Movies: Monuments Men and Interstellar
Over the rainy weekend we watched two movies: Monuments Men (in Japanese it is called Michelangelo Project!) and Interstellar. Both blockbuster movies from the usual American companies, they are light-years away when it comes to quality. The Monuments Men are boring, without a story, without depth, historically inaccurate, a complete failure. Interstellar, although a long movie, keeps you frozen in the seat while being as scientific as possible and starts your brain working heavily.
My personal verdict: 3 rotten eggs (because Rotten Tomatoes are not stinky enough) for the Monuments Men, and 4 stars for Interstellar.
First for the plot of the two movies: The Monuments Men is loosely based on a true story about rescuing pieces of art at the end of the second world war, before the Nazis destroy them or the Russian take them away. A group of art experts is sent into Europe and manages to find several hiding places of art taken by the Nazis.
Interstellar is set in near future where the conditions on the earth are deteriorating to a degree that human life seems to be soon impossible. Some years before the movie plays a group of astronauts were sent through a wormhole into a different galaxy to search for new inhabitable planets. Now it is time to check out these planets, and try to establish colonies there. Cooper, a retired NASA officer and pilot, now working as farmer, and his daughter are guided by some mysterious way to a secret NASA facility. Cooper is drafted for being a pilot on the reconnaissance mission, and leaves earth and our galaxy through the same wormhole. (Not telling more!)
Looking at the cast of Monuments Men (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett) one would expect a great movie – but from the very first to the very last scene, it is a slowly meandering shallow flow of sticked together scenes without much coherence. Tension is generated only through unrelated events (stepping onto a landmine, patting a horse), but never developed properly. Dialogs are shallow and boring – with one exception: When Frank Stokes (George Clooney) meets the one German and inquires general about the art, predicting his future being hanged.
Historically, the movie is as inaccurate as it can be – despite Clooney stating that “80 percent of the story is still completely true and accurate, and almost all of the scenes happened”. That contrasts starkly with the verdict of Nigel Pollard (Swansea University): “There’s a kernel of history there, but The Monuments Men plays fast and loose with it in ways that are probably necessary to make the story work as a film, but the viewer ends up with a fairly confused notion of what the organisation was, and what it achieved.”
The movie leaves a bitter aftertaste, hailing of American heroism paired with the usual stereotypes (French amour, German retarded, Russian ignorance, etc). Together with the half baked dialogues it feels like a permanent coitus interruptus.
Interstellar cannot serve with a similar cast, but still a few known people (Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Michael Caine!). But I believe this is actually a sign of quality. Well balancing scientific accuracy and the requirements for blockbusters, the movie successfully spans the bridge between complicated science, in particular general gravity, and entertainment. While not going so far to call the move edutainment (like both the old and new Cosmos), it is surprising how much of hard science is packed into this movie. This is mostly thanks to the theoretical physicist Kip Thorne acting as scientific consultant for the movie, but also due to the director Christopher Nolan being serious about it and studying relativity at Caltech.
Of course, scientific accuracy has limits – nobody knows what happens if one crosses the event horizon of a black hole, and even the existence of wormholes is purely theoretical by now. Still, throughout the movie it follows the two requirements laid out by Kip Thorne: “First, that nothing would violate established physical laws. Second, that all the wild speculations… would spring from science and not from the fertile mind of a screenwriter.”
I think the biggest compliment was that, despite the length, despite a long day out (see next blog), despite the rather unfamiliar topic, my wife, who is normally not interested in space movies and that kind, didn’t fall asleep throughout the movie, and I had to stop several times to explain details of the theory of gravity and astronomy. So in some sense it was perfect edutainment!