James Gray’s Ad Astra is a stirring, soulful space odyssey in the tradition of 2001, Sunshine, and Interstellar—but its real antecedent is Apocalypse Now. My NPR review is mes Gray’s Ad Astra is a stirring, plausible space odyssey in the tradition of 2001, Sunshine, and Interstellar—but its real antecedent is Apocalypse Now. My NPR review is here.
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For my day job at Air & Space / Smithsonian, I wrote about Quindar, an electronic music duo comprised of art historian James Merle Thomas and Wilco multinstrumentalist Mikael Jorgensen. In their multimedia live performances and on their debut album Hip Mobility, the pair finds inspiration in the ephemera of the pre-Shuttle space program.
I met with Jorgensen backstage at Wolf Trap before Wilco's Filene Center performance there last month. I waited until we'd concluded our official interview before asking him to sign my copy of A Ghost Is Born—the first record Wilco made after he officially joined the band. He countered with an offer to get the whole lineup to sign it. That was nice. Not counting book signings, the only other person I've ever asked for an autograph was Bono.
PREVIOUSLY: I interviewed Wilco founder and frontman Jeff Tweedy for the Washington Post in 2009.
I had hopes for Passengers, from Prometheus writer Jon Spaihts and The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum, because I root for science fiction films in general and because I've just edited a story for Air & Space/Smithsonian about research into human hibernation for long-term spaceflights, which is key to the premise of this movie. But its billion-dollar ideas are undermined by its five-cent guts, as I aver in my NPR review. Bummer.
In the March 2016 issue of Air & Space / Smithsonian, where I work, I've got a big feature about the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, which is the two-stage technology NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is working on that will one day allow NASA to deposit heavier objects on the surface of Mars intact. Sounds pretty dry and technical, maybe, but why not show a little confidence in my ability to tell a story? My pal and editor Heather Goss already made me take all the acronyms out, upping the likelihood you'll read this, we both hope.Read More
Can of Wormholes, or Accretion Discography: My Interview with Kip Thorne, Interstellar Progenitor and Scientific Adviser
For my day job at Air & Space / Smithsonian, I interviewed Kip Thorne, the theoretical physicist who with his friend the movie producer Lynda Obst, conceived the film Interstellar back in 2006. Thorne remained closely involved with the picture throughout its writing, production, and editing, and has now published a 324-page companion to the film called The Science of "Interstellar" laying out his scientific rationalization for every aspect of its story -- even the Love Tesseract Wormhole.
DUH: Don't read this interview if you intend to see Interstellar but haven't yet.
And if that's your situation, and you live anywhere in the Washington, DC diaspora, make sure to catch the movie in 70mm IMAX at either the National Air & Space Museum downtown or at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center out by Dulles International Airport. I've seen it both this way and in digital IMAX, and the 70mm presentation is more painterly and majestic. It also sounds better, curiously. The muddy sound mix we talked about on Pop Culture Happy Hour last week (based on a digital IMAX screening in Silver Spring, Maryland) was not a problem when I saw the film again at NASM in 70mm.
Radio, the Final Frontier, or To Go With Some Reasonable Measure of Boldness Where I Myself Have Not Personally Managed, Entirely, to Go Before
My first radio story will be broadcast today. You can listen to it here right now. The process of assembling and editing it was not all that much different from making these. Although in this case I had expert help -- WAMU managing producer Tara Boyle -- to make the piece sound better. The piece is about the starship Enterprise. That is, the impressively large, now-49-year-old model that appeared in every episode of Star Trek, 30 years before computer graphics became Hollywood's defacto visual effects methodology.
I initially imagined this segment as a Daily Show-style news package wherein I would feign indignation that an artifact as significant as the civilization-seeking, boldly-going Enterprise rates a spot only in the basement of the National Air & Space Museum. (Apparently they also have some spacecraft there that have actually flown in space.) That approach proved to a be little ambitious for my first time out of the gate.
I haven't spent enough time with the various spinoff series to get much of a read on them, but original-flavor Kirk-Spock-McCoy Star Trek is a thing I love. My favorite formal thing about the story is that I managed to use, chronologically, music from three eras of Trek: Alexander Courage's 1966 theme for TV series, two snippets of James Horner's score for The Wrath of Khan from 1982, and finally, Michael Giacchino's theme from the 2009 Trek reboot directed by J.J. Abrams.Read More