4 October 1957 – the start of the space age

thescienceeek.org is our space science instructor.

“The launch of Sputnik 1 caught many in America by surprise. For this reason, the period of time immediately after the Sputnik launch is often known as the “Sputnik Crisis”.”
“it was a tight squeeze to get Laika into the capsule and for the duration of the spaceflight she was barely able to move. Sadly for Laika, it was a one way ticket. Sputnik 2 could only carry enough food, water and oxygen for Laika to survive for 7 days”
“After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, different accounts of the Sputnik 2 mission emerged and it was suggested that she had died much earlier in the mission from lack of oxygen, or when the cabin had overheated.”

The Science Geek

Exactly sixty years ago today, on 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit around the Earth. This is considered to be the beginning of the space age. Before this date there were no man made satellites in space but on every single day since then there have been artificial satellites around the Earth. Today there are over 1000 active satellites in orbit (Union of Concerned Scientists 2017) and many times that number of defunct ones.

Image from NASA

Sputnik 1 is shown above. It consisted of a shiny metal sphere, 58.5 cm in diameter, made out of an aluminium alloy. To the sphere were attached four radio aerials. Unlike later satellites, Sputnik 1 carried no scientific instruments and wasn’t fitted with a TV camera to take pictures. It had no solar cells to generate electricity and was powered by three non-rechargeable batteries. Its…

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Silent Running / posters

silent-running-by-olly-moss

Some of you may rightfully wonder why the name of Mark Kemrode, the film critic, is floating on the poster. The answer is simple – he likes to float, too this is a cover of his book, “Silent Running“. He often said that the film is one of his all-time personal favourites, citing his preference for it over “sterile and emotionless” “2001: A Space Odyssey“.

Now I start to doubt even more in the sanity of top-notch movie critics as calling “Silent Running” the best sci-fi film is just insane – for a serious cinema critic, not fanboy like me. But that does not make the book cover any less beautiful. It was designed by Olly Moss and he did a bunch of awesome movie posters, including very original “Star Wars” posters (and it must be very difficult to make an original SW poster!). Amazing work.

…and just for the record, the other most recent time I ranted about insane movie critics was when ebert.com rated “Alien: Covenant” 4/4.

Here is another poster oldschool poster.

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And a wonderful photo from the shooting.

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I reviewed the film before, so check here my GIFs about the film and the amazing special effects of the flight through the Saturn rings here. That was something incredible.

Plus, here’s some interesting info about “Silent Running” that I didn’t cover in my review. “After the success of Easy Rider (1969), directed by Dennis Hopper, Universal Studios hit upon the idea to let young filmmakers make “semi-independent” films for low budgets in hopes of generating similar profits. The idea was to make five of these movies each for $1 million dollars or less, not interfere in the filmmaking process, and give the directors final cut, a level of control seldom allotted to even the most successful directors. The movies produced were The Hired Hand (1971) directed by Peter Fonda, The Last Movie (1971) by Dennis Hopper, Taking Off (1971) by Milos Forman, American Graffiti (1973) by a young and impressionable George Lucas, and lastly Silent Running. Released in 1972 (5 years prior to the release of the first Star Wars film), Silent Running is an environmentally themed American sci-fi film written, produced, and directed by the legendary filmmaker and visual effects pioneer, Douglas Trumbull.” Thanks to Supercult Show blog that did a very comprehensive write-up about the film.

Now… Suntory time, as Bill-motherfucking-ghostbuster-Murray once said.

032 Silent Running - Silent But Deadly Poster

What makes science fiction so great? The answer is not so evident as you might think.

I am pretty terrified as today I came across probably the best science fiction genre descriptions ever.

“Science Fiction is a genre where the component parts are often more interesting than the whole. My blog is a prime example of this – I often post images from movies which aren’t really ‘great’ but the stylings and aesthetics often are – case in point here with the USS Cygnus from the Disney movie The Black Hole.” (Simotron)

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“I’ve re-watched the movie a few times and yeah, it’s not great but there are a lot of great things about it. The soundtrack by John Barry (of James Bond fame) is excellent, epic and ominous – check out the theme here and a personal fave ‘Durant is Dead‘ – the moment in the film where it gets really dark and urgent.

The effects – while often pretty shonky have some real stand-out elements – the backdrops star-fields are often a luminous dark blue, more like the depths of the ocean than the standard cover-up-the-wires black and the main ship – the USS Cygnus is pretty much unique in science-fiction in it’s design – like a flat, Gothic oil-rig – or sometimes described as a Cathedral.

It’s completely different from the flat-grey, battleship-style popularised by Star Wars (those built from Airfix kits) – it’s as if the ship doesn’t have a ‘surface’ at all and before it lights-up (from within) it’s completely black. If you check out the Japanese sci-fi art below you can also see that some attempt was made to reconcile the interior and exterior structure of the ship which is pretty rare. Looking at that diagram of the layout and knowing the film you can see that the crew’s movement around the ship actually makes sense.”

