religion. The entire Earth is just a pebble compared to the sun, and everyone will die without it. What is a human life in comparison to such a god-like force? I might be giving the film more credit than it deserves in terms of how “deep” it is, but it did leave an impression.

The first two-thirds of Sunshine plays out how you might expect, but the final act takes a rather surprising turn. I wasn’t entirely sold on the direction the film chose to take at that point, but I do appreciate its willingness to experiment. Also worth noting, it’s definitely worth giving this one a watch for its art direction. Excellent visuals and cinematography that feel more like the work of creative minds rather than a high budget.

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The Martian (2015)

Lost in Space

martian film poster

An exciting and well-paced sci-fi film. It was a fun movie to watch!

So I saw The Martian and enjoyed it enough that I decided to read the original source material (the novel by Andy Weir, which I reviewed yesterday). As it turns out, this is one of those rare times where I’m going to say the movie is better than the book. The pacing is much snappier. The science is still there, but it’s presented in a livelier and more engaging manner. It’s a rare case of a film adaptation knowing what to cut out from the book, what to focus on more, and what to change.

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In this case, not much was actually changed. Hollywood didn’t throw in a bunch of extra action scenes (save one for the grand finale, which was handled perfectly), and they didn’t try shoehorning a romance subplot (which was strangely refreshing). It was just a movie about an astronaut trying to survive on Mars, and the team at NASA trying to get a shuttle back to rescue him. It’s a simple story that’s not going to thrill anyone with its plot twists, but it gets the job done.

Matt Damon plays the protagonist in this one, and I feel he really nailed the role. His delivery of the novel’s funnier lines keeps the film upbeat and encouraging; the sarcasm and self-deprecation doesn’t feel forced or weary. As for the rest of the cast, they seem to handle their scenes well enough–or at the very least, they don’t overstay their welcome. If the film’s not going to be about character development, no need to dwell on them longer than necessary.

My favorite space movie in recent years, perhaps? Go give it a watch, if you haven’t already.

Available on Amazon or Best Buy.

The Martian (by Andy Weir)

Life on Mars

the martian book

A solid sci-fi premise that the author explores in great depth… perhaps too much depth.

The Martian is set in the future when NASA has been launching a number of missions to study Mars. After an unfortunate accident in a dust storm, our hapless protagonist Mark Watney ends up stranded on the red planet all by himself. He has to find a way to survive until another space shuttle can come rescue him, and the book largely takes the form of the daily logs he records. “Today I used science to deal with this technical issue, and then something else broke down and I almost died.” That’s the book.

At times the protagonist’s dry wit and self-deprecating humor was amusing enough to hold my interest, but ultimately the repetitive nature of the plot made this one a bit of a slog to read through. I enjoy a good science article every now and then, but a whole novel of it is a bit much for me. And as for the characters, I unfortunately never felt I connected with any of them. About a third or half the book is from the perspective of various people at NASA trying to work out how to rescue Watney, but they’re pretty much always just exhausted and stressed. (And sarcastic.) Which is understandable, but it doesn’t really help break up the monotony of the story as much as it should.

All that said, the science in this one seemed very sound. If you’re curious in learning what it would take to live on Mars for an extended period of time in great detail, The Martian will definitely fill you in on that. Otherwise, just stick with the much snappier movie (which I will review next).

Available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline)

The Future is the 1980s

ready player one

It’s young adult fiction, but every page is a 1980s pop culture reference, be it a sci-fi movie, fantasy novel, or pixel arcade game.

Ready Player One stars a boy named Wade, who technically lives in a stacked pile of broken-down mobile homes, but actually spends all his time in a virtual reality universe. His goal is to win a Willy Wonka-esque contest left behind by the deceased creator of said virtual reality universe, which requires him to be an expert in everything nerdy from the 80s.

Overall the plot plays out in a very straightforward manner. The characters aren’t very well-developed, and there isn’t much being said in terms of themes either. The story does go into great detail for its setting though, which I imagine would be enjoyable for fans of MMOs. The author works with some interesting and fun concepts, but there’s this sense that he is conflicted about how good or bad it is for everyone to be living in virtual reality. On one hand, it’s a lot of fun and the protagonist makes some good friends and has a big adventure. But on the other hand, the real world’s economy, government, society, and environment have all gone to shit. The book chooses to just keep its focus on the virtual reality adventure though, in which our heroes must defeat the corporate big-wig opponents of VR net neutrality, Ad Blocker, and 4chan.

I personally got tired of all the referencing and info dumps pretty quickly, so this isn’t a book for everyone. But if a nostalgia-filled virtual reality adventure story sounds like fun to you, then you might get a real kick out of it. Look forward to the upcoming film adaptation, directed by Spielberg.

Available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.