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kottke.org posts about movies

A documentary on the 808 drum machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

808 is a feature-length documentary film on perhaps the most important musical instrument of the past 30 years, the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. The soundtrack includes songs by Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, and Jamie xx. The film will be available exclusively on Apple Music sometime in the next week but will likely be available elsewhere at some point after that.

See also a browser-based emulation of the 808.

We Work Remotely

A tribute to post-apocalyptic cinema

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2016

The World of Tomorrow is Bora Barroso’s tribute to some of the best post-apocalyptic movies, including Children of Men, 12 Monkeys, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Road. Wall-E wasn’t dark enough I guess?

The top 25 films of 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2016

I look forward to David Ehrlich’s video countdown of his favorite films of the year and 2016’s installment does not disappoint. Nice to see Beyonce’s Lemonade, the weirdo Swiss Army Man (which I loved, Daniel Radcliffe 4eva!), and the excellent OJ: Made in America on there. Still puzzled by Hail Caesar…I love the Coen brothers but was bored by this one. No Arrival though…this was the only movie I saw in the theater twice this year. For those looking for upcoming or recently released films to watch, Ehrlich includes Jackie, La La Land, and Scorsese’s Silence on his list.

Trailer for The Circle

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2016

The film adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle is moving right along. The movie stars Tom Hanks and Emma Watson (as well as John Boyega from The Force Awakens) and the first trailer was released yesterday. Looks Black Mirror-ish…I think we’ll be getting a lot of that over the next four years.

The evolution of Disney animation, from Snow White to Zootopia

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2016

This video quickly sums up almost 80 years of Disney animated movies, from Snow White and Pinocchio to Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. It’s astonishing how good the animation was in the early days and then got less so until fairly recently.

Every story is the same

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2016

A few years ago, Dan Harmon broke the structure of stories down into eight basic parts:

  1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
  2. But they want something.
  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
  4. Adapt to it,
  5. Get what they wanted,
  6. Pay a heavy price for it,
  7. Then return to their familiar situation,
  8. Having changed.

Calling himself a “corny screenwriting guru”, this is Harmon’s attempt to simplify Joseph Campbell’s concept of the monomyth, or hero’s journey.

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

In the video above, Will Schoder explains Harmon’s theory using a number of different stories (movies, books, TV shows, etc.) as examples, most notably the original Star Wars, which George Lucas created using Campbell’s ideas.

Silence, a new film by Martin Scorsese

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2016

It’s been three years since The Wolf of Wall Street and Martin Scorsese is finally coming out with a new film. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence is the story of a pair of Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the 17th century to find a third priest and to convert the Japanese to Christianity. Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, and Andrew Garfield star.

Two years ago, Tony Zhou made an episode of Every Frame a Painting called Martin Scorsese - The Art of Silence.

Since Scorsese has been working on making Silence for over 20 years, Zhou’s video must have been a little wink to the director’s true fans.

Actors’ movie accents, rated

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2016

Erik Singer is a dialect coach who works with actors to perfect different accents and dialects. In this video, he quickly analyzes the performances of 32 actors based on their use of accents. Pretty fascinating to watch. He singles out Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote as an exemplary use of the proper accent. High marks also go to Kate Winslet doing a Polish accent, Idris Elba’s South African accent while portraying Nelson Mandela (and his Bal’more accent in The Wire), and Cate Blanchett playing Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator.

Nicolas Cage in Con Air and Tom Cruise in Far and Away? Well, let’s just say they couldn’t pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd.

Update: Actress Sarah Jones takes a slightly different approach to speaking in different accents. Instead of aiming for a particular generalized dialect, she picks out a particular person to impersonate.

Let’s say you want to sound like a Trinidadian woman, as Ms. Jones does in her show. She recommends you watch YouTube clips of speakers at council meetings in Trinidad until you find the person you most want to sound like. If you can meet your subject in person, it will help make your goal much easier to reach.

“I ask them to speak something very slowly three times in a row and then I have them say it at normal speed the way they’d say it three times in a row,” she said. “I have them say it the way they’d say it in school as compared to how they’d say it to a friend.”

Be sure to play the embedded audio clips of Jones speaking as her different characters. And you can watch her in action in this TED Talk:

Beeeeeeeeeeeee Mooooooovie

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2016

This is the trailer for the animated film Bee Movie, except that the action and audio is slowed down every time someone says “bee”. That is a little bit clever.

