Category Archives: Reviews

#17: Interstellar Quick Temporal Survey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #17, on the subject of Interstellar Quick Temporal Survey.

As we did with Termintor Genisys, we are giving a quick one-shot look at the temporal issues in Interstellar–a star-studded science fiction epic film well worth seeing, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, and Matt Damon in supporting roles behind a lead of Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in completely serious (not romantic or comedy) roles.  I must thank Lamont for providing the opportunity to view a digital copy.  I am not certain this time whether there will be a followup full analysis, because there probably is not that much that won’t be covered in this short piece, and the digital copy is not so good, with occasional garbled dialogue.  Still, the essence of it came through.

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For most of the movie, time travel is not an issue.  It does an excellent job of presenting the time dilation effects of relativity–how gravity and motion cause time to run at different rates for persons in different frames of reference.  As a result, The main characters, McConaughey’s Cooper and Hathaway’s Brand sent on a spaceflight through a wormhole to another galaxy then spending a few hours on a planet orbiting a black hole where every hour on the surface is seven years back on the ship and back on earth, are still young when his children are grown.  I was a bit uncertain about their experience of passing through the wormhole.  My understanding is that there is no time, and thus no temporal experience, of such a trip, but movies have usually treated it otherwise because it is a difficult experience even to imagine, nevermind to show.

This story almost made it, with only two minor problems that might be fatal.  Our time travel elements appear when Cooper sacrifices himself, falling into a black hole with the booster rocket that propels Brand toward the safety of her destination.  There is a bit of a flaw in that:  the only ways dropping the booster gives the ship more momentum are if the ship is pushing against the booster as it releases (the “kick” of recoil on a gun) or if the ship has other engines and wants to reduce mass (the reason launch rockets drop spent stages).  Either of those might have been so, but that was not the explanation given.  In any case, Cooper and the robot TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) both cross the event horizon and find themselves in what seems to be an engineered Escheresque three-dimensional space, by means of which Cooper discovers that he can get behind the bookcase in his daughter Murphy’s room before he left for this flight and become the “ghost” she always said was in there, knocking books off her bookcase and tampering with things in the room to some small degree.  He gives her the coordinates he needs to find the secret NASA installation at which he will become the pilot of this trip–our first problem, an obvious predestination paradox–and also gives her the data the robot recorded on crossing the event horizon of the black hole in a form she will unravel decades later when she is at NASA working with Brand’s father on a formula to crack gravity and so move huge numbers of people into space and on toward new colonies.  He and the robot are then somehow dumped out of the black hole into open space not far from the colonies his now ancient and dying daughter Murphy made possible near Saturn, and is last seen in a stolen ship rocketing toward the wormhole to go find Brand at the new colony she is establishing (with zygote stockpile technology) on the one planet that proved potentially successful as a colony world.

The way to see it is to begin with an original history.

Earth is dying, but there is a secret NASA project working on a way to move humanity into space.  Some unidentified “they” with scientific and engineering skills far superior to our own abruptly drops a wormhole near Saturn, connected to a distant galaxy with a dozen planets having the potential to support life, and a dozen survey teams are sent.  Three of these on planets fairly near each other are still sending regular beacon signals, so NASA sends a crew, equipped with stasis chambers that slow aging, through the wormhole to determine which, if any, will be the best place for the new human colony.

The complication is that somehow Cooper and Murphy have to discover, or be discovered by, NASA.  There is no obvious simple solution for this.  NASA at this point is a top secret clandestine organization which had been disbanded by the government because it cost too much to maintain, and then restarted covertly because even though no one could politically defend spending money on it, it became obvious that the earth was dying and humanity’s one hope was to go elsewhere.  Cooper does not know NASA exists.  Meanwhile, they know who he is, and would love to have someone with his piloting skills at the helm of this flight, but with so many deaths and such poor records they do not believe he is alive.  Somehow, though, one of them has to do something that catches the attention of the other.  Perhaps NASA launches some kind of test rocket that Cooper observes, and he backtracks the trajectory.  Perhaps Cooper’s self-driving farm machinery comes to the attention of someone at NASA, and they discover who he is.  These are unlikely scenarios, but something must have happened that connected Cooper to NASA.

Making it worse, Cooper must believe that it was unreliable:  when he gets the chance to send a message to himself in the past, he sends the location of NASA, which means that however he got that location in the original history he wanted himself to have it sooner, or more precisely, or in some way that meant sending it to himself was better than relying on however he found it in the original history.  He thus erases the original cause, and thereafter believes that he would not have found NASA had he not sent himself the coordinates.

From there everything works, as long as we accept the premise that there is some alien life form which has taken an interest in the preservation and advancement of humanity, the “they” which builds the wormhole and which creates the three-dimensional space inside the black hole to enable Cooper and TARS to communicate to the past.  At the moment Cooper decides that “they” are actually a future version of “we”, that the wormhole and dimensional engineering inside the black hole were created by humans from the future, the story collapses.  Before humanity can travel through the wormhole to the distant galaxy and establish colonies in space that will enable us to survive someone must create the wormhole, and if we are dependent upon our future selves to do this and cannot survive without it being done, we die here on earth and never become those future selves.  The only way such a scenario works is under fixed time theory–a bleak fatalistic conception of time under which the story works, but which in its essence undermines the hopeful future the film presents.  It also requires acceptance of the uncaused cause of multiple events which only happen because they cause themselves.

Of course, the solution to this is simple:  Cooper is wrong.  The wormhole and the dimensional space were built by an alien race with an interest in preserving humanity.  They never introduce themselves because the dimensional differences between them and us are overwhelming, but they did this in part so that we would know they exist.  Leave it to humans to conclude that the help that saved us came from ourselves, and miss the point entirely.

