Die Beste Aller Zeiten

Going direct to heaven, going direct the other way

Month: May 2008

Why bother, indeed

For those who read german, Jakob has written a brilliant review of the Indiana Jones movie, which covers all the points I would have had to mention hadn’t I preferred to reminisce about the olden days. If you’re less interested in soppy stories about my personal life and more in finding out how critical theory pertains to Indiana Jones you should read this.

    Indiana Jones and the massive Spoiler alert.

    That was not the actual title, I just thought I’d better put a warning up in front. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” premiered on wednesday in Berlin. I was going to write a lengthy review, but why bother – if you want to see an enjoyable performance by Harrison Ford and assorted cast then go see the movie, if you feel that you cannot tolerate a plot that is stupid even by the expansive standards of the Indiana Jones Franchise then by all means avoid it. Still, to ask if the fourth Indie movie could possibly be as fresh and original as “Raiders of the lost Ark” misses the point as far as I am concerned.

    Back then in the 1980s I became a fan of Indiana Jones because – well, actually I didn’t; until wednesday I’d never seen an Indiana Jones movie at the cinema. I caught up with the movies in their endless cycle of reruns on television, picking up the first bit here and the last bit there, and everything in between on several other occasions, and it wasn’t until the 90s that Indie became a permanent fixture in my life. So when I finally went to see him on the big screen it was a bit of a family reunion. Indiana and I had aged together, and if the old man could still pull up stunts in yet another sequel then, by extension, so can I. I’m happy to say Uncle Jones did alright.

    So, here’s a list of things that sucked and rocked in the movie:

    Sucked

    • incoherent plot
    • indians, mayans and general other cultures are just decoration instead of, well, cultures
    • to much Däniken-esk alien-crap in the storyline

    Rocked

    • Fights, flights and lots of action
    • Cate Blanchett as communist she-thug
    • Karen Allen. Seriously.

    Stephanie Zacharek, movie critic at salon.com writes about Allen that “her performance is like joy let out of a box”. That’s true and the joy is all mine. Call it an early midlife crises, but as I get older the idea of homecoming is just as welcome as embarking for an adventure, and what better to come home to than a friendly face. Karen Allen is so radiant in this movie that for a moment I forgot she was only acting, and if that’s not a compliment for an actress then I don’t know what is.

    Also running

    • a remarkably unobtrusive Shia LaBeouf as Henry Jones III
    • Nuclear Explosions, man-eating ants, russian villians and other speedbumpers for our favourite archeologist. Oddly enough the russians look far more anachronistic than the Nazis in the previous movies.

    Of course “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is reactionary tripe – a reconstituted Jones family fights evil communists who have undermined the USA to an extent where they can drive in platoon strength right into a military base (so the Mccarthyists at the start of the movie probably weren’t paranoid after all). But Indie movies have always been also a vacation from reason, and political correctness because, while we all know that the world is a complex and difficult place we sometimes wish it wasn’t.

      The machine that will not destroy earth

      Philip Plait of badastronomy.com has a couple of posts about the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider (there’s also a podcast and here’s a link to a video about the LHC). The LHC is run by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (which is abbreviated CERN for historical reasons; CERN is short for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire ) is the worlds largest particle accelerator and quite possibly the largest science experiment ever (you can find the LHC Homepage here).

      The LHC is a ring with a circumference of 27 kilometres; it produces two beams of high enery protons that smash into one another. A number of instruments monitor the collision event and analyze the makeup of the resulting debris as the protons break up into smaller particles. The LHC looks for particles that have been predicted by theory (especially for a particle called the Higgs Boson) but have not been observed yet since smaller particle accelerators cannot mobilize enough energy to create the conditions necessary for those particles to exist (edit: I realize that this badly phrased. Make that “exist under observable conditions”).

      The LHC is a much more powerful instrument; in fact it uses so much energy that some people think it will destroy the earth by creating a small black hole that will devour the planet. This is rather unlikely for two reasons.

      Contrary to Hollywood lore a black hole is not necessarily some kind of all-devouring cosmic vacuum cleaner; how much damage it can actually do depends on it’s mass. A black hole that is created by the collision of some highly accelerated particles will have about the mass of, well, some higly accelerated particles which is not very much. Even if such a mini black hole would be stable – more likely it would evaporate due to the so called Hawking radiation – I guess it would be too small to interact much with the much more massive planet around it (being a singularity the black hole actually has no size; when somebody talks about the size of a black hole he means the size of it’s event horizon). However that’s just my laymens opinion and the possibility seemed real enough for CERN to study the possible danger – which brings us to the second, rather better reason to dismiss the idea that we are doomed due to the LHC: The people who came up with the theories on how and why black holes form are more or less the same people who tell us that it won’t happen in the LHC. I don’t see why anybody should believe them in the first case but not the second.

      If there is no threat then why should we (as in “we laypersons”) care about the thing? Um, that’s a bit hard for me to explain; I read enough books  to give the impression that I know something about the matter (unless I accidently talk to an astronomer in which case I give the impresson of being a total twit), but I do not actually understand the stuff. Still…

      There a a number of things that seem rather fundamental but cannot, at the moment, be explained very well – like, why is gravity so weak when compared to the other fundamental forces, or why do have some particles have mass in the first place. There are some hypotheses to answer these questions and they propose the exististance of certain particles (like the aforementioned Higgs boson). If the LHC produces these particles it promotes these hypotheses to theories and yet another gap will be closed in our understanding of the universe – well, not my understanding obviously, but on behalf of the laymans part of mankind I’m still proud that somebody gets it. If my choices are to go through life like through some kind of video game (you know, “the story sucks but the graphics are incredible”) or to at least try and make some sense from the world around me, and be it by beating the hell out of some innocent protons– well, you read this blog. I think you can guess how I feel about this.

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