Update: Monkeying with bits of video based on simple rules is a full-blown thing on YouTube right now. The Bee Movie seems to have started it off and there are now many variations on the theme: every “bee” is repeated by how many were said before it, every time they say bee it gets faster, the Seinfeld theme plays every time they say bee, and every time they say bee it does the whole trailer really fast. It’s spread to other media: here’s the video for All Star by Smash Mouth but it gets 15% faster every time he says “the” (which is a great illustration of exponential growth, like compound interest), the first Harry Potter movie but every time they say his name it gets faster, and so on. (via @waxpancake)

The ultimate Wes Anderson music playlist

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2016

Music is an essential aspect of Wes Anderson’s films. Michael Park has created a 9-hour playlist of music from Anderson’s movies, from Bottle Rocket (Artie Shaw & Chet Baker) to The Royal Tenenbaums (Elliott Smith & Nico) to Fantastic Mr. Fox (Burl Ives & The Rolling Stones) to The Grand Budapest Hotel (mostly by Alexandre Desplat).

Insights on animation from Brad Bird

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2016

With The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles under his belt, Brad Bird is one of the most respected and accomplished animated filmmakers out there. For this video, Kees van Dijkhuizen Jr. pieced together a number of interviews and commentary tracks of Bird talking about how he approaches animation. Among the topics he discusses are the pleasures of sneaking around, the advantages of slowing down, and an appreciation of keeping the lights low.

At one point, Bird talks about how some makers of animated movies create scenarios that are too fantastic and then are, later on in their films, unable to interject a true sense of danger into the plot.

The mistake that people often make with animated films is that they love the gravity-defying aspect of it. But, if you defy gravity and then later on need to feel danger, you have a really hard time convincing the audience.

Contemporary superhero movies, even the good ones, often have this problem, and I wonder if it’s because they are essentially made like animated films with too much of the gravity-defying aspect. With CG and flawless green screens, you can essentially make anything happen on the screen, which somewhat counterintuitively lowers the stakes of what you’re watching.

I thought Westworld was going to have the same problem. The first few episodes were boring because they were set in a world where no one could get injured or killed. Park visitors could roll up to a Western town with a few guns and kill all of the inhabitants without much effort and at no personal risk. There were no stakes and it totally broke the fourth wall. But from the way the last few episodes have gone, it’s apparent the danger will come (from elsewhere) and that having the audience (both of the HBO show and the park’s paying patrons) consider the fourth wall is part of the point.

Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2016

Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes is a documentary film by Jon Ronson about Kubrick’s personal archive of more than 1000 boxes filled with material (photos, news clippings, letters, research materials, etc.) related to his films. Ronson wrote about how he got access to the archive in a 2004 Guardian piece.

The journey to the Kubrick house starts normally. You drive through rural Hertfordshire, passing ordinary-sized postwar houses and opticians and vets. Then you turn right at an electric gate with a “Do Not Trespass” sign. Drive through that, and through some woods, and past a long, white fence with the paint peeling off, and then another electric gate, and then another electric gate, and then another electric gate, and you’re in the middle of an estate full of boxes.

There are boxes everywhere — shelves of boxes in the stable block, rooms full of boxes in the main house. In the fields, where racehorses once stood and grazed, are half a dozen portable cabins, each packed with boxes. These are the boxes that contain the legendary Kubrick archive.

Was the Times right? Would the stuff inside the boxes offer an understanding of his “tangled brain”? I notice that many of the boxes are sealed. Some have, in fact, remained unopened for decades.

Ronson did not upload his film to Vimeo, but he is “delighted” that it’s available online, so hopefully it won’t disappear soon.

The 21 best documentaries of the 21st century

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2016

The editors of GQ have selected their picks for The 21 Documentaries from the 21st Century Everyone Should See. Ones I’ve seen and recommend: The Fog of War, No Direction Home, The Two Escobars, Grizzly Man, Going Clear, Capturing the Friedmans, The Jinx, Citizenfour, and O.J.: Made in America. I would consider adding Zero Days and Making a Murderer to the list.

Incredible iguana/snake chase scene

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2016

The year’s best action sequence isn’t in a Marvel movie or prestige TV drama, it’s from the first episode of Planet Earth II, which aired in the UK over the weekend. In it, a group of snakes chase a small iguana, which seems at the outset to have a tiny chance of escape.

