November 9, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: “INTERSTELLAR” – Bad Reviews by Science Geeks Say “WHAT???!!!”, Part I
I know that PIE isn’t supposed to be in this rotation, but I saw “Interstellar” this weekend and was wowed.

I was surprised to discover that the reviews in places that are “pro-science” were pretty harsh. Attacking everything from science to character development, they typically pointed out that while the movie was visually stunning, it was very weak on character development with logic loopholes all over the place.

Let’s start with the movie perceived to be “the best science fiction movie ever made” (as opposed to the best science fiction novel ever written – 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is the former; DUNE is the latter. I’d like to point out that the novel by Arthur C. Clarke has not been judged the “best SF novel ever written”. It won no Hugo; Nebular; British SF Award (though it hadn’t been invented at that time...); and didn’t make the New York Times Best Seller List. Conversely, DUNE has gotten all of those awards, but movies attempted from the book have been...poor substitutes at best.)

I saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” when I was young. I thought I was 13 at time, but unless they rereleased it to the theaters, I would have been 11 and I doubt that my parents would have let me go to a movie alone at that age. So...let’s say I was 13 and watching a re-release.

I didn’t get it.

I stumbled into SF by myself, though I guess my dad read it. I started with SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE and WODERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET in elementary school. In 7th grade, I discovered THE WHITE MOUNTAINS. After that, I was hooked. Around the same time, my dad started watching Star Trek (at the time, there was no appellation added to the end. It was the only Star Trek around). After seeing the hideous “Yog: Monster From Space” (1970), I eagerly anticipated seeing "A Space Odyssey".

I STILL didn’t get it.

In fact, I wasn’t the only one. Despite the implication in the reviews of “Interstellar” that “2001” was an instant critical and popular hit, the truth is somewhat less crystalline: “Upon release, 2001 polarized critical opinion, receiving both ecstatic praise and vehement derision.” As well, “Eminent historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. deemed the film ‘morally pretentious, intellectually obscure and inordinately long ... a film out of control’.” Science fiction writers Ray Bradbury, Lester Del Ray, and even Samuel R. Delany disliked the movie and thought the dialogue “banal”. Asimov liked it, and James P. Hogan liked it but didn’t understand the ending – enough so to steal the story and write a novel with a different ending.

The fifty-seven-year-old me still isn’t sure about how “2001: A Space Odyssey” ended. But I loved “Interstellar”, I understood the ending, and while there were parts I would have liked seeing strengthened (Murph’s and her dad’s relationship); the movie as a whole had a powerful effect on me.

No other review I’ve read has pointed out the metaphor of the shallow ocean on Miller’s world – all of their relationships were shallow and all of them were nearly swept away by the consequences of that shallowness. That was immensely meaningful to me at this time in my life.

I am also a sucker for the reconciliation of parents and their children. No matter how many times I see “October Sky”, I always choke up when Homer’s dad puts his arm around his shoulder during the final rocket launch. Even though “Interstellar”’s parental reconciliation is decidedly science fiction-y, it is, nevertheless powerful. Matthew McConaughey weeping uncontrollably when he views Murphy’s message twenty years after it was sent seemed either real or the result of a superior actor’s submersion in his role, and their final scene together is both humorous and touching. I found it especially poignant that Cooper’s descendants had no idea who he was. The fact that Anne Hathaway’s character does NOT get to reconcile with her father made me weep as well for personal reasons I don’t need to go into here. The fact that Cooper is estranged from his son – the one he was closest to at the beginning – is a further slice of reality that I could have done without, but realize is realistic on many levels.

I will return to my analysis of “Interstellar” in the future, but for now that’s all I have to say.

Resources:,,,, (Leading sci-fi experts, filmmakers, science fiction writers, film critics and scientists pick the best sci-fi movies ever made),,

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