Archive for the Contributor: Ray Category

Basic Science – 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT

Posted in Basic Science Segment, Contributor: Ray, Sci-Fi Movie Review with tags , , on October 27, 2011 by raywagner

This month, we’ll shine the spotlight on a pair of films that can only be described as a collective win for movie science – 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact2001 of course, needs no introduction: it’s long been heralded as a high water mark in cinema, and its 1968 release helped  cement the auteur status of director Stanley Kubrick.  Recently, however, I found myself in a lecture with an audience much more interested in spaceflight mechanics than filmmaking, and an offhand comment from the old NASA salt leading the discussion piqued my interest.  He billed 2001 as the most accurate space movie ever made, so I decided to turn a critical eye in this article to it and its 1984 sequel.

2001, in particular, is such a visual feast that it’s easy to lose sight of how rooted the production is in hard science – though this should come as no surprise, as Kubrick’s co-author, Arthur C. Clarke, was one of the heavy-hitters of 20th Century science fiction.  Clarke himself was a student of real-world space science, suggesting early on that geostationary orbits would be useful for communication satellites and popularizing the concept of a space elevator.  In fact, we need to go back only as far as a landmark series of articles appearing in Collier’s magazine in the early 1950s to find some of Clarke’s and Kubrick’s influences for 2001.  Ostentatiously titled “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!”, it described Apollo Program godfather Wernher Von Braun’s plans for a fully functioning space ecosystem, culminating in a human presence on Mars.  The inaugural article’s illustration in the March 1953 edition of  Collier’s depicts an orbital space station with a striking resemblance to the iconic “wagon wheel” station in 2001.

(l) Von Braun’s space station from Collier’s in 1953, (r) Kubrick’s space station from 2001 in 1968.

Considering that the release of the movie predates the experience gained in the Apollo moon missions, not to mention the first Soviet and American space stations, it’s amazing how accurately 2001 depicts the realities of living  and working in weightlessness, luxuriating in the absolute strangeness of a life where up and down are relative.  Kubrick  maintains an obsessive focus throughout on getting the details right.  Continue reading

Basic Science: Fail Edition (GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA)

Posted in Action Movie Review, Basic Science Segment, Contributor: Ray with tags , , , , on April 19, 2011 by raywagner

by guest blogger Ray

Welcome to the inaugural Basic Science column, where I’ll be dissecting movies and TV shows with an eye toward how well they deal with basic scientific concepts.  

 Now, don’t get me wrong.  When I say basic, I really do mean that.  I’m all for suspension of disbelief when it comes to entertainment, and I love my vacuum-of-space ‘splosions as much as the next guy – not everything can be Firefly in that regard, nor would we want it to be.  For the Fail Editions, I’ll mostly be calling out movies that wouldn’t get past your basic fifth-grade science class audit.  And you’d be surprised how much of this there is out there [1].  That isn’t to say that I won’t take the occasional cheap shot at a script that uses super-technical language without understanding what it means, but I’ll try to keep this as gentlemanly as possible.  And, I hope, at least a little instructive in the process.

 So, without further ado, we’ll get to our first offender:  2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.  After the hot mess of Transformers, and the racist fever dream that was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I was really hoping that the next live action, millennial adaptation of a favorite 80’s cartoon might get it right.  And most of the reviews I read about G.I. Joe summed it up as “at least it’s better than Transformers,” so I went into the thing cautiously optimistic… and came out resoundingly “meh.”  I enjoyed seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt chew scenery as the (spoiler alert) soon-to-be Cobra Commander, but other than that, the movie was woefully miscast (Figure 1) and over-the-top bombastic.  But silly script and other flaws aside, the film’s science was laugh-out-loud bad.

Figure 1: Real American Hero (l); Real American dudebro (r)

Continue reading