Good god, that was thrilling. We might have a new champion.

Update: I love Tony Zhou’s cut with the soundtrack from Mad Max: Fury Road (with temp music, he says). Be sure to watch to the end.

(via @philnicklin)

A dissection of Back to the Future, a film with a “nearly perfect screenplay”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2016

From Jack’s Movie Reviews, an examination of the first Back to the Future movie, its stellar screenplay, and the high level of storytelling achieved by the filmmakers. As H. Perry Horton says:

Too often the BTTF trilogy is dismissed as mere popcorn escapism, but in reality it’s one of the smartest franchises of the last half-century and deserves to be regarded with a more analytical eye.

Totally planning on watching it this weekend with the kids…I don’t think they’ve seen it yet.

Roger Deakins: Shadows in the Valley

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2016

A visual tribute to the gorgeous cinematography of Roger Deakins, one of the all-time great cinematographers. Deakins has worked on a number of films with the Coen brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, True Grit, No Country for Old Men) and a bunch of other films as well (Skyfall, Kundun, and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel).

Wes Anderson is doing another animated movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2016

In an interview with Alexander Olch, founder of the cool new Metrograph theater in NYC, Wes Anderson just casually reveals that he’s doing another stop-motion animated movie that’s currently in production.

I’ve got an animated movie I’m doing that’s happening across the room from me right now. So I can see a long list of e-mails from people on the set whom I now need to address.

We know from about a year ago that dogs are involved, as are Bryan Cranston, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton, and Jeff Goldblum. Looking forward to this one…Fantastic Mr. Fox is Anderson’s most underrated film.

P.S. In the same interview, Anderson and Olch briefly discuss Powers of Ten. :)

Donald Trump is modeling his life after Charles Foster Kane

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

Last year, back when he was only one of more than a dozen GOP candidates, I discovered Citizen Kane was one of Donald Trump’s favorite movies via a video filmed by Errol Morris.

Trump acquits himself pretty well on Kane and its lessons — although I would not characterize Kane’s fall as “modest” — and his commentary about the film is probably the first actually interesting thing I have ever heard him say. But I watched all the way to the end and he shoots himself in the foot in the most Trumpian & misogynistic way — it’s actually perfect.

Spurred by a recent re-watch of Citizen Kane, Anthony Audi digs deeper into Trump’s misunderstanding of the film and finds that the course of Trump’s life has followed that of Charles Foster Kane.

He understands instinctively that by controlling the press, he can shape opinions on a mass scale — bending the truth as he sees fit. Over time, and through his marketing savvy, he develops a powerful media empire. Because that’s not enough, he then turns his sights to politics, running for New York governor as a stepping-stone to the White House. At campaign rallies, Kane gleefully brags about his poll numbers, and vows to lock up his opponent Jim Gettys, whom he condemns as an establishment tool. “Here’s one promise I’ll make,” he finally thunders. “My first official act as governor of the state will be to appoint a special district attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution, and conviction of “Boss” Jim W. Gettys!”

Kane never gets to fulfill that pledge. Instead, he loses the election-his campaign derailed by a last minute sex scandal. His editors know what to do, and the following day their headlines scream: “FRAUD AT POLLS!”

The piece is entitled Donald Trump Modeled His Life on Cinematic Loser Charles Foster Kane. Consciously or not, Trump does seem to be following Kane’s playbook here, right down to the fascism.

Specifically, Citizen Kane was a vision of what fascism might resemble in America. Both men knew better than to expect Hitler or Mussolini on our shores. They knew that our demagogue would be glossier, more entertaining-more American; and the man they conjured, inspired by real-life plutocrats like William Randolph Hearst, happened to look an awful lot like Donald Trump.

Read the whole thing…this is right up there with the best explainers of why Trump is the way he is. And part 2 is coming soon, an interview with Morris about Trump’s love of Kane.

Update: Audi’s interview with Morris was posted a couple of weeks before the election. Morris says Trump suffers from Irony Deficit Disorder.