So that’s the story.

Meanwhile, a DVD copy of Terminator Genisys has arrived, and I am going to return to work on that analysis, although apparently I am going to have to do a bit of review of the previous movies in the series to get a few points right.  For other work on time travel and time travel movies, see the site section Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies and other articles in the time travel and time travel movies sections of this blog.

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MJY Blog Entry #0006: Terminator Genisys Quick Temporal Survey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #0006, on the subject of Terminator Genisys Quick Temporal Survey.

For years I have been producing complex analyses of time travel movies, and I expect to continue to do so as the Patreon campaign continues to grow and provide support for all of this (hint-hint).  Such an analysis requires that I obtain a recorded copy of the movie and watch it several times with pen and paper in hand, then carefully unravel it, going back to the recording to check details.  On the other hand, in recent years I have also taken the opportunity to watch movies during their theatrical runs and then given a short synopsis of the time travel problems pending a fuller analysis when the video would become available.  When I left The Examiner and brought all that material back here, those “quick temporal surveys” became the first parts of their respective articles, first with Men in Black III, followed later by Free Birds, About Time, X-Men:  Days of Future Past, and Edge of Tomorrow.  That was then driven in part by the various needs, one, to publish something every week, two, to be a solid source of current information on time travel movies, and three, to keep articles short for the format there.  Only one of those reasons is still applicable, but under the present circumstance, it seems appropriate to do something of the same thing:  to publish a Quick Temporal Survey of Terminator Genisys.

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Those circumstances, for what it’s worth, include that I have seen the movie; I must thank Bryan for buying a ticket for me so I could catch it in the theatre.  As often mentioned, it is not possible to take notes during a theatrical viewing, and even less possible to pause the film and back it up to check something that was unclear.  However, it was possible for me to make an audio recording of the film, and I was working on notes from that audio recording in beginning an analysis.  That was put on hold by the move:  I was not going to publish again at The Examiner, and I needed time to move all of that material here.  Before that task was completed, one of my readers dropped a note promising to ship me a copy of the DVD as soon as it is released, and so the work has been put on hold pending receipt of that DVD.  Meanwhile, there is much that I could say–I had already drafted ten parts and had many more problems to address–and I have access to two other time travel films which I might be able to analyze in the interim, so in view of that I’m going to take this opportunity to give you first impressions of the latest entry in the classic series.

I am terribly disappointed.

Oh, it was a wonderfully entertaining film, with high marks for action, decent marks for plot and character.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.  Further, I am accustomed to saying of a time travel film that it was a temporal disaster.  The problem here, though, is that it is repeated temporal disasters, completely inexplicable events leading to insoluble problems.  As a time travel story, it does not, cannot, work under any known theory of time.

When I first watched Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines, John Cross (who did the analysis of The Final Countdown) very nearly begged me to keep at it until I found a solution–and I did.  I would like to say that there is hope that a solution might be found for this movie, but there is none.  Some of the problems can be solved by assuming certain sets of events, but these very events make solutions to other problems impossible.  Meanwhile, there are two major glaring errors that destroy it entirely.

The second of those was undoubtedly the result of an effort to move the franchise into the twenty teens:  Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese have traveled forward to 2017 to stop the launch of SkyNet at this new later date, and so now they will give birth to John Conner in this new timeframe, and the battle will continue in our present instead of in the past.  That, though, means that John Conner was not conceived in 1984, and all of those histories in which SkyNet sent Terminators back to kill him (or anyone else connected to him) have been undone.  Yet at least one of those histories is essential for the story as we know it, in which John Conner has sent Kyle Reese back to protect Sarah in 1984 because that is the destination of the first Terminator.  Without that, the entire franchise collapses.  It does not matter if John Conner is born thirty some years later; that’s too late to make any difference whatsoever.

The first is bigger, but it’s a bit more difficult to see.  However, if you have been following our series from the beginning you know that we always said that Cyberdyne was not the original creator of SkyNet, that someone else originally launched it at a later date, and the fact that the T-800 was destroyed in Cyberdyne’s facility gave them the parts that gave them the edge to replace the original SkyNet with their own earlier version.  Terminator 3 confirmed that analysis, as the United States Air Force Autonomous Weapons Division launched a SkyNet that was not a Cyberdyne-type hardware mainframe but a software solution that turned the Internet into a hostile artificial intelligence.  Thus we know that when Sarah Conner prevented Cyberdyne from launching SkyNet in Terminator 2 she restored the original launch date.

The problem should be obvious at this point.  Sarah, working with Pops, has prevented Cyberdyne from obtaining parts from a Terminator, and so prevented the early launch date; that means that SkyNet comes online at the later date, the date of Terminator 3.  Nothing Sarah does, nothing Kyle does, nothing Pops does, and nothing SkyNet does, will prevent that launch.  Note, too, that (as we observed) the T-X sent back in Terminator 3 does nothing to cause the launch of SkyNet; it only helps activate and control the other autonomous weapons.

That means by the time Sarah and Kyle arrive in 2017, SkyNet will have been functional for a decade, Kyle’s home will have long been destroyed, and nothing they find in that time can exist then.

They could have scrapped the entire story and started over with new dates, new machines, new people; they wanted Kyle Reese and Sarah and John Conner (although now I expect he will be John Reese).  To get there, they needed to find a way to intervene in the lives of General Brewster and the Autonomous Weapons Division so that that version of SkyNet would never launch.  They failed.

There is so much more wrong with this story, but this is already longer than I intended, so hopefully it is enough to whet your appetite for a fuller analysis once that DVD arrives.

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