Interstellar

Fantasy has had so many outlets over the last few decades with Star Wars, Narnia, and Tolkien and with comics from Marvel, DC, and several independent stories like Conan, R.I.P.D. and Watchmen.

Science Fiction has had a harder time.  It’s difficult to make up an entire universe for a time well in the future and then make storylines that fit it.  Star Trek has been successful, as had Stargate.  Even in these cases, though, there have been small cheats necessary to get there.  Star Trek’s “Treknology” is infamous for being only loosely based on science.  Stargate is based in our timeline, with a single piece of totally unexplained technology to start with and a minimum of technology introduced to the early series.  They generally added on as they needed to, same goes with “Atlantis”.  Foreign cultures were either of inferior technology or almost nothing was shown of their superior toys.  It was only with “Universe” that something more detailed was really shown.

It’s not that science fiction has a lack of creative persons.  Arthur C. Clarke thought of the idea of satellite communications.  Isaac Asimov spent an entire career writing about friendly robots.  Roddenberry may not have created an entirely new and feasible technology but he had the idea that not only different cultures but different species could get along in a common and mutually beneficial federation.

Still though, every once in a while a new story comes along that is science-based and manages to knock your socks off.  In 1968, one of the great moviemakers of the time, Stanley Kubrick, and one of the great science fiction writers of all time, Clarke, got together to make 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the most moving and difficult movies ever filmed.  Before that, Orson Welles used radio to manufacture an alien invasion that sent the entire world into a panic.  The story of that famous Time Machine has stayed with our society through the decades, being told and retold several times and in many different ways.

I watched Interstellar already impressed with Nolan’s body of work (see a few weeks ago), and his storytelling just as good if not better than I saw in the Batman movies and Inception.  In those movies the characters have a vitality and depth that goes beyond being interesting, you understand everything about them.

What made it beautiful science fiction is another key feature of Nolan’s movies, his use of fractured time.  In the past he has jumped backwards and forwards in time, using flashbacks to tell a continuous story.  In this story there are only minimal flashbacks, but he uses some beautiful science fiction to accomplish much the same thing.  A black hole, a time-space room.  It’s rare that a new story comes out, more rare when it comes out fully formed.  Imagine an idea like Battlestar Galactica first appearing as it did in its second version.  Now try to think of a genius like Arthur C. Clarke adding in the science.  That’s what Interstellar is, a fully developed and beautifully articulated idea that was accomplished the first time around.

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About Cian Beirdd

I live with my kitty, and encourage his tuna and catnip addictions. I have a website as well; https://cianbeirdd.wordpress.com/cian-beirdd/
This entry was posted in Frank Herbert, J.R.R. Tolkien, Sci Fi/Fantasy, Science Fiction, Star Wars and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Interstellar

  1. David Loeff says:

    I like what you have to say about the craft that went into Interstellar. However, I’m bothered about its science. More: http://daveloeff.booklikes.com/post/1058426/interstellar-problems

    • Cian Beirdd says:

      Nice site Dave!

      Thank you for the reminder about wormholes. You’re right of course. But … the both wormhole surprise the characters, the first because of its size and timing, the second because as you said, it shouldn’t be there.

      You are right, we are perhaps even centuries away from being able to manipulate time-space, let alone in the ways it is done in the movie. The characters in this movie don’t though. From the brilliant scientist to the explorers in a different galaxy, they make use of manipulations made to their advantage. It is only in the last 20 minutes or so of the movie that they realize that humans from their distant future have done the manipulating for them. In intelligent fashion, Nolan gives us no hint of how far in the future they are, or why they are doing it – another dimension to the film. What I enjoyed was the connection made, by the characters, to our science, that if we could take better readings of the universe the Theory of Everything might just take shape. Is anything Nolan shows hard science? No. But it is plausible. My only real scientific question is in how Nolan intended to dance around the Time Travel issue of cause and effect being reversed.

      • David Loeff says:

        Actually, it’s beginning to sound like a pretty good movie. But it’s also a great example of Hollywood fudging the science. As I grope my way toward curmudgeon-hood, I complain more and more about things like this.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        I have come to accept the fudging, in his history and science, just as long as they make an attempt to look generally accurate. I’m glad I could make a convert. The movie was amazing!

  2. Loki says:

    *Spoiler Alert*
    I’m on board with what you write on the whole, so instead of just listing all the stuff we agree on, I’m going to ask for your patience as I inquire about a little thing in your introduction that befuddled me a bit: your implicit definitions of fantasy and science fiction that places something like Watchmen (and tech-focused propertieis from the Marvel and DC umbrellas, like Iron Man or Batman) in the former. The problem with fantasy and science fiction both as genres, of course, are that some define them by trappings and setting, others by tropes, others by themes, and yet others by plots. Other kinds of genre tend to have more immediately obvious definitions, so this question often comes up in one way or another. That’s why I’m curious what your personal definitions are — I could easily imagine several that would put Iron Man or even the Matrix films under fantasy, for instance, but it’s not the usually intuitive grouping one expects to encounter.

    And again, congrats on yet another fine post! I quite liked the film, too, though the science aspects don’t do much for me personally — I’ve never been much into that. I found the human narrative(s) at the core of it quite compelling, though. In time, when I’ve rewatched it and digested it a bit more, I’ll probably still find The Prestige and The Dark Knight to be my favourite Nolan films, but I think Interstellar might compete with Memento for the runner-up spot. I really like his films — oddly, even though they tend to rely on twists at the end that I see coming from fairly early on (like in this one, it was fairly obvious very early on it was the protagonist who’d somehow end up causing the “poltergeist” stuff to happen), they somehow make it emotionally gripping when you arrive at the twist even so. With these films, it’s not what’s unfolding, it’s _how_, somehow, that sucks me in.