Somehow he identifies clearly with Kane. Kane is Trump. And it’s not the kind of identification that I would make if I were Trump. Of course that issue — if I were Trump, what would I do, what would I think, what would I say? — it’s one of those counterfactuals I’m probably not equipped to address. But, if I were Donald Trump, I would not want to emphasize that connection with Kane. You know, a megalomaniac in love with power and crushing everything in his path. The inability to have friends, the inability to find love. The moral that Trump takes from Kane — I mean, it’s one of the great lines that I recorded. I ask, “Do you have any advice for Charles Foster Kane, sir?” You know, let’s get down to the psychiatric intervention. How can we help this poor man? He’s obviously troubled. How can we help him? Donald, help me out here!

And Donald says, “My advice to Charles Foster Kane is find another woman!” And you know, I thought, is that really the message that Welles was trying to convey? That Kane had made poor sexual choices, poor marriage choices?

Kate McKinnon’s Ghostbusters outtake reel: A++++

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

I watched the new Ghostbusters last week and:

1. It was good…better than the trailers indicated it would be.

2. LOL to all the whiny man-babies who boycotted and trashed it because of the all-female main cast. If there was anything wrong with the film, it had nothing to do with the leads.

3. Kate McKinnon was flat-out amazing, a revelation. I could watch 20 more minutes of her outtakes.

4. “Not just Higgs!”

Into the Inferno, Werner Herzog’s latest volcanic documentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2016

Werner Herzog has directed a documentary film for Netflix on volcanoes.

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, Into the Inferno, heads just where its title suggests: into the red-hot magma-filled craters of some of the world’s most active and astonishing volcanoes-taking the filmmaker on one of the most extreme tours of his long career. From North Korea to Ethiopia to Iceland to the Vanuatu Archipelago, humans have created narratives to make sense of volcanoes; as stated by Herzog, “volcanoes could not care less what we are doing up here.” Into the Inferno teams Herzog with esteemed volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer to offer not only an in-depth exploration of volcanoes across the globe but also an examination of the belief systems that human beings have created around the fiery phenomena.

Into the Inferno debuts on Netflix on October 28.

The original Star Wars in 4K

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2016

A group of hardcore Star Wars fans are restoring the original 1977 theatrical release of the first Star Wars movie in ultra high-def 4K resolution. The video above is a trailer of sorts, but it also shows the restoration of a short scene…the increase in quality and resolution is impressive.

Simply put, we are restoring the original, theatrical version of Star Wars in 4K. Using multiple 35mm prints, scanned at 4K, cleaned at 4K, and rendered at full 4k UHD 4096x1716 resolution. To be clear, this is not simply an upscale of any other source, this is all to be done natively in 4K from 35mm sources. The only exception to this rule is when we don’t have a particular frame available, in that case either an upscale of the Silver Screen Edition, or the official Bluray will be used.

The Spielberg Face

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2016

If you watch any of Steven Spielberg’s movies, you’ll notice a distinctive element: the Spielberg Face.

If Spielberg deserves to be called a master of audience manipulation, then this is his signature stroke.

You see the onscreen character watching along with you in wonder, awe, apprehension, fear, sadness. It’s the director’s way of hitting pause, to show the audience this is a critical scene, to reinforce how the audience should be feeling in that moment.

A classic film noir trailer for Blade Runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

Blade Runner was made by Ridley Scott partly as an homage to classic film noir movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Woman in the Window. This trailer turns the noir factor up to 11; aside from a shot or two here and there, it portrays a film that could have been made in the 40s. (via one perfect shot)

The Central Park Five

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2016

In the late 1980s, five black and Latino teenagers were wrongly convicted of raping a woman jogging in Central Park. The Central Park Five is a documentary film directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon which tells the story from the perspective of the those five teens. I’ve seen the film, it’s excellent, and it’s currently available to watch for free on the PBS website.

The five men and this terrific miscarriage of justice are back in the news because of Donald Trump. In 1989, just a few weeks after the attack in Central Park, Trump took out a full-page ad in the Daily News denouncing the crime and the teens in which he calls for bringing back the death penalty.

Perhaps he thought it gave him gravitas, that spring, to weigh in on the character of the teen-agers in the park: “How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”

When NYC finally settled with the wrongly convicted men in 2014, Trump denounced the settlement, joining a police detective in calling it “the heist of the century.” And just before Trump’s crowing about sexual assault of women broke over the weekend, Trump reaffirmed that despite all evidence to the contrary, he believes that the five men are still guilty.

