Words of Tomorrow
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Words of Tomorrow

So, Space Sucks, I Guess

My opinion on the exercise in frustration that is Ad Astra

By MARTIN REZNY

Wow, what a waste of time that was. Just wow. I would say that there will be spoilers ahead, but the only thing that can be spoiled in this movie is the desire to explore space. The movie is essentially about nothing, somehow achieving lower density of worthwhile ideas per cubic meter of space than what is present in a vacuum. And there you have my review in a nutshell.

A Crime Against Science

To be more specific, in this movie, we find out that much like vacuum, humans suck wherever they go, astronauts suck at doing their job, and that space sucks because it’s completely devoid of alien life. Or, if you want to get technical, that they all blow. Space potato, space po-tah-to (presumably Mars-grown in Matt Damon’s wildly more scientifically accurate poop).

Not that this movie ever gets anything technical correct. Now, I’m no rocket scientist, but even I know that you can’t surf on a nuclear-antimatter explosion in space, since in the vacuum, you will have no shockwave to surf on. Even if you somehow manage to not get vaporized by rays that are allegedly powerful enough to damage Earth all the way from Neptune. From Neptune.

Sun, a giant continuous fusion explosion, is so weak at that distance that you can barely run a solar panel there. But nevermind, I’ll leave all that to Neil deGrasse Tyson to tear apart. I guess I’ll have to wait for the next season of The Expanse to see any actual space physics dramatized onscreen.

I’m also extremely disappointed that the trend of turning astronauts into emotionally unbalanced jackasses in movies for the sake of cheap drama continues. Brad Pitt may be considered a teeny tiny bit of a step up, since his whole thing is that his heart rate never gets elevated and he stays cool under pressure, but he’s the only one and even he is secretly internally tortured.

Finally, any social science is equally absent from the movie, since all humanity is reduced to “human always fight” under the brilliant philosophical framework of “anger bad”. In a bold “twist” at the end of the movie, we ultimately learn that there are no aliens. At all, for sure, with no attempt at explanation.

What is the message in that? We are shit, but we’re all we’ve got! How inspiring. And who cares, right, it’s just a dumb movie. Except no, it’s more than just a dumb movie. It’s another failure at an inspiring space epic.

A Crime Against Humanity

Which is why the critical reaction to this movie is mindboggling to me. Most critics seem to think that the movie is great, and so inspiring. I guess we kinda have to pretend that it is inspiring because space exploration is THE thing that everyone should be getting inspired about today. And it is well shot and well acted, which is deserved praise. But the script, though. The script. It’s awful.

In addition to it not being scientifically accurate on any level, severely mischaracterizing astronauts, and showing a paper-thin examination of humanity’s main attributes and struggles, the whole character drama is completely clichéd and goes nowhere at the end. The “villain”, Brad Pitt’s dad, joins the Interstellar’s Matt Damon’s Commander Evil Man as “the best of us” guy who is a total selfish asshole who kills everyone for no good reason.

That’s barely a single dimension to a character. Brad Pitt is the only character with an arc, and it’s the most simplistic realization along the lines of “friendship is magic” (that being absolutely alone is bad) that suddenly snaps into place in the last five minutes of the movie. And don’t even get me started on his ex wife (or something), who is barely a moving picture in this film.

In case it’s somehow mysterious, assholes, dumbasses, and jackasses who lack third dimension are not inspiring. Not even if they’re Brad Pitt acting his space ass off, I’m sorry. It can hardly be any worse, since anything worse would actually start being so-bad-it’s-good interesting. Don’t get me wrong, the pace of the movie can be slow, even the inner monologues can work, but the characters need to have some depth and, well, character.

The only character who stood out to me was the reused Martian guy from The Expanse (Greg Bryk). In an entirely distracting sense. What a weird way to typecast a person — a very noticeable odd-faced guy from Mars. Not to mention how it reminded me of how much better characterization is on that show in an almost identical genre and setting. Why is it so hard to do in a space movie, as opposed to a space TV show? The problem is, it’s a trend.

A Crime Against Future

Pretty much the last great, truly inspiring space movie that everyone keeps falling back on is the Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Inspiring as in making people want to explore space. What have we had since then? Armageddon? Nah, that’s just dumb fun. Space Cowboys? Nah, that’s retrospective, about the cold war legacy haunting us. Gravity? Nah, as the famous cult director, Alejandro Jodorowsky described it, that’s just a gerbil in a space suit being in distress for two hours. Cool, yes. Inspiring, how? Go Kessler syndrome?

