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Star Trekkin’…

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We finally – FINALLY! After all the months of waiting! – went to see the new Star Trek movie on Sunday night. Was it worth the hype? Was it worth the wait? Was it worth the £6 the Brewery Arts Centre charges you to watch a film surrounded by chattering, laughing, can-slurping and nacho-crunching (seriously now, which GENIUS decided that nachos, one of the noisiest, most brittle foods ever invented, would be a good snack to serve in a place that’s supposed to be quiet?!?!?! I want to track them down and kill them!) chavs?

Well, as Churchill would say…

Oh yes!

The movie is a gem, an absolute triumph. It could have been horrible, it could have been an epic Fail, it could have had Star Trek fans like myself throwing their hands over their eyes in despair and running out of the cinema crying “Nooooooooooo!!!!!”, but it’s just a magical film. As soon as it had finished I wanted to go and see it again right away.

Is this a film that Star Trek fans will like? Yes. Well, it’s a film that open-minded ST fans will like, ST fans like me who aren’t anally retentive about the stories, characters and history, because it is basically faithful to the feel and character of the series, and retains its warmth and humour, things that were conspicuously lacking in more recent ST films (mentioning no names… NEMESIS… sorry, slipped out…) Is this a film non Star Trek fans will like? Yes. It’s funny, action-packed, dazzlingly beautiful to watch, it’s a perfect family film.

But if you’re a true ST fan, someone who can’t speak Klingon but does feel a genuine love for the characters, then you will adore it. Sure it’s got a mega-million dollar budget, so the effects are some of the best seen on the big screen ever (and I mean Ever – I’m not going to spoil it for people who haven’t seen it yet, but there’s one sequence where the Enterprise comes “out of hiding” that brought a real, tribble-sized lump to my throat) but it’s the characters and their relationships that steal the show and make the movie work so well.

The people in charge of casting this movie deserve an award, they really do. Chris Pine (who I’d never seen in anything before) is very convincing as the young Kirk, and so are the actors who play Sulu and Chekov. The young Uhura is sassy and mega-intelligent, as befits a modern PC film, and “Bones” McCoy is suitably moany and cratchety.

But it’s Zachary Quinto who absolutely steals the whole film. He IS Spock. He was born to play the role, seriously. He actually seems more like Spock than Leonard Nimoy does, and he’s in the film! I can’t wait to see Quinto return to the role in the sequels that will inevitably follow the success of this movie.

Having said that, I wasn’t really convinced by Simon Pegg as Scotty. I know the movie is a “re-imagining” or “re-invention” or whatever, so they don’t have to be true or faithful to the original characters, but he just seemed too… too… brash, too noisy, a bit too – okay, I’ll say it, silly. And I couyld definitely have done without his sidekick. A bit Jar Jar Binksy that.

But they’re just niggles. The film is a sensory avalanche that slams into you from the opening sequence and carries you with it for two hours until it dumps you breathless over a cliff at the end.

There are countless wonderful moments for ST geeks like me. Seeing the Enterprise taking shape in the shipyard is just… well, wonderful, a real breath-catching moment. There are lots of “in jokes” and references to classic stories, too. And when we saw Kirk cheating famously in the Kobayashi Maru test I was smiling like an idiot… 🙂

Of course, it’s not 1000% scientifically accurate, as many people are pointing out on blogs here there and everywhere. If you try hard – actually, not too hard – you can find not just scientific holes in the plot but scientific cock-ups that would be ridiculous under any other circumstances. But to identify them and moan about them seems churlish. I’ve read posts from people complaining that the physics was wrong here, or the astronomy was wrong there, and really I’ve wanted to reach into the screen, grab them by the throat and shout “For pity’s sake, it’s STAR TREK! It’s not a ****** documentary!”

