Interview: Andre Borschberg of “Planet Power” and Solar Impulse
Posted on March 29, 2018 at 2:54 pm
“Planet Power,” is a stunning documentary about the round-the-world flight of the Solar Impulse, the first-ever plane completely powered by sunlight to circle the globe. It is now in IMAX theaters across the country. It was developed and piloted by two Frenchmen, Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard.
What did you learn about the world by flying over it that way that you didn’t know before?
Lots of things! But first of all it’s an incredible experience when you look about the airplane and you see the sun and you see the sun rays and then you start thinking that these rays and this radiation is sufficient to make the airplane fly, to climb and fly through the night. It’s absolutely incredible. Normally you always have an eye on the fuel gauge and then you know you only have a few minutes to go and then you have to land. So to think that you have an indefinite unlimited endurance, it’s a totally different world. Of course the entire project was incredible in the sense that we were told by the aviation industry that to build such an airplane was not possible. We were convinced on our side that there was a solution so we decided to do it ourselves. These fifteen years were a sequence of hurdles, of success, of difficulties and all this done with a fantastic team; so it’s a life experience.
I imagine that it was very quiet there because you didn’t have the humming of the engines. Is that right?
It is. If you have a chance to fly in an electric airplane, you will see how quiet it is because you don’t hear much, there’s no vibration. It’s like being in a glider which suddenly can climb like a normal plane. And in this plane I was alone. We will have a two-seater flying this summer in Switzerland and my goal is really to take lots of people in this airplane just to see the difference. The experience is something else.
One of the things that really captured my attention in the movie was that while a passenger plane can tip to a degree of 30 degrees this plane because of the size of its wings was much more limited. Did that make it difficult to maneuver?
What was tricky was the sensitivity of the airplane towards turbulence and this is why we also always try to take off very early and land late at night so we’re away from the turbulences created by the sun during the day. So that is certainly one characteristic of the airplane. On the other side, as I said, we have this freedom to be away from the clock and having the possibility if necessary to be one more day in the air when I flew across the Pacific from Japan to Hawaii, we thought it would take 5 days than have taken 6; I would say even so much the better because of the incredible experience but to have this feeling of no limit on the energy, of course, it’s a major plus.
The movie explains that you come from a family with a history of innovation. What did they do to influence you to become an innovator yourself?
When I was a really young kid I was taken by the books I read about the aviation pioneers, about what they did, about their lives, about the way they went about trying, exploring, building something that nobody did and then flying without having been coached by a flight instructor on how to do that. For me this created a strong dream and appeal in fact to be part of this world as well; so when I met in fact Bertrand a few years later, it was like getting into this world I’ve been dreaming about when I was a young boy.
Tell me a little bit about more about the partnership with Mr. Piccard, what is it that each of you contribute to that partnership?
Bertrand and I basically had different educations; we have different backgrounds and skills and at the end we were extremely complementary as a partnership through these differences. It’s one plus one equals three; one for each and one when we’re together. In that sense we are truly different but we understood that this difference was a source of creativity so very early we gave up basically the tendency to argue and to try to defend own ideas and we were more interested when we were not having basically the same understanding of a situation. I think we were always interested to understand what the other was thinking, knowing that at the end the solutions would be neither his solution nor mine. So regularly once every two weeks, once every month we would sit down and expose our feelings to the other one to try to find a common ground. We had a clear understanding that it’s only by sticking together that we could have a chance to succeed.
What of the innovations in the plane do you think will be most useful to consumers?
I think very simply electric propulsion. It is not just that solar energy is renewable. It is also much more efficient than a combustion engine. If you take your car, two liters or two gallons out of three that you put in the tank are lost for heat so it’s a totally inefficient technology. With electric propulsion we’ve changed the world of aviation for a lot of reasons but it will make aviation quieter, cleaner, safer and more affordable and you can use it not only for propulsion but also to stabilize the airplane. There are few moving parts, it’s only software, it’s only electronics, which are (things we know how to produce very cheaply and very safe today, so you can start imagining that you will have new ways to transport people, for example from one side of Los Angeles to the other side. There are many projects aiming in fact to provide this added value that will all use electric propulsion. I didn’t want basically to do a commercial project after flying around the world but I couldn’t resist to continue and develop this technology because I think it will be a game changer.