    • Loki says:

      Oops, I forgot to spoiler-mark that parenthesis, and I don’t seem to have editing capabilities on comments here. Do me a favour and put in a warning so no-one gets anything ruined by accident?

    • Cian Beirdd says:

      I agree with you on Nolan, definitely. Then again, storytelling can’t be about surprising the audience. There are certain expectations we all have, and only a certain number of ways to satisfy those expectations. How Nolan does is what makes it all amazing.

      I found early on that as soon as you got into soft science fiction you were in murky waters. So what I have done is to accept everything that attempts to use science in all aspects as science fiction. Those that don’t are fantasy. With comic book heroes I make a separate category, the way those stories are told is different anyway, and the way characters are portrayed is difficult to compare to anything in fantasy because they so focus on the individual and not the quest or the powers.

      So, Ironman becomes easy – comic. The Matrix Franchise deals with a future where the machines revolted (feasible) and decided we made the best of all power sources barring the sun because we were intelligent enough to accept the matrix on a subconscious level (brilliant idea) – science fiction. Star Wars has some neat technology, but at its core is a group of martial artists who all have superhuman abilities. That sounds like comic heroes, but the stories are told like fantasy and the heroes are portrayed as in fantasy – fantasy. Star Trek’s stuff is clearly weak science at times, but it is science. Besides, Roddenberry’s strengths were history and sociology and in that regard the stories are very scientifically plausible – science fiction. My categorizations are obviously flexible, but they at least give me a fair guideline. And the addition of a comics category makes things much easier.

      • Loki says:

        The comics category confuses me, though. The other two definitions you use base themselves on content (1. does things that cannot happen in real life happen in this story, if yes 2. is it science based -> science fiction if no, then 3. -> fantasy), whereas the other one bases itself on the format of the narrative. To my eyes, that would mean any given comic book movie is usually either science fiction or fantasy (and perhaps in a few cases, both), not that comic book movies are a separate genre. You could of course combine this system with narrative genres, and say something is “science fiction crime” or “fantasy romance”. But then comic book would be in the second category of genre, not the former.

        If you instead want to define fantasy and science fiction by their narrative structures or themes, then sure, I’m on board with comic book being a third thing. Though I think it would probably benefit from a different name — “V for Vendetta” is a film based on a comic, but I don’t really think it follows the usual narrative flow of a comic. “Batman Begins” isn’t based on a specific comic, but it is about a comic book hero, and yet the narrative (young protagonist seeks out older mentor, mentor is revealed to be evil, protagonist becomes a hero, whose final test is defeating the old mentor) is basically epic fantasy.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        I think you hit the nail on the head with the fact that comics could be either. It makes the organization difficult if a universe’s movies will be in both genres. So Batman is Science Fiction and Superman is fantasy, but when they meet then Batman becomes a fantasy character? I included it as a separate option just for that reason. The fact that comic heroes tend to focus more on their powers or gadgets makes it a consistent category as well. Just my thoughts, obviously not the end all be all, but I like it.

      • Loki says:

        I think we’re agreeing, then, we’re just thinking about it in different labels. To me, Batman is a science fiction character, Superman is a fantasy character, and there’s no problem in that. No story is only one thing, and if people can combine mysteries with romance or action with thriller, why can’t comic book stories like you describe be both fantasy and science fiction? You usually label things with whichever genre is dominant, and if several seem equally important, you mention both (i.e. “action adventure”). Where we differ is that I think creating a new genre for _all_ comic book stories just because a handful of them might need to combine two or thee other genres to properly describe them, is more confusing than helpful.

        For instance, someone who likes science fiction films might watch Iron Man if it is labelled science fiction, and might not if it is labeled comic book film, not realising it could hold a similar appeal. Whereas someone who likes, say, “300”, might watch Mystery Men because they both have the same genre label and be very disappointed at how they share nothing in common. I feel the labels used should be helpful describing what kind of story something is to those who don’t know anything about the content.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        Ah, I see you now. As a rule, definitely. I would not label ‘Guardians’ simply as a comic movie, it is action/adventure/Sci Fi. I just needed to clearly delineate for my character lists and comic characters didn’t seem to fit. That is actually common. You find lists of the best comic characters all over the net, I just excluded them from my SF list

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        You are right about “V”, I should probably have included that in my science fiction list. What Nolan did with his series was amazing, but the character has a long and integrated history in the DC universe. Despite the unique mythical element of Batman Begins, Batman is still a comic hero.

      • Loki says:

        Ah! I see! That makes perfect sense, by all means. And it avoids a lot of difficult questions like “is Thor a science fiction character” and such.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        Exactly! When I get back from a conference I should work on one of those lists to. Neat stuff!

      • Loki says:

        Looking forward to it! I have the tiny beginnings of a list like I promised you I’d make started on my desktop, but I’ve been much too busy to do much work on it yet, I’m afraid. But I’ve not forgotten!

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        With your knowledge and comprehension level it should make for an enlightening read

      • Loki says:

        Aw, shucks. I think you’re overstating and overestimating me quite a bit there, but I’m glad you’re looking forward. šŸ™‚

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        Not really, your insights are always enlightening and your thoughts welcome.

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