November 10, 2014
I rewrote the whole thing in my head so it’s okay now. And with the following handy formula, you can too!
Remove 95% of the dialog — 100% of Michael Caine reciting Dylan Thomas.
Remove 85% of the character interactions — 95% of Space Madness Matt Damon.
Remove 99% of the two women characters being weepy and irrational.
Replace the bombastic soundtrack with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or something. I mean, the movie borrowed a bunch of other of its best stuff from 2001, why not have a classical soundtrack?
And, that’s about it, really.
As you might guess, the movie’s greatest weakness is its cheap-ass melodrama. And its length. Some of those scenes just didn’t know when to quit. Oh, and I called the plot just as the second act rolled up — but that wouldn’t have been a problem if we hadn’t had people yelling at each other about love through the rest of it.
The thing is, and the thing that makes the rest of this so frustrating, is that what the movie did well it did very, tremendously well. Tidal Wave Planet is my new favorite thing. (Neil deGrasse Tyson says Tidal Wave Planet is plausible. Phil Plait doesn’t agree. Isn’t speculation/extrapolation wonderful?) Saturnscapes — brilliant. The ship imagery, the astronomy, the fascinating visualization of some far-out concepts — great, great stuff. This was full of real speculation about what wormhole exploration and colonization might be like. It plopped a black hole in the middle of it all and asked, Huh, what would that be like? And worked hard to visually demonstrate what that might be like. Just beautiful.
But once again, the filmmakers didn’t have faith that material about space exploration and saving humanity is enough on its own to carry the movie. So they added people yelling at each other about love. Through stretches of the movie I got the feeling I was reading one of those big mind-blowing novels that form the bedrock of science fiction — stuff like Cyteen or Dune. But I was never able to shut off my brain and fall into the world. The emotional side of the story was just too forced.
There were a number of rather egregious plot flubs (ship needs a booster rocket to leave Earth but is able to leave a planet with 130% of Earth’s gravity with its own shipboard engines?) but I’m only going to talk about the one we cleared up on the drive home. This conversation really happened.
FREIND: Don’t the Chinese have a space program? Where are the Chinese during all this?
ME: Maybe everybody in China died after the okra crop failed. OKRA! And you realize, given it took a few hours to drive to Norad their farm was probably in eastern Colorado. Does okra even grow in eastern Colorado? What is it with the okra? Oh no, the okra crop failed, we’re really in trouble now!
FRIEND: Think about it: that’s how bad things have gotten, that the only crops left are okra and corn. I’d get in a fucking spaceship and leave too.
ME: You have a point.
In conclusion, it was really lovely seeing John Lithgow in a new movie. Love that guy.