Kristen Lopez on Movie Theater Accessibility for Rogerebert.com
Posted on March 29, 2018 at 9:27 am
Bravo to Kristen Lopez for her outstanding piece on rogerebert.com about the accessibility — or inaccessibility — of movie theaters for people with disabilities.
A movie theater should be a peaceful, relaxing place, and I’m sure it is for most in light of reserved seating. Movie theaters have gussied the concept up as the perfect way for all audiences to get the best seat in the house. But movie fans with wheelchairs or other limited mobility don’t get the best seat—they get the only seat. Theaters are mandated to make approximately 10% of the theater seats accessible, so obtaining the two to four wheelchair spaces in my theater can be like a terrible game of musical chairs. The outdated, ableist thinking is wheelchair users bring their own seat, like a lawn chair you plant on a soccer field. It gives them access, but how is this effective with such a small field to play on? Wheelchair users are often stuck sitting in the front rows, on flat ground with no elevation to keep a clear view. The changeover to wider, recliner-style chairs has actually decreased the number of handicap seats, and many of these new chairs come with oversized footrests or outward facing tray tables that prevent wheelchair users from transferring into them to begin with. The same Cinemark I was in has one presumably handicap seat that requires a wheelchair user to climb over the armrest to transfer into. All so you can find a place to set down your popcorn.
This is especially meaningful because Roger Ebert himself used a wheelchair for the last years of his life, and well understood the barriers — physical, logistical, and ignorant — that keep people out of movies, the very art form he called “an empathy machine.”
Rotten Tomatoes: How Digital Media is Changing Movie Criticism
Posted on March 29, 2018 at 8:41 am
Rotten Tomatoes has a fascinating and very insightful essay about online movie critics. Citing the 1990 essay by Richard Corliss decrying the devolution of movie critics due to television, Rosemarie Alejandrino, the inaugural USC Annenberg-Rotten Tomatoes Digital Innovation and Entertainment Criticism fellow, describes the scope of online critics and their connection to their audiences.
Across multimedia platforms — particularly online video and podcasts — a new class of critics has arisen, made up of people who view the world of film and entertainment criticism through a digital lens. Some don’t consider themselves critics at all. This new breed of content creators isn’t looking to compete with traditional print critics; in fact, they exist side-by-side in the same cinesphere, often using written reviews as a jumping off point for their discussions.
Where these video and audio critics are taking us represents an exciting chapter in the evolving narrative of film criticism. The ability to pause and zoom allows a crafty YouTuber to dive into a scene’s shot construction in minute detail. Access to streaming services lets a critic watch a movie over and over as to not miss a detail while dissecting the plot for easter eggs and hidden gems. The rise in podcasts and longform audio platforms connects the critic to the listener in an intimate setting, as if you’re listening in on a conversation between friends who love (or hate) a film as much as you do.
The key culture-shifting component of new media film criticism is the critics’ relationship with their audience.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language
Brief strong language, one f-word
Extended sci-fi/fantasy peril and violence, real and virtual weapons, chases, and explosions, arson, characters injured and killed
Date Released to Theaters:
March 30, 2018
Date Released to DVD:
July 23, 2018
You know that one perfect high note in the A-Ha song, “Take on Me?” The goosebumpy bliss of it? “Ready Player One,” with endless callbacks to the era of A-Ha, is that note as a movie, set in the future, in love with the past, and uncannily right of this exact moment. There could be no better director than Steven Spielberg to take on this movie about a virtual game filled with the cultural touchstones of the 1980’s, a decade he helped define for the generation who will now be taking their children to this film and re-entering their own childhoods. We are all Marty McFly, now, going back to the future in a Delorean.
Spielberg is as good as anyone has ever been at the craft of cinematic storytelling, and there has never been a story more suited to that craft than this one, based on the book by first-time author Ernest Cline, who co-scripted and co-produced, and who admits that his world view was in large part formed by the Spielberg movies he watched as a kid in the 1980’s. There is a lot of nostalgia in the film, but also themes that could have come from today’s news: the role of technology as a distraction and as an invasion of privacy and underminer of democracy and the idea of teenagers saving the world.
