What Does the Film Gravity Get Wrong?

Dennis Overbye, writing in The New York Times, sat down with astronaut Michael Massimino, who flew missions in 2002 and 2009 to service the Hubble Space Telescope — to discuss the upcoming film Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

The movie gets a lot of detail right:

There is also some inventive and very realistic use of the kickback from a fire extinguisher. The outboard scenery of the sunsets and auroras below comes straight from NASA images taken from the International Space Station.

Mr. Clooney, as a veteran spacewalker, with his resonant voice and folksy yarns, seems to be channeling every imperturbable astronaut you ever heard speaking from on high. And that opening scene, a long shot that begins with a majestic view of Earth and ends with Ms. Bullock’s tumble, has earned the director, Alfonso Cuarón, comparisons to masters like Robert Altman and Michelangelo Antonioni.

But there is a HUGE gaping hole in the plot:

You knew there was a “but” coming, right? Unfortunately, with all this verisimilitude, there is a hole in the plot: a gaping orbital impossibility big enough to drive the Starship Enterprise through.

After they stop tumbling and find the shuttle destroyed and their colleagues all dead, Mr. Clooney tells Ms. Bullock that their only hope for rescue is to use his jetpack to travel to the space station, seen as a glowing light over the horizon. “It’s a long hike, but we can make it,” he says.

At this point, space fans will groan.

As we recall from bitter memory, the Hubble and the space station are in vastly different orbits. Getting from one to the other requires so much energy that not even space shuttles had enough fuel to do it. The telescope is 353 miles high, in an orbit that keeps it near the Equator; the space station is about 100 miles lower, in an orbit that takes it far north, over Russia.

To have the movie astronauts Matt Kowalski (Mr. Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Ms. Bullock) zip over to the space station would be like having a pirate tossed overboard in the Caribbean swim to London.

I still want to see this film, but I won’t be pretentious about what it gets wrong. Just good to know.

From a Reddit Response to Big Budget Film

I love reading stories like this. One day James Erwin was browsing Reddit.com and stumbled upon an interesting hypothetical question: Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit]? He clicked through, answered some questions, and the rest, they say, is history:

It’s common for random questions to appear on Reddit’s front page, like “Is there a magnet capable of pulling the iron out of your body?” or “What is the most awkward thing you could say to a cashier while purchasing condoms?” That day, as Erwin scanned Reddit, a question caught his eye. It was posed by someone calling themselves The_Quiet_Earth: “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit]?” Erwin clicked on the question and a lively comment thread unfurled. Hundreds of people were whipping hypotheticals back and forth, gaming out the implications of a marines-versus-Romans smackdown. What’s the range of a Roman spear? How would the Romans react to a helicopter? What would happen when the Americans ran out of bullets?

Erwin, who studied history at the University of Iowa, had been posting on Reddit for about five months. He used the alias Prufrock451, a dual reference to the schlubby protagonist of a T. S. Eliot poem and the Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451. Prufrock451′s contributions were all over the map. One day he wrote about the historical roots of the civil war in Liberia; another day he told a funny story about a shooting range in Iowa. He also uploaded a few pictures of European forts that he thought looked cool and a quote by Voltaire. In his atypicalness—Prufrock451 was pretty clearly a quirky character—he was entirely typical of a habitual Reddit user, and like many other redditors, as they are called, he found the site addictive. More than just a creative outlet or time-killer, Reddit was a game. The object was to amass points—”Reddit karma.” Every time Erwin saw his karma level increase, he felt a little squirt of adrenaline. “People are sweating to make you laugh or make you think or make you hate them,” Erwin says. “It’s the human condition, plus points.”

Now, in response to The_Quiet_Earth’s question about time-traveling marines, Erwin started typing. He posted his answer in a series of comments in the thread. Within an hour, he was an online celebrity. Within three hours, a film producer had reached out to him. Within two weeks, he was offered a deal to write a movie based on his Reddit comments. Within two months, he had taken a leave from his job to become a full-time Hollywood screenwriter.

So what was Erwin’s financial gain from this personal endeavor?

Erwin won’t disclose what the deal is worth, but he is now a member of the Writers Guild of America, West, and the guild compensation for an original screenplay plus treatment for a movie with a budget above $5 million is $119,954. According to Kolbrenner, Rome Sweet Rome is “definitely a big-budget movie,” but whether that means $30 million or $150 million will depend on Erwin’s script.

Read the full story here.

The Rise of V for Vendetta

First published in 1982, the comic series V for Vendetta charted a masked vigilante’s attempt to bring down a fascist British government and its complicit media. Many of the demonstrators are expected to wear masks based on the book’s central character.