The way I see it, two films maybe have a shot, Interstellar and The Martian. Unfortunately, Interstellar has the great inspiring message that humans are idiots who are bound to extinct themselves unless they’re saved by magic, while The Martian, the most successful attempt in my opinion, may be in line with what some rocket scientists find exciting, but therein lies the problem.

Let’s be honest, science is boring. Standard, everyday science is a lot of repetitive, technical drudgery. There are people who sincerely love it, who love rocks and poop and potatoes, all the more if they’re on Mars. Which is fine and we need people like that to move science forward, inch by inch.

However, things like rocks, poop, and potatoes are literally and objectively the most boring and least interesting things on Earth, and only marginally less so on other celestial bodies. What kinds of rocks are on Mars or whether you could grow potatoes there are not the big questions. I’m sorry, they’re not.

Communists tried something similar in countries like Czechoslovakia where I come from, applying their “communist realism” to get people pumped about everyday boring science, only IN SPACE (maybe eventually)! It didn’t work.

In order to inspire people, you have to address the big questions. Like are we alone? To which the again literally and objectively least inspiring answer is “for sure yes”. Which we don’t know for sure, but for some reason is exactly what NASA and every official scientific anything have collectively decided to be their position. It’s almost as if they really only want to find rocks out there.

I get that science is supposed to be conservative, but being conservative is a) inherently not inspiring and b) often wrong anyway, especially regarding space stuff and specifically existence thereof. Scientists following Occam’s razor were quite convinced at various points that Earth is the center of the universe, that Sun is the center of the universe, that our galaxy is the whole universe, and now they’re questioning if this is the only universe. If there can be infinite universes, literally and objectively anything is possible to exist.

You know what would be inspiring? Showing humans doing something in space that’s not complete bullshit, like taking meaningful scientific steps to uncover fundamental mysteries of the universe and actually learning something. It doesn’t have to be for sure certain to happen, just theoretically possible. Some inspiring possibility. What we know already is never going to be inspiring enough, or accurate in the end anyway. Come on, make a guess.

So far, only The Expanse seems to be marginally doing that. If you think there are any other examples, please prove me wrong. Honestly, I’d love that. The problem with that show is that it’s still a bit too close to sci-fi genre clichés, like the other most inspiring show, The Orville, which I enjoy very much.

It’s nice to see more realistic physics depicted, just as it’s nice to see Star Trek: The Next Generation again, but current science offers many more, entirely new speculations to be turned into stories and movies. Everyone watching Isaac Arthur’s videos knows that for a fact. Perhaps more writers should do that as well. The extent of what we could do with our current science and technology already is amazing. Just google “Dyson swarm” or “matrioshka brain”.

Of course, you have no way of knowing any of the real, extremely inspiring possibilities from space shows and movies, because in those, we always have a few feuding colonies, regardless of the size of our space empire, with a few ships and only about at most half a dozen people who somehow do all the important stuff in the universe. At the same time, aliens tend to be either just like us with a slightly different forehead, or mindless monsters, or perfect ancient cosmic gods, or other tired storytelling trope in modern disguise.

There are some movies that try a bit harder on the scientific speculation front, like Contact or Arrival, but those are not epic enough to be truly inspiring. In both of these movies, we don’t really go into space on our own anyway, relying on the aliens to reveal space secrets to us. Like, should we wait for that?

Something similar is the case in most space shows that try a bit harder, like Babylon 5 or Stargate, where the means of interstellar travel were given to us or stolen from older, more advanced alien races. Which is the case in The Expanse as well. And in Star Trek, technically. It really is a very common trope.

Why can’t we develop warp equivalent on our own and colonize our solar system on our own, which are the things that we need to get inspired to do now, and then encounter aliens for the first time as we are exploring further?

Am I the crazy one here?

If you ignore all the recently acknowledged signs of our militaries already having had encounters with UFOs on Earth (the truly thought-out fictional history of which would also make for a great movie, I imagine), why shouldn’t this be the official vision of NASA and all the science folk? To do our own exploration, but with the explicit goal of looking for intelligent life that probably is there, somewhere, instead of figuring out poop potatoes?

Wouldn’t that be inspiring? I believe it would.

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A home for weird ideas, future visions, and mad ramblings. Open for submissions from anyone with something to say about where we’re headed or the nature of time or history. If you want to get added as an author, contact me via my Twitter handle @Nartimar.

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Martin Rezny

Martin Rezny

An independent Czech thinker, speaker, writer, and creator.

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