Voice doubles

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2016

Hello! For today’s installment of I Totally Didn’t Know This, we’re going to talk about voice doubles. When you’re making a movie or a TV show and you’re in the editing phase, cutting a trailer, or doing promotional videos, sometimes you need some extra dialogue that you didn’t get during the main filming. So you get the actor to come in to do the new dialogue. But sometimes, if the actor is famous and super busy, they might not be available. So there are voice actors whose job it is to impersonate the real actor’s voice. Saaaaay whaaaaat?

It’s an example of ADR, Automated Dialogue Replacement. Amy Landecker, who plays Sarah Pfefferman on Transparent, has done this job for movies starring Julia Roberts. She sounds amazingly like Julia:

She even did most of Julia’s dialogue in this Duplicity trailer:

Jim Hanks has done voiceover work for his brother Tom in the past:

He does the voice for Woody in all the Toy Story video games…it’s not an exact match, but it’s pretty good. (via vulture)

Update: Nolan North voice doubles for Christopher Walken.

(via @Han_So)

The coolest sneakers in movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2016

From Candice Drouet, a quick supercut of some of notable athletic shoes in movies, including Marty’s self-lacing Nikes from Back to the Future II (which you can win in a raffle). Michael Keaton’s Batman wore Nikes?

Film Meets Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2016

Vugar Efendi has made a pair of videos showing scenes from films that have been inspired by famous paintings. The second video is especially good, showing references in There Will Be Blood, Lost In Translation, and a Jacques-Louis David reference from About Schmidt.

Man films annual personal report from 1977 to 2011

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2016

In 1977, the Voyager space probes were launched from Earth to explore our solar system. That same year, Sam Klemke began a project to document his life on video, and in 2011, he made a video of 35 years of annual greetings/status reports. This video resulted in a documentary film, Sam Klemke’s Time Machine.

Beginning decades before the modern obsession with selfies and status updates, Sam grows from an optimistic teen to a self-important 20-year-old, into an obese, self-loathing thirty-something and onwards into his philosophical fifties.

A trailer for David Lynch’s Return of the Jedi

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2016

Did you know that George Lucas approached David Lynch about directing Return of the Jedi? After a visit to Lucas’ studio described here by Lynch, Lynch turned Lucas down pretty quickly. But what might have been, huh? Well, this fan-made trailer gives us a taste of a Lynch-helmed Star Wars movie. (via one perfect shot)

Meet the nano sapiens

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2016

Nano Sapiens

In a 1959 talk at Caltech titled There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, Richard Feynman outlined a new field of study in physics: nanotechnology. He argued there was much to be explored in the realm of the very small — information storage, more powerful microscopes, biological research, computing — and that that exploration would be enormously useful.

I would like to describe a field, in which little has been done, but in which an enormous amount can be done in principle. This field is not quite the same as the others in that it will not tell us much of fundamental physics (in the sense of, “What are the strange particles?”) but it is more like solid-state physics in the sense that it might tell us much of great interest about the strange phenomena that occur in complex situations. Furthermore, a point that is most important is that it would have an enormous number of technical applications.

In a reaction to Elon Musk’s plan to colonize Mars, David Galbraith suggests there might be plenty of room at the bottom for human civilization as well. Don’t colonize Mars, miniaturize humanity. Create nano sapiens.

If we think of this as a design problem, there is a much better solution. Instead of expanding our environment to another planet at massive cost, why wouldn’t we miniaturise ourselves so we can expand without increasing our habitat or energy requirements, but still maintain our ability to create culture and knowledge, via information exchange.

The history of information technology and the preservation of Moore’s law has been driven by exactly this phenomenon of miniaturization. So why shouldn’t the same apply to the post technological evolution of humankind as it approaches the hypothetical ‘singularity’ and the potential ability for us to be physically embodied in silicon rather than carbon form.

