Interstellar Sucks Harder Than Its Black Hole

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First published on TechTree.com

Be it Hollywood or world cinema, there are very few science fiction movies to talk about. This is because, sci-fi has been one of the most challenging genre for filmakers. After completing Sunshine (2007), British Director, Danny Boyle stated that working on Sci Fi movies is so exhausting that he will stay away from this genre. So, full marks to Christopher Nolan for providing this genre the much needed push. Plus, I have been fan of his past work such as The Prestige (2006) and Batman Begins (2005).

Unfortunately, Nolan’s latest movie Interstellar is a mess coated in pretentious geekyness. I know that I owe you guys a big explanation. I’m not an Astronomy expert or physicist, but thanks to the books such as Cosmos and A Brief History Of Time, I know enough to detect nonsense. TV channels including National Geographic and Discovery helped in understanding some of these concepts too.

Here’s the film’s premise
A not-so-distant future where food and water have become scarce. Mostly, because of blight and massive dust storms. There are no armies in this dying world (strange, considering the dwindling resources). NASA has gone underground, and is secretly working to save humanity by locating habitable planets. Its hopes are tanked on three planets revolving a Black Hole (yes, you heard that right). Let’s see what’s wrong the movie.

There’s No Need To Leave The Earth
NASA’s plan in Interstellar does not make sense as adapting to a new planet and populating it, is gazillion times complicated than solving Earth’s problem. You can see people driving cars and pick-up trucks, so we haven’t run out of crude oil yet. The problem is mostly about the food and water.

Our planet is covered by 71 percent water. Off which, 2.5 to 3 percent is drinkable and only one percent is accessible to us. To solve the water issue, scientists in Interstellar does not have invent anything. Why, because the technology required to mdo so already exists. It is called desalination of Sea Water. We are all familiar to RO (Reverse Osmosis) water purifiers. Now, imagine it on a massive scale. Using this technology, Israelis get 300 million cubic meters of water every year. That’s 40 percent of country’s total water usage. So the solution is right there. Similarly, botanists have already been fighting blight by genetically modifying the crops. Natural evolution of blight cannot outdo genetic modifications. So basically, there’s no reason to leave Earth.

Finding Habitable Zone Without Considering Goldilocks?
When it comes to finding a future home for humanity, scientists focus on a star system’s Goldilocks zone. It is a possible habitat zone in any solar system. Planets in this region can sustain liquid water, just like Earth. Had our planet been closer to Sun, it would have been scorching hot like Venus. Farther from Sun, dry and frozen. As you read this article, NASA’s Kepler space observatory launched in 2009 is searching for Goldilocks planets. Since the film deals with finding a planet to support humans, Goldilocks consideration is a must. Unfortunately though, the scientists in the movie simply “argue” like kids than using science.

No Star, No Life
If the last omission wasn’t silly enough, here’s the biggest blunder in this movie. As mentioned earlier in the article, the three planets orbit around a black hole. There’s something missing here, right? Yes, there’s no proper star in this system. Without the Sun-like celestial body, how any of these planets is going to support Earthlings is a mystery. Film’s protagonist, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) briefly talks about a Neutron star. Will such star be enough to sustain life? Sorry bear the bad news, but the answer is no. Neutron stars are formed when a giant star undergoes a gravitational collapse. The size is roughly that of a city. To get rid of the food problem, a team of scientists and explorers have knowingly come to a planetary system with a dead star! The light we see on these planets is due to the Accretion disc around the black hole. Accretion discs are unstable, so betting on its light to support human life is also out of question.

One Cannot Enter Black Hole Alive
First let us understand the black hole. What we need to know here is that it is a region in space where gravity is so strong that nothing can escape it. Not even light. During the climax, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) enters a black hole. This is impossible because the Accretion Disk around the black hole will fry him and his spacecraft with x-ray radiation, much before Event Horizon (that is point of no return). Even if we consider that this particular accretion disk is calm, you simply cannot survive at such close vicinity. Moreover, there’s no question of anything entering a black hole intact. Here’s what Stephen Hawking, Theoretical Physicist, Cosmologist, (Einstein of our times) has to say about this scenario. Near a black hole, “gravitational force on our intrepid astronaut’s feet would always be greater than the force on his head. This difference in the forces would stretch our astronaut out like spaghetti or tear him apart…”.

These are the fundamental flaws in the movie. In addition to that, there are plenty of goof-ups. For instance, when the crew first blasts off from the Earth, the craft uses three stage propulsion to gain the escape velocity (speed that an object requires to be travelling to break free of a planet’s gravitation). The craft, then, lands on a planet that has 130 percent gravity compared to Earth. Any kid will tell you that due to the extra-gravitational force, this planet’s escape velocity will be higher. Strangely though, the spacecraft leaves the planet with the help of a single stage engine and probably Matthew McConaughey’s will power.

Inside the black hole, Cooper ejects and looks down to watch his spacecraft explode. Since the light cannot escape the black hole, he won’t be able to get the visual of the spacecraft. Moreover, if light (travelling at 1,080 million km/hour) cannot act against the black hole’s gravity pull, how does eject mechanism (approx 300 km/hour) work?

The Endurance craft is modelled after the space station from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A rotating wheel-shaped space station is ideal to simulate gravity with the help of centrifugal force. While the depiction of gravity in Kubrick’s movie was perfect, it’s distorted in Interstellar. When Romilly asks Cooper to disengage spinning motion to observe the black hole, Romily does not float even though the gravity simulation has been suspended.

Later in the movie, Mann (Matt Damon) tries to dock his spacecraft to Endurance without matching its spin. He fails, but surprisingly the docking mechanism remains intact. In reality, since Endurance is in circular motion, its docking parts should drill/damage Mann’s spacecraft. After a few minutes, Mann’s craft collides with the Endurance destroying at least one of 12 modules of the spacecraft. After such damage, the Endurance continues to roll in the same plane, which is not possible.

In the climax, when Cooper is trying to change the past by hinting his daughter to make him stop from going to NASA’s mission. Why does he give the co-ordinates to NASA in the first place?

In addition to this, there are other problems such as bad dialogues. Most characters converse in monosyllabic fashion. Especially, blurting our so called profound one liners. Take for instance, 1. “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.”. 2. “This world’s a treasure, but it’s been telling us to leave for a while now.”.

Humour in the movie is laboured. If you like British humour, you can categorise Nolan’s humour as German. The best thing about the movie is Matthew McConaughey’s performance. Other actors including Michael Caine have been wasted. Nolan wanted to add an emotionalk angle to the movie, but failed miserably. Compared to what Spielberg achieved in A.I. (2001), Nolan’s characters are shallow. Apart from the breathtaking depiction of a wormhole, the special effects are not so “special”. Neill Blomkamp delivered stronger visuals with a limited budget of 30 million dollars compared to Interstellar’s 160 million dollar splurge. Don’t even think of comparing it to the camera wizardry and special effects of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013).

Chandrakant 'CK' Isi

Technology editor, movie buff, and wannabe space explorer.