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Crunching Numbers, “Hidden Figures”

Hidden Figures!

In the 1960s, the Academy Awards were a very different experience down in the “Colored Audience” section of the Kodak Theatre.

Remember yesteryear when the media and movie fans complained that the Academy Awards nominees were distressingly monochromatic? What a difference a year makes, when studios choose to give leeway to filmmakers willing to bring something different to the table. Of course it helps when the “different” films are also really good films. Hidden Figures isn’t the only Best Picture nominee to figure that last part out, and I’m betting it won’t be the last.

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Starbase Indy Photos, Part 3 of 3: Costumes! (and other objects in space)

Let’s face it: costumes are the real reason to attend a sci-fi convention. Celebrities are okay. Talented writers and artists are nice to meet if they’re not terrible people. Panels, Q&As, and fan club meetings are great opportunities for great minds to hang out together. There’s also something to be said for wandering the dealers’ room for new hobbyist purchases, whether new items you’ve never seen or vintage collectibles you could never afford. My wife and I even attended an interesting lecture on nineteenth-century forensics, which drew comparisons between the original Sherlock Holmes stories and later historical developments in the field.

When it comes to Internet recaps, though, costumes are the main attraction. They celebrate our favorite characters, they showcase the creativity and inspiration of dedicated fans, they enliven the dullest moments of any convention, and they help distract us from garish hotel carpeting.

Among the best of this year’s bunch: a pink samurai, hanging out for a moment here with one of Indianapolis’ own Naptown Roller Girls.

samurai, Starbase Indy 2012

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“Fight for Space” Documentary to Ask: Whatever Happened to the Final Frontier?

At the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, KS, this sign looms over you as you descend the steps into the main exhibit hall in their basement, where rests a comprehensive collection of rockets, spaceships, and aeronautical paraphernalia from various countries that share an active or tangential history with space travel. Man’s quest for space has been fraught with skepticism, debate, setbacks, and major disasters. “Difficulties” is an understatement.

That basement location is an apt metaphor for the state of American spaceflight today, compared to other agendas and priorities that garner larger headlines and weigh on us more heavily in the moment. What once seemed like a top-shelf objective for purposes of scientific research and frontier exploration is now a set of mostly forgotten toys boxed up and forgotten in some dark corner. A few weird kids still cherish them and try to make the most of them, but no one else is interested in watching them play or buying them better toys.

The Cosmosphere has one small section dedicated to the current state of space travel aspiration, including photos of several independent companies and programs (not just American) dedicated to continuing the work that NASA started but now seems too crippled to pursue alone. I had passing familiarity with Virgin Galactic and SpaceX before we visited the Cosmosphere on this year’s road trip, but I was surprised to see that several other would-be pioneers have tossed their hat into the ring to see what they can make happen.

I’m not surprised at my relative lack of awareness. I first learned about the 2010 mothballing of the Space Shuttle program from a 2009 exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum. I couldn’t believe that such a declaration of retreat hadn’t somehow caught my attention before. A tiny shuttle diorama had to break the news to me. When events and successes occur in or about space, they tend to be reported in the back section of your few remaining local newspapers (the same section containing “news” such as “College Study Shows Eating Causes Fat”), or in an easily overlooked article link buried among two dozen other such links in the “Stories with Ten Hits or Less” section of your favorite news site. If we’re not actively hunting for space news, our odds of keeping tabs on it by casual happenstance are nil.

Filmmaker Paul Hildebrandt is working on a new feature-length documentary called Fight for Space that aims to update us all on just what happened to the space race, where it is now, who does or doesn’t care, and why America’s support for it has all but withered away. Hildebrandt and his crew have already conducted numerous interviews with scientists and non-scientists alike, with plans and hopes to keep adding more diverse viewpoints to the mix that would push the movie even closer to fairness and balance.

To that end, Hildebrandt launched his Fight for Space Kickstarter campaign last week to fund his efforts beyond the initial investments. At their current rate of acceleration the project should be fully funded by Monday, so a desperate call to arms and wheedling for more money is hardly necessary. Regardless, pledges are still accepted, the reward packages are generous, and I’m curious to see if extra support would make the movie even snazzier.

The Kickstarter page has a short video with excerpts from some of the interviewees already in the can — the likes of Neil Degrasse Tyson, the inimitable Bill Nye the Science Guy, Star Trek: Voyager‘s Robert Picardo, and several studious-looking science guys that some of you probably know and love. (I wasn’t kidding about my ignorance.) The same page also informs us of PBS’ officially piqued interest; shows us a 2013 US government budget projection that would provide NASA with just enough lunch money for half its staff; and links to an hour-long speech from Tyson, who I’m told may be the coolest astrophysicist of all time.

I’m not sure I foresee the Fight for Space campaign becoming another Order of the Stick, but I look forward to seeing this movie, and I wouldn’t mind if they had the chance and the resources to make it even bigger and better. At the very least, maybe they can use the extra petty cash to buy NASA the largest Christmas turkey in the shopkeeper’s window.

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