05/09/2016

A Trip To The Moon - Intro-Retro-Spective-Stupid-Genius

Thoughts On: A Trip To The Moon (1902)

A group of scientists are shot up to the moon's surface to explore and discover what dwells hidden.


What makes this film great is context, both in and out of it as well as today or in the early 1900s. Though I couldn't accurately imagine seeing this movie in 1902, I could only presume it'd blow me, that the given chance of experiencing an adventure on the moon when no one thought it'd be possible to even go there would leave me awe-struck. At the same time, looking back over 110 years later, this 15 minute short holds so much mind-blowing elements and insights that it can leave you kind of dumbstruck. As mentioned this is a French 15 minute short that came out in 1902, it's a silent film that you're welcome to find on YouTube either in black and white or in colour. And, no, neither The Wizard Of Oz or Gone With The Wind were really the first colour movies. Though the technology in those pictures was new, colour had been painted over each individual frame of films for decades before them. An extraneous detail. To get to the crux of this film, I'll give a quick plot breakdown. A group of scientists want to go to the moon, they figure they can get into a huge bullet only twice as big as themselves, and then be shot through a huge gun 384,000 km to crash land on the moon's surface. And, of course, they manage this - no problems. But once they're on the moon's surface searching through caves lush with huge mushrooms (no, not those kinds - well... maybe) they run into the Selentites - insect/gymnast like creatures that can poof in and out of existence with a flash of smoke. The scientists are captured by the Selenites, but break free, find their bullet/spacecraft, push it off a cliff and fall back down to Earth. They hit the ocean, sail back to land, have a parade, but one of the Selenties has stole its way onto the bullet. However, it's captured and all ends well. So... yeah, this film sounds kinda nuts--and it is--but if we take down the guise of a CinemaSins-esque hyper-critic... yeah, this is still a nuts film. But, saying that, I think its fair to presume that most people in 1902 would have been able to clearly see the huge faults in the logic of this film, but overlook them - just like we do the logic of something like the newest Star Wars. And it's recognising this that we come to the most interesting take away of this film - how movies are perceived in respect to fantasy and reality.

So, staying with Star Wars The Force Awakens, we only need to turn to the sequences with the Starkiller Base, with the destruction of stars, the storing of their energy, expulsion, implosion, eventual explosion and then spacecrafts just flying away from the calamity, no problems, to see that we accept some nonsense from our movies. Whilst we revere the hyper-realistic (as possible) with films like The Martian, it's more common than not that we accept outlandish sci-fi. This means that we all know in 20, 50, 100 years from now people will look back on Star Wars and what we thought the future would be and laugh - just as we might A Trip To The Moon. You can pull up many examples of this from Back To The Future's idea of 2015, to 2001: A Space Odyssey's idea of 2001, Star Trek's idea of 2300, Forbidden Planet's view of the 23rd century... the list goes on. But, the further back you get, the more inaccurate things become. This is probably the greatest conceptual downfall of the genre, science fiction. The future is impossible to predict. Now, I've talked about this before with, Sci-Fi Is Stupid. In that post I talked about why sci-fi is pragmatically and personally the best genre out there. I reason that sci-fi allows us to explore the true depths of human imagination, reflects our greatest attributes connected to curiosity, science, morality and progression - and I hold true to this belief. But, the hubris in believing that comes with the genius we are not. It's incredibly hard to even think up the next jump in human technology, let alone create it. It's for this reason that I try to stand by letting the 'stupid' aspects of sci-fi flourish, urging the improbably, the impossible, the insane for the very reason that no one can predict the future. In other words, why not just make up the most outlandish shit you can? If you look to A Trip To The Moon you probably have the best example of this. However, you can see the clear basis of each idea within the movie in reality, leaving the picture as a hyperbolised take on the world. You can start with the characters. They're all old guys with beards, bad backs and grey hair. Those guys probably wouldn't live through a bungee jump, let alone being shot at the moon (as no one would). But, the idea behind the old scientists is of knowledge and experience. We all assume that the older things are, the smarter they seem to be. This isn't universally true, but it makes sense. There's veracity in the idea of experience as it accounts for trial and error, in living life to know life. And whilst you can argue that a 10 year old today is probably a whole lot smarter than an adult of the 19th century, the 10 year old is only as smart as she or he is because of those dufuses from way back when. What this means is that whilst a 13 year old can get a good grip on Einstein's theories of relativity, he didn't really come up with them.