When humans get smaller, the world and its resources get bigger. We’d live in smaller houses, drive smaller cars that use less gas, eat less food, etc. It wouldn’t even take much to realize gains from a Honey, I Shrunk Humanity scheme: because of scaling laws, a height/weight proportional human maxing out at 3 feet tall would not use half the resources of a 6-foot human but would use somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 of the resources, depending on whether the resource varied with volume or surface area. Six-inch-tall humans would potentially use 1728 times fewer resources.1

Galbraith also speculates about nano aliens as a possible explanation for the Fermi paradox:

Interestingly, the same rules of energy use and distance between planets and stars would apply to any extraterrestrial aliens, so one possible explanation for the Fermi paradox is that we all get smaller and less visible as we get more technologically advanced. Rather than favoring interstellar colonization with its mind boggling distances which are impossible to communicate across within the lifetimes of individuals (and therefore impossible to hold together in any meaningful way as a civilization) perhaps advanced civilizations stick to their home planets but just get more efficient to be sustainable.

Humans are explorers. Curiosity about new worlds and ideas is one of humanity’s defining traits. One of the most striking things about the Eames’ Powers of Ten video is how similar outer space and inner space look — vast distances punctuated occasionally by matter. What if, instead of using more and more energy exploring planets, stars, and galaxies across larger and larger distances (the first half of the Eames’ video), we went the other way and focused on using less energy to explore cells, molecules, and atoms across smaller and smaller distances. It wouldn’t be so much giving up human space exploration as it would be exchanging it for a very similar and more accessible exploration of the molecular and atomic realm. There is, after all, plenty of room down there.

Update: I knew the responses to this would be good. Galbraith’s idea has a name: the transcension hypothesis, formulated by the aptly named John Smart. Jason Silva explains in this video:

The transcension hypothesis proposes that a universal process of evolutionary development guides all sufficiently advanced civilizations into what may be called “inner space,” a computationally optimal domain of increasingly dense, productive, miniaturized, and efficient scales of space, time, energy, and matter, and eventually, to a black-hole-like destination. Transcension as a developmental destiny might also contribute to the solution to the Fermi paradox, the question of why we have not seen evidence of or received beacons from intelligent civilizations.

Before we get there, however, there are a few challenges we need to overcome, as Joe Hanson explains in The Small Problem With Shrinking Ourselves:

As it often seems in such matters, science follows science fiction here. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick (Amazon), the Chinese miniaturize themselves in response to the Earth’s decreasing resources.

In the meantime, Western civilization is nearing collapse as oil runs out, and the Chinese are making vast leaps forward by miniaturizing themselves and training groups of hundreds to think as one. Eventually, the miniaturization proceeds to the point that they become so small that they cause a plague among those who accidentally inhale them, ultimately destroying Western civilization beyond repair.

Blood Music by Greg Bear (Amazon) has a nano-civilization theme:

Through infection, conversion and assimilation of humans and other organisms the cells eventually aggregate most of the biosphere of North America into a region seven thousand kilometres wide. This civilization, which incorporates both the evolved noocytes and recently assimilated conventional humans, is eventually forced to abandon the normal plane of existence in favor of one in which thought does not require a physical substrate.

James Blish’s short story Surface Tension tells the tale of microscopic human colonists. (via @harryh, @mariosaldana, @EndlessForms, @vanjacosic, @chumunculus)

Update: For some years, director Alexander Payne has been working on a film called Downsizing:

“Downsizing,” after all, starts off in Norway and takes place in a not-too-distant future where humans are now able to shrink themselves to 1/8 their size as a means to battle over-consumption and the rapid depletion of earth’s natural resources, thanks to enlightened hippie-like Scandinavian scientists. “Smalls” get small, then become members of small cities (the main characters moves to a city called Leisureland) protected by large nets (keeps the bugs out) and built like Disney’s Celebration Town (all planned, all pre-fabricated). Small people cash-in their savings and retire small; 1 big dollar equals 500 small dollars. Smalls live on less food, less land, and produce less trash. As the story progresses, Americans are free to get small, but in Europe, where resources are beginning to truly run out, legislation arises suggesting 40% of the population get shrunk (whether they like it or not). For the big, the world grows smaller and scarier; for the small, the world grows bigger and scarier.

Word is that Matt Damon will play the lead role. Mr. Payne, consider a title change to “Nano Sapiens”? (via @stephenosberg)

Photo by Poy.

  1. This is not a straightforward matter however. The 6-inch human wouldn’t eat 1728 times less food…that would mean you could live on a Big Mac for a year. Small animals often eat a significant percentage of their body weights each day, which normal-sized humans never approach. For example, according to this chart a grey squirrel weighs about 21 oz and eats about 1.6 oz of food, the equivalent of a 180-pound human eating about 14 pounds of food a day.