Friday, May 25, 2012

"Battleship" is an odd way to portray the dangers of drawing attention from extraterrestrials

If it weren’t for a derivation from a Hasbro computer game (link)  Peter Berg’s new film “Battleship” would seem like an odd treatment for an existential battle for survival from an extraterrestrial alien attack.
Indeed, the concept of deciding the survival of the world in a sea battle, under an isolating “Truman Show” dome over Hawaii created by the aliens, seems improbable.  The film seems a bit like a dream, with “Transformers-like” unfolding of the alien machinery, and actual humanoids (almost the same as us, maybe without body hair) under the armor, running around and oddly missing their softer human opponents on the ground, and plenty of “Star Wars” gear from Ronald Reagan’s dreams in the 80s.

Remember, however, that Stephen Hawking has warned us that, sending out broadcast signals and drawing attention to ourselves (rather as if there were such a thing as a galactic Facebook without privacy settings, and a real  “galactic online reputation” issue) could invite a hostile visit.  The aliens might treat us the way Columbus and English settlers treated the native Americans.  Do unto others!   Seriously, is it such a moral violation to draw attention to the self, talk about the self and one's work, and then broadcast?  I thought that was salesmanship without hucksterism.  So that must be so for our planetary civilization broadcasting with SETI.

In the film, the aliens are said to hail from Gliese 581G, an M-star red dwarf about 20 light years away. Theoretically, a SETI probe sent before 1970 could have prompted a response.  Any life-bearing planet around this star would be tidally locked, and any civilization would live in an annular zone.  But such a planet could have been seeded with a robot-organic civilization from somewhere farther away with a more conventional “Earth 2”.

The plot of the film is a bit silly. The first half hour “develops” the future hero Lt Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), by starting with a fraternity-like prank where he robs a convenience store through a roof to prove he can get a hot burrito for a girl friend Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) after closing.  His older brother urges him to join the Navy to grow up.  It’s not possible for someone to become an O-3 Naval Lieutenant in such circumstances.  Seaman E-1, maybe.  He’s such a cutup he’s due for discharge, but then the alien attack during maneuvers gives him a chance to command more than one battleship.

The arsenal of alien weapons is quite striking, including toothed "langoliers" that sound inspired by a 1995 Stephen King film by that name.

This time, the city that "gets it" from the wayward falling alien spaceships is Hong Kong.  The vulnerability of the skyscrapers in that city is well demonstrated.  

There are some side plots, such as that of a nerd Cal (Hamish Linklater) who worked on the transmission devices that contacted the aliens, and an Iraq war veteran who may use his artificial legs to advantage. They come into odd personal contact with the aliens, and Cal is challenged at least once to prove he isn’t a bookish coward.

I saw this at AMC Tyson’s Corner today, and noticed that AMC is now showing the calories on all concessions.  Some are really horrific (over 2400 calories for some nacho snacks).  Really, movie chains need to offer more healthful snacks, or change their concession business models and rent some space to restaurants and share the revenue (increased by the wider variety of food).  Some Rave theaters already do this (as in Fairfax, VA). 

Universal’s little “Goldilocks Planet” featurette:

Monday, May 14, 2012

"The Divide": life in a foxhole after NYC gets nuked

The enigmatic film “The Divide” starts with a sepia view of a nuclear blast in lower Manhattan viewed from about Chelsea.  Almost immediately, residents are scurrying in panic to a cellar.  After some perambulations, eight survivors wind up testing each other out in an endurance game.

The film had one Friday midnight showing at Landmark E Street in Washington and then waited for the DVD in April.

Anchor Bay’s official site is here. The film is directed by Xavier Gens.

The film keeps the ragged, sepia look of living underground, but has some excursions that sound like real sci-fi.  Men in white radiation suits attack as if they were “aliens”.  An excursion “beyond” leads through some bizarre white tubing and experimentation areas.

After they capture a man who might have some intel as to how to get out, they practice “extreme rendition”, and the man, while losing a finger, makes particularly offensive comments, comparing homosexuality to cowardice and pariah status, eventually bragging that he has nine more fingers. But pretty soon the group really descends into all imaginable behaviors.  They make a ritual of the buzz cuts, in anticipation of radiation sickness.

 But then the eyebrows go, too.