So, coming back to A Trip To The Moon and the old guys, we see an idea of human knowledge being expressed through individuals rather than a massive group of people - a fault, but the tip of a very interesting iceberg. Because we now know that to get to the moon you need a base of thousands of scientists, engineers and so on, the same can be said for the modern day with the CERN supercollider - thousands of scientists from all over the world work there. But, because of the much smaller world people lived in during the early 1900s (metaphorically, but socially literally) an idea of knowledge, of genius, was attributable to singular bodies instead of groups of thousands with decades of knowledge behind them. What this suggests about modern sci-fi is that maybe our perceived world is socially and possibly physically too small - literally. To explain, we can look at Star Trek as well as Captain America: Civil War. In Civil War (just like Batman V Superman) the core conflict is of the world coming together under innovation/the new/mutant people/God things. In Star Trek we see a philosophy of peace, tolerance and togetherness being the key driving force behind the incredible level of technology they have. When you bounce the universe of Star Trek off of the Marvel or DC universes you see the understanding that together we can do more, do better - but that there's always going to be friction in the other direction. So, what drags these movies down is that we have no idea what a truly connected world would produce. Yes, we have the internet, aeroplanes and so on, but this has got to be nothing in face of a world where we're better connected and on a much deeper and fundamental level. For example, what if communication progressed to a point where there was a real, tangibly collective consciousness, a means of every single human being talking and expressing everything irrespective of screens, words or even thinking? What would the world look like then? We wouldn't need movies, we could send each other our own imaginings that would be like a reality we could live in. We wouldn't need reality either, we could exist in a Matrix without even being plugged in. More than that, what if you throw A.I into the mix? What if you took computers that could process information billions of times faster than us, meaning when we think for 1 second, they basically had the quality of thought of billions of years - what if we could talk to those guy in a weird collective consciousness Matrix thing? What would we produce in this immaterial world? What would the perception of the average Joe be like? There are sooooooo many questions here and your imagination must be whirring. But, do this one thing: with those ideas have a quick think about the 22nd century. Does it look anything like Star Trek? Does it seem a bit cooler than Civil War? Do we have the same problems?

Thoughts are screaming around your head, I know, but we've only touched on half of the premise. We've touched on the idea of connectivity through people, making our worlds bigger. But, what if our horizons expanded into the further reaches of space, other solar systems, other galaxies? This is a very tempting idea and I know we all love to jump straight to aliens, but hold on. The closest star to us, Proxima Centauri, is around 4.2 light years away. A light year, as most will know, is a measurement of distance. It takes going at the speed of light, about 300 million metres per second (over 670 million miles per hour) for over 4 years to get to that nearest star. Meanwhile, the fastest any human has ever traveled was just under 25 thousand miles per hour (almost 7 miles a second) during the entry from space aboard the lunar module of Apollo 10. We have only travelled 0.008% of the speed of light. You'd have to go over 1000 times faster to even get near that speed. But, what's more is that you cannot reach the speed of light. And this is where Einstein comes in. Relativity tells us that the faster you go, the more your mass increases, and the more mass you want to move, the more energy you will need. To accelerate to the speed of light your mass will increase infinitely - to an impossible quantity - meaning you will need an equally impossible amount of energy to move. Accelerating to the speed of light is then physically impossible. And that means that that 4.2 light years between our sun and the next closest one is basically an impossible distance. If you take the fastest thing humans have ever created, the Juno Mission spacecraft that accelerated to around 9000 miles by slinging around the Earth, you have some kind of figure as to how fast humans can get things to go. Let's up that to 10,000 miles per hour and ask how long would it take the spacecraft to reach the closest sun to us. Answer: over 280 thousand years. We could keep dicking around with numbers and deep research into how long it'd actually to get to Proxima Centauri in theory, but let's zoom out a minute. There are maybe 100 billion stars in the Milky Way (maybe 4 times that amount). Around 5 thousand of the stars we have discovered are thought to have to capability of sustaining life. We can't get to them, they are basically out of our complete reach, and we are thinking about aliens. Yeah... that's tragically funny. But, let's say that some of that life on some of those planets are advanced, what next?

