Using Chicago skyscrapers as inspirations for spaceships

“Jupiter Ascending” may not be very good but some of the spaceships are based on Chicago architecture:

When Hull came to Chicago, the Wachowskis began peppering him with reference photographs of Chicago buildings, facades, landmarks, ornamental detail and infrastructure. “Of all the directors I have worked with, they are by far the most architecture-minded,” he said. “They wanted a very decorative vision for the ships, almost Louis XIV-like in places, existing alongside this other aesthetic, far more gothic and less feminine.”

Indeed, the Wachowskis, who started a small construction company and worked as carpenters before becoming filmmakers, wanted the two warring ships at the center of “Jupiter Ascending” to somewhat reflect Chicago itself. “I like how the great curling femininity of the Frank Gehry (Pritzker Pavilion) is juxtaposed against the weight of those harsh, more severe buildings on Michigan Avenue,” Lana said. “I liked that tension in Chicago, that something as elegant as a big river can curl through so many grandiose statements. When we were looking at the design of the ships, we kept exploring this, placing almost baroque, exuberant levels of detail on one end, while on the other, contrasting a rigorous, rational logic.”…

“But also I really love the top of the Carbide & Carbon Building (on Michigan Avenue),” Lana said. So its lighthouse peak informs the back of Titus’ ship, while the front is, well, a play on the flying buttresses that shape the top of the Tribune Tower. “But I often wasn’t flamboyant enough for the Wachowskis,” Hull said. So the gold-green design along the facade of the Carbide building is mirrored on the outside of the ship. And inside: The ceiling of the ship’s loading dock is reminiscent of the dense mosaics in the Chicago Cultural Center ceilings; the long, vaulted chapel is vaguely similar to the reading room of the Newberry Library. “Which was a sanctuary for me as a kid,” Lana said, “where I went when I cut school.”

Balem, played by Eddie Redmayne, is the imperialist, the severe, ominous bully. His ship, therefore, is gothic, less curvaceous than Titus’ ride. The front end, its T-shaped bow, has some inspiration in the terra-cotta faces that watch from the facade of the old Tree Studios building on Ontario Street. And there are hints of the former Midway Gardens entertainment venue in Hyde Park, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (torn down in 1929). “His ship is more of a towering, hard-looking, Albert Speer-ish brutalism,” Hull said, “but it would be too on the nose for his designs to just reflect that, to not suggest Balem wouldn’t want some ornamental embellishment to his world.” So, his boardroom has touches of the latticework beneath the Loop “L” tracks.

An interesting source of inspiration for objects – spaceships – that we might typically think are otherwordly or something completely different. Additionally, buildings are pretty static, even if they are involved in dynamic social settings, while spaceships have incredible mobility. But, as noted in this earlier post about The Hunger Games, it is difficult to make something completely new. Human creativity rarely involves completely innovative ideas that have never been expressed before but rather often involves taking existing forms and objects and doing new things with the mix. So, in trying to imagine the future, why not draw some on the past while also adding potential changes?

This is also a reminder that Chicago architecture is influential. If we do get to an age of large spacecraft, would Chicago still be a major inspiration? Could we have competing fleets based on different global cities?

A world where people can travel between any two cities in two hours

Basic modes of transportation have not changed much in the last half-century. Sure, planes are bigger, cars are more fuel efficient and have more features/gadgets, and trains can go faster. But harnessing space travel could make it possible to move between any two cities in the world in two hours:

Michiel Mol, 42, a Dutchman who co-owns the Force India Formula One team and made his fortune in computer software, said over the weekend, “Being able to travel from London to Sydney in an hour and 45 minutes, that is the future. It is also the reason why KLM joined our firm [Space Expedition Curacao, or SXC] as a partner.”…

Mol intends to follow [Sir Richard Branson] in early 2014 and says he has already sold 35 tickets at $93,000 for flights from the Caribbean island of Curacao. Regulatory approval is still under negotiation…
Passengers, who will be entitled to call themselves astronauts if they reach an altitude of 62 miles (100km), will be required to pass physical tests which he says are no more stringent than would be expected of an air steward. The first generation spaceship will travel at 2,200mph (3,540kph), but the second generation will need to reach a velocity of 13,750mph (22,100kph) to achieve the desired orbit…
“Flying from London to Barcelona would still take an hour or so while London to Tokyo would be about one hour and 30 minutes and London to Sydney, one hour and 45 minutes. “

This sounds like something different than just space tourism where wealthy people take off, float weightless for a short while, snap some pictures of the earth while in a quick orbit, and then descend. This could be the basis for a new transportation system that makes traveling from New York to China just like a drive from Chicago to Milwaukee. It would take some time to set up a viable system, to put the infrastructure together, but this would be a big step forward from the Dreamliner and high-speed rail.

Is this the physical answer to the “instant” connectedness of the Internet? Currently, it still takes a decent amount of time to travel between major cities but it is still valuable for business, politics, and deeper relationships.

Beyond space commuting, what could be quicker? A mass-produced flying car? Teleporting?

Debunking the Transformers 3 movie trailer

While recently in the theater to watch True Grit (perhaps to be reviewed later though I am not well versed in either Westerns or Coen Brother’s films), I saw the new trailer for Transformers 3. The trailer takes some liberties with an important moment of history and is debunked by ESPN’s TMQ:

Philip Torbett of Knoxville, Tenn., writes, “In the just-released trailer for the third Transformers movie, the premise is that the Apollo missions were a cover to explore a downed alien spacecraft. When the moon spins and the Apollo landing area is no longer facing Earth, the astronauts climb a ridge and explore the massive alien craft which is mere feet away from the Lunar Module. When the moon spins back, the astronauts quickly return to the lander and pretend to be collecting rocks. But the moon revolves such that we always see the same side. This makes the opening premise of the movie impossible, because any alien craft that landed in the Sea of Tranquility would have been continuously observable from Earth with a decent telescope.”

TMQ’s rule of sci-fi is that I will accept the premise — enormous instantly transforming living organisms made of metal that require no fuel or other energy and can fly without lift or propulsion, hey, why not? — so long as action makes sense within the premise, while laws of physics are observed. The moon is turning on its axis, but the same side always faces Earth. If the moon did not turn on its axis, as it revolved around the Earth, we’d see the dark side just as often as the familiar light side. The moon is “tidally locked” with Earth — its gravity creates tides in the oceans, while Earth’s gravity locks the light side of the moon facing us. That the moon is tidally locked — rotating on its axis, but the same side always facing Earth — is the reason we see the same surface features whenever we look up at the moon but never see the dark side.

The entire time the Apollo landers were on the moon, they were visible from Earth. Hollywood assumes that with science literacy being what it is, most moviegoers won’t know this. Did the scriptwriters know it?

A good question. When I first saw the trailer, I was torn between thinking it was absurd (quite the hulking alien spacecraft) and thinking it was clever (by being tied to an iconic moment in history).

Pointing out the issues with this backstory leads to a larger question: should we be willing to overlook historical or scientific impossibilities for the sake of having an entertaining movie trailer or film? Should a movie like The Social Network be truthful or be entertaining? I tend to dislike such changes though they can be done better in some movies than others.

We could also ask about how many viewers of the Transformers trailer or film would even think about this issue of the moon rotating.