It is Columbus, Ohio, 2045, when “people have stopped trying to fix problems and are just trying to outlive them.” The world is a bleak and broken place and most people spend most of their time escaping reality via a massive, enthralling online world called The Oasis, invented by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) a shy, obsessive genius who is a combination of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Walt Disney, and Willy Wonka. “They come for all the things they can do,” we hear, “but stay for all the things they can be.” Players can design their own avatar personas any way they want — with antlers or wings, beautiful or ugly, super-powerful, purple, any age, gender, or species.
Five years before this story begins, Halliday died, leaving his half-trillion dollar empire and sole control of The Oasis to whomever was the first to discover the “Easter egg”* hidden in the game, which required agility, puzzle-solving, and a comprehensive knowledge of Halliday’s life and the popular culture he immersed himself in as a child in the 1980’s.
In five years, no one has even found the first of the three keys that lead to the egg. Many people have given up. Those still seeking it are called “gunters” (egg hunters). Wade Watts (“Mud’s” Tye Sheridan) is a teenage orphan living with his aunt and her latest in a series of abusive boyfriends in what is essentially a vertical trailer park called The Stacks. The film’s opening scene is brilliantly designed, as the camera pans down a dingy, jerrybuilt column of shabby capsules, showing each occupant caught up in a different virtual reality scenario, from boxing to pole dancing, with just one woman growing real-life flowers, the only person who even notices that Wade is there.
Wade signs into The Oasis, using haptic** gloves and a virtual reality eyepiece, for yet another try at crossing a virtual version of a Manhattan bridge guarded by King Kong. His avatar is Parzival***, who drives a Delorean, and he has an online friend, an enormous, mechanically-gifted man named Aech (I won’t reveal the voice performer to avoid spoilers). And he is intrigued by a female avatar named Art3mis (again, no spoilers) who rides the red motorcycle from the Akira video game. While Parzival and Art3mis both insist they will not “clan up” (team up with other players, they end up forming an alliance that includes two other avatars, Sho and Daito.
The Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is head of the rival online company, Innovative Online Industries, and he wants to be the one to find the egg so he can make a lot of money selling ads (he has determined the exact number of ads that can bombard users “before inducing seizures,” he crisply informs his staff) and charging for access. IOI has hundreds of researchers and gamers trying to find the egg. And it operates “Loyalty Centers,” essentially debtors prisons, where those who owe the company money have to work it off under brutal and impossibly Sissiphusian conditions.
Wade has to locate three keys and solve clues involving not just logic and intense research but empathy, clues that turn out to be wisely selected by Halliday, Willie Wonka-style, to find the right person to take over the Oasis. Spielberg himself has to locate three keys as a filmmaker and does so with as much grace, heart, and integrity as Wade, his own avatar through the story. The copper key is the game level, the action scenes and the next-level special effects, including the chase across the Manhattan bridge and a stunning set piece inside the Stanley Kubrick movie, The Shining, repurposed here with bravura wit and skill. The jade key is the nostalgia, with dozens, perhaps hundreds of 80’s references, from the iconic and enduring to the obscure and forgotten. It is not, as is too often the case, shortcuts to play into the audience’s emotions, but deployed, again, with consummate wit and skill as commentary, as surprise, and as a reminder of our connections to the pop culture that first excited and engaged us. And the crystal key, well, it has been said often that the theme of all Spielberg movies is finding your way home. Wade is a 21st century Dorothy in Oz or Alice in Wonderland — or David in “WarGames,” exploring a land of infinite magic and wonder — and danger — but learning that there’s no place like home.
*The use of the term “Easter egg” to describe secret features originates from the 1979 video game Adventure for the Atari 2600 game console, programmed by employee Warren Robinett.
**They make it possible for the wearer to “feel” or “touch” virtual characters and objects.
***Named for one of King Arthur’s knights, who devoted his life to the search for the Holy Grail.
Parents should know that this film includes extended real world and virtual peril and violence including chases, explosions, weapons, murder, brief crude humor, some sexual references, brief strong language
Family discussion: What would your avatar be in the Oasis and why? Why would people stop trying to fix problems? What would Sorrento do with the Oasis and how would users respond?
If you like this, try: The book by Ernest Cline and movies that this one refers to, including “The Shining,” “The Iron Giant,” and “Back to the Future”