Neil deGrasse Tyson has talked about this before (link - warning - this video may fuck your life up) and could articulate this much better than I could, but let's try. As Tyson has said, humans are basically constructed from DNA. So are chimps. Humans and chimps share 99% of their (our) DNA. This suggests that the difference between us creating TV, the internet and iPhones or going to the moon, questioning the universe, and a chimp signing a bit of language, stacking a few blocks, throwing shit on the walls, is in that 1% difference. If we wanted to run into aliens 1% smarter than us, we're dealing with creatures that make us look like chimps. Our greatest minds, our greatest achievements would be tantamount to looking cute and moving our hands in a way that maybe we understand, that maybe they get, that maybe suggests some kind of inter-species communication. We not only hope this goes well, or even happens at all, but we hope that we'll be able to find planets tens, hundreds, millions, hundreds of millions of light years away, a handful of planets out of the 100 billion in our galaxy, we hope to maybe send them a signal, signals that travel at the speed of light, that would take tens, hundreds, millions, hundreds of millions of years just to reach, we hope that they come to the hands of beings that are as smart as us, or are slightly smarter, but still care for us, we hope that they understand, that they maybe talk back, maybe traverse the distance between us, the tens, hundreds, millions of light years, we hope and we hope and we hope and we hope until we have to stop and realise... maybe the chance percentages are just too small. Most of us walk or drive a couple hundred metres, a few dozen miles at most, each day to get to work, to meet friends, shop and so on. We live for around 80 years. We sleep and work for about 2 thirds of that, leaving us about 26 years of unobliged, conscious living. That's 230 thousand hours of sitting in front of the TV, using the internet, watching films, talking to friends, raising family, moaning, shouting, crying, a whole lot of eating, a whole lot of trying to have sex, a whole lot of wasted moments, a whole lot of moments we wish we could have used better or taken back... and I suppose I'm pushing the huge why? button right now, but let's forget that. Let's instead combine two ideas of what must seem a million miles away from Star Trek and Captain America, and all under an essay about some 15 minute short French film over 110 years old.

Star Trek and Captain America suggested that the future is in a better social and physical ecosystem. That means that we need to be more connected, and possibly to a wider swath of intelligences throughout the galaxy, dare I say universe. A predicted future pertaining to these ideas implies humans expanding virtual reality beyond even the imagination of The Matrix, beyond chips in heads letting us talk telepathically, but to a world where we exist with an infinitely connected consciousness that would basically be like sensing another dimension, a completely different shade of reality. And whilst all of that's going on, we're not fighting a galactic war with beings percentages smarter than us in ways that hurt to even try to imagine, we're trying to talk to them, maybe have some political discussions, philosophical exchanges, some technological lessons. And suppose this was all possible. What on Earth would life then be like? Try taking all of these juicy pumps of ravenous mind fucks and do me a favour: write me a movie about it. It's enough to make your cry, right? You want to know what's worse though? What's worse is the fact that when people have tried to do this in the past, say Georges Méliès in 1902, they produce bullets shooting old men onto a moon with poofy, disappeary creatures that must be escaped by falling back down to Earth. However, here's the turn around. Humans are confined to a scary, unfathomable reality made up of light years, infintes, stars and intelligences. We can only perceive this world with small, grounded and simplified ideas. The expression of this human capability changes, maybe even evolves with time, but what won't change much is the baseline of human intelligence. This baseline is the small, the grounded and the simplified. Our wildest imaginings in respect to a cosmic, universal reality will never be anything more than a reinstated cliche, a reconceptualised metaphor, a recycled expression of self, a respositioned reality. Our sci-fi movies will never be much more than bullets hitting The Man in the Moon in the eye. This is the poetic beauty of looking at A Trip To The Moon now. It is the conceptual be all and end all of science fiction cinema. What separates it from Star Trek, from Captain America, in terms of greater truths and human perception is negligible. However and ultimately, the start, nor the end, nor the journey are what truly matter. It's the title of the movie, it's the framing of an inevitably unoriginal idea, it's the concept that somehow translates across our personal shades of reality, that has gives us levity.

And here's where things end. For the same reason sci-fi is stupid, our minds are fucked, the universe seems too big, everything seems pointless, we live our lives. The driving reasoning behind it all is in an anesthetizing spark of motivation that leaves us floating in semi-senselessness, in a world where rules are accepted and the experience allowed to be enjoyed. The ideas behind sci-fi may be flawed in a grander scheme, they may never be good enough, true enough, real enough - but that is not their purpose - just as it isn't the purpose of human endeavour. There is a masturbatory fixation in all human action, in all that we produce. It's all there so that the microcosmic matrix of the human mind that is ultimately the universe expressing itself can be contained. For only caged birds think of freedom. And only a caged mind needs to think at all. And the fact that all the converging tangents collected on this page leave us lost, hopeless or at least dumbfounded is the reasoning why the cage needs to be constructed. We require constraints to start perceiving and it's in our dot of the universe that things like the evolution of sci-fi from this to the next 2001 become relatively quantifiable, become a means to an end, a worthwhile assessment of human thought, an entertaining time at the pictures or in front of a screen.

So, it's now that I talk to the screenwriter as I do any perceiving, understanding being out there, that I say, keep trying for the impossible, keep expressing this one Trip To The Moon over and over for no reason other than the fact that you are built for no greater purpose than to forget the pointlessness of doing so. Without true prospection, it is the intro-retro-spective-stupid-genius rattling the bars of its existential confinery that is the resounding vibrations of a tree fallen in an abandoned forest, that is ultimately the echoed feedback that just keeps on talking to itself.






Previous post:

Goodfellas - Why We Love This Movie

Next post:

Nightcrawler - Your Freak

More from me:

amazon.com/author/danielslack

No comments: