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I still love Interstellar

Unfortunately, Interstellar’s price has risen since I tweeted this last week. But it’s still a fantastic movie!

Christopher Nolan’s 2014 space epic seems custom-tailored for me. I’m a sucker for its core elements: parental conflict (and resolution. Space exploration). Mind-bending science. Terrific music.

Interstellar also serves up some controversial ideas about Love. Some reviewers faulted the movie for these threads, which they thought clashed with the “hard” science fiction backdrop.

Not me; I liked Interstellar’s peculiar hybrid of themes. The film asks questions that have haunted me for years: “Is there anything beyond the material world?” “Is there an objective reason to value self-sacrificial love?” “Is there another, truer story, beside ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’?”

Interstellar is unequivocal, weaving its answer (“Yes!”) with amazing production values and a heart-wrenching story. What’s not to love? ◾

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Jurassic VR

You will always have a soft spot for the films you loved when you were twelve. For me, 1993 was the golden era of film-making. The Fugitive, released that year, remains my favorite Harrison Ford movie—even besting my beloved Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. Similarly, I could watch Groundhog Day a thousand times and still laugh out loud.

But one 1993 film had a bigger impact on me than any other: Jurassic Park. Unlike most movies, I can remember seeing it in the theater with my older brother. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; how had they created such believable monsters? Afterwards, I bought (and nearly out-wore) the all-symphonic soundtrack on cassette tape. The newly-released sequel, Jurassic World, even intrigues me, though the reviews say it’s middling at best. I still day-dream about the “science” cited in Park—whether geneticists might clone dinosaurs within my lifetime.

Spoiler alert: they won’t. Not in my lifetime—not ever. DNA degrades too quickly to survive sixty-plus million years. And even if we could somehow sequence a species’ DNA, we have no way to bring that animal to term. A real-life Jurassic Park will never happen.

So… what about “un-real” life? The film may provide the blueprint for a convincing dinosaur experience—in virtual reality. As technology advances, VR’s limitations become more apparent. Moving our material bodies around a digital landscape is awkward. There’s no convincing, seamless way to interact physically with these virtual environments, no “Holodeck” tech that could convince us that a freely-explorable Mesozoic landscape is real.[1]

But Jurassic Park’s marquee theme ride—the automated Jeep safari—provides the perfect constraints for a fully-engaging dinosaur experience in VR.

Of course, it wouldn’t be so much a game as a themed experience. Imagine climbing into the familiar jungle-painted SUV, then donning a set of VR goggles. Then you’d experience an on-the-rails ride through of Jurassic Park itself. You’d be locked inside the car—not for your safety, but to preserve the illusion. Within the constraints of the Jeep, you’d be free to customize your experience. You choose which window to gaze through. You could crane your head to gape up at a brachiosaur through the sunroof. You could peer through the rain to catch a glimpse of a feasting T-Rex. You could track a pterodactyl’s soaring flight across the sky through the windshield.

It’s a far cry from actual, living, roaring dinos. But it’s also the closest we’ll ever get to seeing them with our own eyes. If Steven Spielberg could create convincing dinosaurs on-screen twenty-two years ago, surely today’s visual effects wizards could do the same in VR.

One last bonus? Virtual dinosaurs always show up and perform on cue.


  1. Is Mesozoic still a thing?  ↩

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Un-killing Spock

People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Steve Jobs

A few years ago, V’ger answered my prayers; my wife learned to love Star Trek.

This was a Very Good Thing™; I’ve loved the franchise for at least twenty years. I couldn’t wait to watch Trek with her—to see her fawn over each entry in the series. But as we progressed through these films, one uncomfortable fact became clear: as with other movies I loved as an 80s kid, most of Trek isn’t great.

The Star Trek films, at their worst, demonstrate the dangers of “fan service.” Studio suits want to protect a money-making franchise, so they steer the creatives toward audience-pleasing plots. But fans “don’t know what they want”—not really. They think they crave more of the same: more Spock. More Kirk. More Enterprise. But rehashing familiar tropes inevitable wears your storytelling thin. It strangles compelling drama. It forbids risky twists.

Star Trek III offers the quintessential example. Its predecessor, Wrath of Khan, featured one of the gutsiest plot twists in cinematic history: killing off Mr. Spock. But outraged fans protested the death of their favorite character.[1] The studio flinched, and per its direction, Search for Spock resurrects the beloved science officer.[2] The film’s denouement, in which Vulcan gurus reunite Spock’s soul with his body, serves up a feel-good ending for the fan base.

Star Trek III cheapens the genuine heartache of Spock’s death. More problematically, it also eliminates any trace of dramatic tension from the franchise. From that moment on, any tragic event could simply be undone. When the starship Enterprise blows up, we know it can’t really be gone forever. Star Trek IV wastes that bold move by introducing an entirely identical, replacement Enterprise. Or consider J.J. Abrams’ latest Trek entry, Into Darkness. That film echoes Wrath of Khan by killing off Captain Kirk. But Kirk stays dead just twenty minutes.

What if the franchise hadn’t lost its nerve? What if Spock had stayed dead? Looking back, this would’ve been a cleverer, bolder, more rewarding approach than surrendering to fan service. Make the audience feel the loss of Spock. Show us how a grief-stricken Kirk spirals out of control. Tell how his recklessness, untempered by Spock’s cold logic, eventually derails his Starfleet career. In other words, let Trek take risks.[3]

If it had, I might have shared Star Trek III with my wife less apologetically.


  1. As Khan director Nicholas Meyer recalls, “We had been getting letters from a lot of people who were very alarmed at the prospect of Spock dying. I remember I got one that said ‘If Spock dies, you die.’”  ↩

  2. Technically, the seeds for Spock’s return were planted in Wrath of Khan. But that was a late alteration to the script, resented by the film’s director, Nicholas Meyer. As he explains, “I just thought this was so unfair to an audience of people who really care about this shit, and then saying, ‘You know, oh, it was just a dry hustle.’ No, I didn’t think that was right…. At the time, I just thought that my vision of the thing was being insensitively overruled. But that’s when they made that insert, about ‘Remember’ and put him on the planet in his torpedo.”  ↩

  3. Admittedly, ST3 deserves some credit for blowing up the original Enterprise. It’s the best scene in the entire picture.  ↩