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Wanderers…

Every few years a space exploration-related film comes along which actually *gets* it. It gets the beauty and drama of space exploration. It gets the beauty of what’s “out there”. It gets it Right. Every few years a film comes along which, with its breathtaking images and optimistic message has the power to excite and inspire a generation, and leaves even the most hardened space cynic picking their jaw off the floor.

Ok. Hands up who thought I was talking about “Interstellar” there… ?

No, I wasn’t. I know that’s the movie of the moment, and huge amounts of bandwidth has been eaten up with glowing reviews, praising to the sky its accurate science and its deep message and meaning. Review after review claims that it will be as inspirational as 2001 was when it was released. So I imagine you were thinking it was Interstellar I was talking about.

No, it wasn’t. I was talking about a film called “Wanderers”, posted yesterday without any fanfare on the Vimeo video sharing site.

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Within hours this amateur film – just three and a half minutes long – was going viral in the space community. Tweets, blog posts and Facebook status updates singing its praises were soon sweeping around the globe like a tsunami. It was touching people in a startling way. All this was happening while I was, to use a quaint old phrase, “away from keyboard”, so I wasn’t aware of the buzz; when I got home and checked my email I was alerted to it by my great friend Bev, who lives in Australia, and then it was my jaw’s turn to hit the floor.

If you haven’t seen it, “Wanderers”, created by Erik Wernquist, is something very special, trust me. It manages to cram more breathtaking visuals, more story, more spectacle and wonder into its three and a half minutes than the bloated “Interstellar” did in its three ass-numbing hours. I know it’s unfashionable – maybe some might even see it as disloyal for a space enthusiast like myself – to not write gushingly and reverentially about the latest Nolan epic, but I have to be honest, I was crushingly disappointed by it. I had looked forward to seeing it ever since that first enigmatic “teaser trailer” appeared on YouTube, because it promised so much, looked so beautiful, seemed to be The Film We Had All Been Waiting For. But as the credits rolled at the end I sat there deflated. Oh yes, as everyone is saying, the hard science is fantastic, accurate and very well done, so no wonder astronomers and physicists, who have had to suffer years of excruciatingly bad science in films, are raving about it. And there are some masterful scenes – at the start, for example, when a disgusted Coup is sat in the school office, being told by a teacher how the Moon landings were faked, and every scene featuring one of the cubist, walking Monolith robots is stolen by them. But it is a cold, heartless film, not uplifting in any way, which will stop it being inspiring for much of its mainstream audience. After watching it I didn’t want to go into space, and conquer new worlds, I just wanted to phone the Samaritans. Or my mum.

Worst of all, “Interstellar” spends the first 3/4 of its running time crawling along a nice straight scientific road, being painstakingly accurate and earnest, and true to science and scientists, but then it suddenly guns its engine, screeches around a corner and heads down a side road marked “New Age Hippy Crystal-hugging Bullshit” and goes all trippy on its audience, whining on about love, and gravity, and throwing in a time travel paradox like something out of an old – and bad – episode of Doctor Who. When it did that I just sagged and actually let out an “Oh no…” sigh in the cinema which I’m sure they heard in the back row. So disappointing. And as I said, I know it’s trendy – if not expected – for space bloggers and writers to just trot out an “I loved it!” “It was magnificent!” review, but I can’t do that. It was a good film yes, with some great effects and some fantastic scenes scattered through it, and I’m sure that for people who “get” the physics of black holes and time dilation and relativity it was as thrilling as a One Direction concert for a twelve year old girl, but it was waaaay too long, the dialogue was corny and often drowned by the music (some claim that was intentional, if that’s true, well, whatever…), and the ending was pants. Not many people are saying that, so either I’m completely wrong or others just aren’t being honest with themselves or their readers. You go see it and judge for yourself.

In stark contrast, “Wanderers” is a three and a half minutes of utter beauty and inspiration. It shows, in a series of short scenes, humans “wandering” some of the worlds of the solar system, and every scene is heart-stoppingly beautiful. It depicts a bright  (far) future where Mankind has spread out from Earth, and now flies dirigibles across the surface of Mars…

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(look! Victoria Crater! Squeeeeee!!!!)

… flies through the rings of Saturn…

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..and even strides across the icy plains of Europa…

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Other beautiful scenes show people jumping off the towering ice cliffs of Miranda, flying like birds through the skies of Titan, and more. One of my favourite scenes has to be the one showing colonies on Saturn’s moon Iapetus, lush and fragile green domes perched along the crest of the bizarre mountain range which forms its equator…

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Oh come on… look at that… isn’t that just glorious?

“Wanderers” isn’t just accurate and inspirational, it’s obviously a true labour of love. There are so many exquisite little touches in it which bring it to life and make it seem more real than any big budget Hollywood sci fi epic could ever hope to be. Look at this…

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See inside that crater, bottom right? The colonists have carved the “Ying & Yang” symbol into the rock. Space enthusiasts will “get” that reference in a heartbeat – it’s a tribute to that moon having a light and a dark side. You would never, EVER see that in a Hollywood film, it would never occur to a big budget producer to include a human message like that. That’s what sets “Wanderers” aside.

Oh, and did I mention its narration is a voice over from Carl Sagan?

If you’ve seen the film already, I imagine it’s left a lasting impression on you too. If you haven’t, well, go watch it now. This link will take you right to it…

WANDERERS

Seriously, I don’t know what more I can say. It’s just three minutes of wonder and beauty that is more inspiring than anything I’ve seen in a long, long time. I don’t want to see “Interstellar” again, I’m really not that bothered. But I want to watch “Wanderers” again right now after writing this post, so I think I will.

Thank you, Erik Wernquist, for giving us back our sense of wonder.

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3 Responses

  1. No, you are not alone: I am also bewildered by the glowing reviews of Interstellar by fellow astronomy buffs – and cannot be but reminded quite a bit of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” here: everyone said it had to be good, so it had to be … (That said I actually enjoyed the crazy Twilight-Zone-ish final 30 minutes or so, in contrast to the poorly told 2+ preceding hours.) And Wanderers is so much better indeed, esp. one brief cliff-jumping-on-Miranda scene: this brought back fond memories of friends and myself pondering this future extreme sport … in 1986.

  2. Thank you Stuart, Wanderers is absolutely brilliant. Its inspired me to read AC Clarks “Imperial Earth” again.

    Cheers, Clive.

  3. Yes, it’s wonderful. Oscar-worthy! (if there are Oscars for Vimeo…)

    One quibble. People often describe the slope of Verona Rupes on Miranda as if it’s a vertical cliff, but it isn’t, it is a talus slope at the angle of repose, 40 degrees or so. It looks vertical in the iconic Voyager 2 image because… it’s vertical in the image (parallel with the image edge) – but if you figure out where the shaded limb is, just beyond the terminator, it’s nowhere near the local vertical. So I think those folks jumping off it would be body-surfing down the talus slope, not falling down into empty space.

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