The thing is, as many of you will know I’m heavily involved in Outreach and education over here in the UK. I run an astronomy society, give a lot of talks about astronomy and space, and write for local papers etc etc, so I guess I should be bothered about “bad astronomy” and “bad science” in movies. But you know what? I’m not. I DON’T CARE! When I go into a cinema – sorry, US readers, movie theatre – to watch a science fiction film I consider myself “off duty” and there as a civilian, and as I stuff my jacket under the seat my “astronomer”’s hat is wrapped up in it too, and I just settle back to be entertained for a couple of hours. If I want 1000% scientifically accurate content I’ll watch a NASA DVD; when I go to the cinema I want excitement, action, great characters, big bangs, colourful planets, the works. I want to come out of the cinema into the drizzle of a grey Cumbrian spring day and feel excited by the universe again, dazzled by the pretty lights and explosions in the movie, and not mumbling under my breath “Humph! Well THAT bit was wrong, and THAT would NEVER happen…”

And I came out of STAR TREK last night grinning like a fat kid who’s just got locked in a sweet shop. It’s just stunning, a joy from start to finish. It’s FUN!

So, while I know people have to nit-pick, and correct mistakes, and point out inaccuracies, can we also stress the sheer joy of films like this? The Star Trek movie is slap-across-the-face exciting, that’s it’s job, it’s not meant to be a documentary. It really, really doesn’t matter that this machine wouldn’t *actually* work, it’s a cool idea! And it really doesn’t matter that the Enterprise wouldn’t emerge from an atmosphere like a submarine breaking through the waves, it’s a heart-stoppingly beautiful image.

Listen. No, seriously, listen. Movies are meant to be fun. Star Trek is! So, please, anyone worried about the “bad science”, forget it. Just buy your ticket, take your seat onboard the Enterprise, and, as the great man says, “Buckle up!” because Star Trek is back, and it’s big and bold and beautiful.

And if you’re one of those people moaning “Oh no, Star Trek’s back”… then please, just let those of us who love it enjoy it. Let us enjoy living, for just a couple of hours, in a world where people get on, where beautifully elegant and sleek spaceships fly between the stars, and where the word “Enterprise” is breathed with reverence, awe and love.

After all, the way we’re going, STAR TREK is soon going to be the only space program we’ve got…

Godspeed Atlantis…

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Just a few hours to go now until the launch of space shuttle Atlantis on its mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. I was going to write a long post about the importance of the mission, the risk, the bravery of the crew, etc, but I figure hell, if you’re a reader you’ll know all that stuff already (and besides, I’m too nervous to write much… I always get this way before a launch) so I’ll just give the usual message:

GODSPEED ATLANTIS.

Great Crumbling Martian Columns..!

When I was a kid I watched CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and obviously I was blown away by the special effects – those zippy little UFOs whizzing around, the lights and, of course, the arrival of the Mothership above that bizarre, CGI mountain…

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Imagine my surprise a afterwards when I learned that the mountian wasn’t a special effect, it was a real place, in Wyoming! Devil’s Tower really was a tower!

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It turned out that Devil’s Tower was actually a much, MUCH bigger version of a tourist attraction on the coast of Ireland – the “Giant’s Causeway”…

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What strange geological process lies behind these amazing places? Well, apparrently it’s what happens when a thick, deep flow of basaltic lava sets, then contracts into hexagonal-shaped columns. If you go to the Giant’s Causeway you can actually walk over the columns, climbing up and down them to your heart’s content…

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What’s this got to do with Mars? Well, it turns out that Mars has these features too! A fellow member of UMSF (and fellow HiRISE sleuthing fan!) “OWW” pointed out that MRO had spotted “Columnar Jointing in Wall of Impact Crater (ESP_012451_1505)“. Of course, I clicked on the image and found this…

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Yep! That’s the same thing alright! What would that look like in colour? Maybe something like this (click for full size image)…

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Pretty impressive! But what would you see if you were actually standing ON Mars? I think the view would be something like this…

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Now, if you were an astronaut or colonist in the future, would you be able to resist jumping from pillar to pillar..?

Mars. What a planet!