Just got back from an opening night showing of the new sci-fi film Interstellar at the Ziegfeld theater here in New York. If you want some idea of what the film is about, trailers are here and here. Warning: spoilers in next paragraph, skip that if you care.
To me the big plot surprise was that the human race is saved by the theoretical physicist. An elderly theoretical physicist has been trying to solve some equation for gravity his entire career. If he solves it this will somehow save the human race (which has just about ruined its planet). Turns out, he wasn’t being honest, he knew how to solve the equation, but to save the planet, you need to reconcile quantum theory and gravity. Only way to do this is to go into a black hole and get the “quantum data”. Dad (Matthew McConaughey) does this, then manages to transmit the “quantum data” via Morse code to his daughter, a theoretical physicist who has taken over from the old guy, who has died. She uses the “quantum data” to write something on the blackboard that flashes by (maybe a 10d gravitational action), this somehow saves the human race. Before we get to this point, lots of plot involving going through a wormhole (looks kind of like what going through a wormhole always looks like), and various time spent on exotic planets orbiting a black hole.
The black hole portrayal is one that great effort went into on the accuracy front, with Kip Thorne involved. He and the film’s director have a book coming out Friday, The Science of Interstellar, and there’s a TV documentary about the science behind the movie. Evidently this film has been in the works for a while: John Preskill tells the story here of a 2006 meeting with Steven Spielberg to discuss the film, also attended by Andrei Linde, Lisa Randall, Savas Dimopoulos, Mark Wise and Thorne.
Anyway, I enjoyed the film, even though I’m not usually a big fan of sci-fi films.
Opening in a few days is another major Hollywood effort centered around theoretical physics, quantum gravity and black holes: the Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything. A trailer is here. I’ll probably see that this weekend and will report back.
Finally, it’s not really Hollywood unless you have an awards ceremony featuring Hollywood stars. This Sunday night, some lucky string theorist will get a $3 million check for his work on quantum gravity and black holes. Seth MacFarlane is hosting, more details here. From what I recall, the argument for setting up this huge prize for theoretical physicists was that they don’t get enough public attention…
Update: Phil Plait really doesn’t like the film, finding much of the plot scientifically implausible. Of course he’s right about that, but it makes one wonder if he has seen many sci-fi films. From my limited experience, this one is about average on the implausibility meter.