The BBC asked Alan Moore, author of V for Vendetta, for his thoughts on how his creation had become an inspiration and identity to Anonymous and other protesters around the world.

At the start of the 1980s when the ideas that would coalesce into V for Vendetta were springing up from a summer of anti-Thatcher riots across the UK coupled with a worrying surge from the far-right National Front, Guy Fawkes’ status as a potential revolutionary hero seemed to be oddly confirmed by circumstances surrounding the comic strip’s creation: it was the strip’s artist, David Lloyd, who had initially suggested using the Guy Fawkes mask as an emblem for our one-man-against-a-fascist-state lead character.

When this notion was enthusiastically received, he decided to buy one of the commonplace cardboard Guy Fawkes masks that were always readily available from mid-autumn, just to use as convenient reference.

To our great surprise, it turned out that this was the year (perhaps understandably after such an incendiary summer) when the Guy Fawkes mask was to be phased out in favour of green plastic Frankenstein monsters geared to the incoming celebration of an American Halloween.

It was also the year in which the term “Guy Fawkes Night” seemingly disappeared from common usage, to be replaced by the less provocative ‘bonfire night’.

The Cult and Culture of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

This is an interesting New York Times piece exploring the cult and culture of Stanley Kubrick’s film, The Shining:

Three decades on, scholars and fans are still trying to decipher this puzzle of a film directed by Stanley Kubrick. To them it’s only ostensibly about an alcoholic father, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) going more than stir crazy while his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son, Danny, try to cope in an isolated hotel, the Overlook. Mr. Kubrick was famously averse to offering explanations of his films — “I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself,” he once wrote — which has led to a mind-boggling array of theories about just what he was up to.

The hotel’s hedge maze, many Kubrick authorities agree, is a reference to the myth of the Minotaur; others have drawn convincing connections between the Overlook’s well-stocked pantry and the confectionery cottage in Hansel and Gretel. The more one views the film — and many of these scholars admit to viewing it hundreds of times — the more symbols and connections appear. 

“Room 237,” the first full-length documentary by the director Rodney Ascher, examines several of the most intriguing of these theories. It’s really about the Holocaust, one interviewee says, and Mr. Kubrick’s inability to address the horrors of the Final Solution on film. No, it’s about a different genocide, that of American Indians, another says, pointing to all the tribal-theme items adorning the Overlook Hotel’s walls. A third claims it’s really Kubrick’s veiled confession that he helped NASA fake the Apollo Moon landings.

When Mr. Ascher first began discussing the project with his friend Tim Kirk, who would later become the film’s producer, the two were simply hoping to find enough fans and theories to flesh out a series of short films, maybe something to post on YouTube. “On paper it seems like a very specific niche,” Mr. Ascher said, speaking at the oldest standing Bob’s Big Boy, in Burbank, not far from a campus of the New York Film Academy, where he teaches a class in editing. “The Secret Meanings of ‘The Shining’ — we should be able to wrap that up pretty quick. But the thing kept growing and growing.” By the time the two were done, “Room 237,” which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, was nearly two hours long.

What they had stumbled upon was a subculture of Kubrick fans that has been expanding over the last several years. The group includes professors and historians, fanboys and artists, many of whom have posted their theories online accompanied by maps, videos, and pages-long explications pleading their cases. The Liverpudlian filmmaker Rob Ager’s video analyses of “The Shining” have garnered hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits; the voluminous online essays of Kevin McLeod, a k a “mstrmnd,” range from the film’s marketing materials to its many uses of artificial light.

This is rather peculiar:

The documentary’s biggest leap of faith comes with Jay Weidner, who posits that Mr. Kubrick helped NASA fake the Apollo Moon landings, then used “The Shining” to both confess his involvement — and brag about it. Mr. Weidner is at work on a DVD about the Kubrick-Apollo connection, his second, and cites as evidence a sweater worn by Danny with “Apollo 11” on it, and the hexagonal design on the hotel hallway carpet pattern, which he argues is a dead ringer for the aerial view of the Apollo launching pad. “The entire substory of ‘The Shining,’ ” Mr. Weidner said in an interview, “is the story of Kubrick making the Apollo footage and then trying to hide it from his wife, and then her finding out about it.”

In case you are wondering, Room 237 is a reference to a haunted room in the hotel, though the NYT piece attests that we still won’t learn what The Shining is after watching the film.

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Related: Wikipedia has an extensive section of The Shining in popular culture.