This is a confining, unpleasant film, that misses the opportunity to portray, what if we somehow let it happen. Well, maybe the final walkabout above ground says something.  Life will not go on as it had. 

With Michael Biehn, Lauren German, Vilo Vintimiglia.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

IMAX Short film shows the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, volunteer rescue efforts

The 26-minute IMAX 3D Short, “Rescue 3D”, directed by Stephen Low, has the most graphic disaster scene that I have ever witnessed close up. A significant amount of footage in the film, now shown at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, shows, from the air at low altitude, the devastation in Haiti shortly after the January 2010 earthquake.  One sees several miles of tenements, pancaked and imploded.  People are herded underneath huge warehouse like structures near the ocean. A church is shown crumbling to the ground.   Naval surgeons are shown performing surgery under battlefield conditions.  I don’t know how the filmmakers got this footage as it happened.  How could they be set up for it before it happened?  The film also has a scientific explanation of the Haiti earthquake, where the ground underneath slipped six meters.

The film also depicts several individuals in several different military and volunteer groups that offer assistance.  A female Air Force pilot, Lauren Ross, flies a C-17 cargo plane.  Maj. Matt Jonkey of the Nevada National Guard helps rescue a hiker stranded on a rocky prominence about Lake Tahoe (this may be training).  Commander Peter Crain of the Canadian Navy trains on a cutter (more like a US Coast Guard boat) of the Nova Scotia coast, the Athabaskan. Stephen Heicklen drills as a volunteer fire fighter in Bridgeville, NJ, in a scene that recalls Ron Howard’s “Backdraft”.  The hospital ship USS Comfort is also shown. 

One wonders about the altruistic motives to volunteer for such duty, particularly outside the military (as with volunteer fire departments). 

At the end, the volunteers and military are headed for the tsunami disaster in Japan in 2011.

The Smithsonian link for the film is here

There is a volunteer information exchange site for people interested in volunteering, which is difficult, link here

Wikipedia attribution link for USCG picture of damage from overhead, similar to film

Friday, May 04, 2012

Could black holes a few dozen light years from Earth cause mass extinctions?

When reading a book by Lewis Darnell “Life in the Universe” (April 17, 2012 Books Blog) I encountered some speculation that earlier extinctions (over 1 billion years ago, not the dinosaur wipe-out 65 million years ago from the asteroid hit) could have been prompted by encounters with moderate or small black holes as the Sun revolves around the galactic center.  Not close enough to suck up the solar system, but maybe close enough to unleash destructive gamma radiation on Earth.  A supernova 30 light years away could unleash destructive radiation within a few thousand years.  There are some speculations that supernovae as far away as 1000 light years, enough to form black holes, could result in extinguishing advanced life on Earth.

I looked up a few videos on YouTube in the subject. 

I found one by Thomas Lucas and “”, 18 min,  “The Largest Black Holes in the Universe.”  He notes that some black holes formed very early in the history of the Universe, and that some coalesced to form quasars.

But a more interesting short, 10 min, narrated by Michael, produced by Numberphile, is  “Travel Inside a Black Hole”.

If you approached a black hole, you would experience time dilation, so it could seem like a long time before the tidal forces started to “hurt”.

An outside observer would see you approach the Schwarzchild Radius, and seem to stay there, because of time dilation.  Your image would be “red-shifted” out of sight, gradually.  He also explains the “Cosmological Principle”, that the Universe has no “center”, but that from any point, everything seems to be moving away from you at the same rate.

He also discusses “acoustic black holes” or “dumb holes”.  He also says that if the Universe got big enough through expansion, there is a good statistical chance of “Another Earth” (as in the sci-fi movie by Brit Marling) actually existing.

You can also try this 1 hour video, “The Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe”, by Dr. Paul Francis at ANU (Australia).   There is some mathematical theory that says that all the information in a galaxy will be stored on the surface of black holes in the galaxy.  When people die, their “information” will be stored there forever (as a kind of afterlife).  But there is a problem that the surface area may not be large enough to house all the information (because of the way volume and surface area work out in high school solid geometry!)

There is also the controversial idea of “Micro Black Holes”, which, in theory, could wreak havoc by “hacking” information in bizarre ways if they really existed, Wikipedia reference here