Simotron

black hole cygnus crop

Science-Fiction is a genre where the component parts are often more interesting than the whole. My blog is a prime example of this – I often post images from movies which aren’t really ‘great’ but the stylings and aesthetics often are – case in point here with the USS Cygnus from the Disney movie The Black Hole.

I’ve re-watched the movie a few times and yeah, it’s not great but there are a lot of great things about it. The soundtrack by John Barry (of James Bond fame) is excellent, epic and ominous – check out the theme here and a personal fave ‘Durant is Dead‘ – the moment in the film where it gets really dark and urgent.

The effects – while often pretty shonky have some real stand-out elements – the backdrops star-fields are often a luminous dark blue, more like the depths of the ocean…

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The Black Hole / posters

BlackHoleLores

Very sweet retrofuturistic poster.

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The original 1979 poster.

The Black Hole” was the the first Disney movie with a PG rating. “At $20 million, plus another $6 million for the advertising budget, it was at the time the most expensive picture ever produced by Disney. The movie earned nearly $36 million at the North American box office, making it the 21st highest-grossing film of 1979″, says Wiki.

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Another original 1979 poster.

I really loved this comment to the post by Wolfman which just says it all: “One of my favs as a kid and still love it with a passion. The effects and print still hold up today. I watched it on blu-ray a few years back. Has to be one of Disney’s darkest movies, well that and The Hunchback of Notre Dame!! “Hellfire” jeepers. Two of the best robots too. Who couldn’t love Roddy Mcdowall voicing VINCENT and Slim Pickins playing the broken southern BOB. Incidentally I’m posting a mix later of a robot music mix i’ve done featuring those two and few other robotic friends from film.”

Stephen King on Revision

A wonderful insight from Stephen King.

charles french words reading and writing

Stephen_King,_Comicon

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

“To write is human, to edit is divine.”

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”

“Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft— one of them, anyway—is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to you and your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story. It hardly ever fails.”

All quotations are from

Stephen King On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft

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Top 10 Soviet Science Fiction Movies

Here is my Top 10 Soviet sci-fi movies with a dozen of modern trailers I made specially for it while studying some video editing.

†1924-1988 selection.

Beautiful new ambient, shoegaze, dreampop, synthpop and techno soundtracks included.

 

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1. ”Stalker”, 1979.

A cerebral timeless masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky, probably the most renowned and influential Soviet/Russian director. Loosely based on a story by important Soviet science fiction writers Strugatsky brothers (and seen by many as a prophecy for several upcoming catastrophes including Chernobyl), “Stalker” could be interpreted as a philosophical tale about destiny and choices. But there’s much more that that. It’s simply one of the most important cinema achievements ever, let alone science fiction. The story follows three men as they penetrate deeper into into a mysterious area called “The Zone”, each of them for a different purpose. A thinking sci-fi geek’s must-see. This movie is like a Universe, there are always new layers to discover. Read more here and here.

Music by Bowery Electric.

2. ”City Zero”, 1988.

Theatre of the absurd, a mysterious tragicomedy, a dark metaphor. The late 80-s, without doubt, were the most prolific period for the underground culture in Soviet Union, especially rock music but also cinema. ”City Zero” is the finest dark offspring of that epoch. The film is normally classified as sci-fi/mystery – but if you analyze every single scene separately, there’s nothing completely impossible. It’s the sum of all parts that is greater than the whole… The famous headcake scene actually happened once in Russia. But looking at the whole story makes you feel like slowly drowning in the swamp… It’s kind of ”Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mulholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere. My full review here. Watch online here.

Music by Auktyon (Аукцыон).

3. ”Dead Man’s Letters”, 1986.

Directed by K. Lopushansky, surely the most faithful of all Tarkovsky’s followers (he worked as assistant on ”Stalker” set), this film is a heavy and realistic portrayal of the end of the world. Endless piles of rusty metal, interminable yellow twilight, dirty radioactive puddles of mixed water and blood. And dead bodies. Dead bodies everywhere. Men, children, women. Everywhere. There is no hope here. It’s finished. There is no ”if”. The doomsday clock has moved. We are just witnessing the final decay of small group of survivors that will last several months, probably. There is not even a single hint about their survival. It’s a death rattle. Just a matter of time. My full review here. Watch online here.

Music by Ital Tek.

Continue reading

Alien / goofs

I’ve always considered this film to be a perfect one (and still think so), just these 2 shots bother me each time I see them… The doll of Ash on the left should have been done way more carefully.

Tarkovsky / posters

“And so, what is a film? It’s a mosaic made of time.” (A. Tarkovsky)

 

Dreamy and poignant posters for several films of the great Russian director, by Curzon Artificial Eye. These are definitely most beautiful posters of his works I have ever seen (including probably the original posters)  as they reflect carefully the poetic nature of these films, which continue to influence modern filmmakers, such as Dennis Vileneuve who directed the best science fiction movie of 2016, ”Arrival”.

And probably will make the best sci-fi of 2017. And who is currently working on Blade Runner 2049.

 

THX 1138

thx1138Director: George Lucas. Starring:Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Maggie McOmie, Don Pedro Colley. Budget: $777,777. Box office: $2.4 mln. USA, 1971. IMDb: 6.8. My rating: 3/4. Disturbing art-house dystopia at its finest.

– Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.
(OMM, the digital Jesus)

– I think I’m dying.
– Could you be more specific?
(THX 1138’s confession to OMM, the digital Jesus)

– Everything will be all right; we are here to help you. Stay calm. We are not going to harm you. Everything will be all right.
(chrome police robots)

 

First part and more GIFs about the numbers in ”THX 1138” here.

”THX 1138” is an impressive, visionary and visually striking science fiction movie that I found fucking boring but absolutely loved at the same time. It may be a pain in the ass to watch because it’s so desperately monotonous and emotionally deadened – but that was the aim of the film too.

But once you get through it… your suffering will be rewarded. You may even want to rewatch it over time. It’s still one of the best dystopias around (and almost 50 years passed since its release).

Besides of the visuals, ”THX 1138” has an incredible amount of cultural references and just that may make it worth a watch. Steel-faced chrome police robots (lets call them, uhm, T100?), futuristic car chases (long before George Miller touched his camera), Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor’s sampling source, dystopian underground drug-controlled society, infinite white prison with no walls (remember the Matrix endless gun warehouse scene?), early Star Wars designs, weird silent surveillance footage, erotic hologram dance, tape-recorded Jesus… A long and extensive analysis could be done on this movie.

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Discovering the depths of tape-recorded digital religion.

It’s inevitable to mention George Lucas’ persona when discussing “THX-1138”. The man was known for his little love in directing the movies, that’s why after doing this, “American Graffiti” (a coming-of-age cult film which I haven’t seen, but 7.5 IMDb and 95% RT may actually mean it’s worth something!) and the first “Star Wars” movie he stepped out of the director’s seat for 22 years, only to direct the dubious “Star Wars” prequels, which for the most part are not considered as good as the original trilogy. Anyway. I’m not a huge fan of Star Wars, although I’ve watched them multiple times and enjoyed it.

In short, “THX 1138” is everything that “Star Wars” is not. It is was the art-house face of George Lucas. Ultra slow, depressive and without even a hint of being funny. But its influence on the visuals of the latter is significant. Many of design solutions, like dominating sterile colours contrasted with black and white uniforms, holograms and other futuristic elements.

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This is not your average Interceptor.

What’s wrong with the The Director’s Cut. Oh, these freaking DC… It was released in 2004 and sadly it confirms that – with the exception of barely few scenes – Lucas lost the understanding of his own movie. He used the same approach as in Star Wars prequels with too much CGI out of place, thus many scenes were needlessly modified with new graphics, the corridors were extended (why, George? Why do we need extended corridors?) and extra space and colours added. Here‘s the full comparison and additional info here too. Several GIFs below (this may look fine out of context though):

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Copy-pasted humans and extended corridors of the infamous Director’s Cut.

Few words about the acting. Robert Duvall (born in 1931) is an interesting guy. He reminds me of Harry Dean Stanton (born in 1926), an incredibly talented American actor, who has made about 100 movies since 1956, including such titles as ”Alien”, ”Repo Man”, three David Lynch’s movies, ”Escape From New York”, ”Paris, Texas” and a literally lots of other stuff, yet the man never became a big star, staying in the shade of his colleagues.

So what has Stanton to do with Duvall? Well, both are those type of actors that we all have probably seen dozens of times (”MASH”, ”Deep Impact”, ”The Godfather 1/2”, ”Falling Down”) but struggle to recognize. So while Duvall certainly got more notoriety over the decades and received some important awards, his fate is somewhat similar compared to the Hollywood’s major stars and he is often overlooked. In ”THX 1138”, the man creates a wonderful and powerful performance, that ranges from emotional overload and despair to escapism, protest and silent consent. A very versatile role indeed.

Donald Pleasence (Carpenter’s ”Halloween”, Polanski’s ”Cul-de-sac”) was also wonderful as a psychotic and neurotic dweller of this huge underground world hospital. His characters was more one-sided than Duvall’s and that was a good contrast.

Maggie McOmie’s role as LUH felt a little bit underdeveloped given that it was her character that gave THX 1138 (the person, not the film!) a major input… She did not pursue an acting career after finishing ”THX 1138”.

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Worth watching? ”THX 1138” may seem overly slow and artsy at a glance, but nevertheless it’s a visually striking and original dystopia with various elements to be found in many forthcoming science fiction movies of all kinds. Wonderful performances from Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence, gorgeously sterile visuals, story’s depth and a well-developed deadened underground world prove that there were times when George Lucas was as a talented and original filmmaker. 

Watch also: dystopia is a good genre for experimenting and many filmmakers used that to create something unorthodox, like amazing ”A Boy and His Dog”, poetic ”Fahrenheit 451” or absurd Soviet masterpieces”Kin-Dza-Dza!” and ”City Zero”.

3/4