So anyone who knows me (or knows my films) knows I’m interested in astronomy. So when Dr. Garik Israelian, a noted astrophysicist, contacted me and asked if I would join his annual Starmus festival that fuses astronomy, music, and art, I could scarcely turn him down, could I? Didn’t hurt that the festival would be held in the Canary Islands, either. So that’ll happen June 22-25 of this year — but I’ll first be at the SETI Institute in Palo Alto on Tuesday, March 29, for a press conference to promote the festival.
What’s most cool are the people I’ll be hanging with. Richard Dawkins will be a headliner in June, he “Darwin’s pitbull” and author of the mind-fucking book “Selfish Gene.” Jill Tarter and Frank Drake will also attend, two founding giants of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) community. Drake is the guy who, in 1974, sent the “Arecibo message” into deep space, controversially so, which conceivably could have alerted another race to our presence on this small blue orb. Legendary Queen guitarist Brian May will be at the festival. And while you may think May was invited just to do some cool riffs on his axe, think again: May is now an astrophysicist himself and a university chancellor in England. Quite a career change.
No shortage of music, though: Tangerine Dream will give a live concert, and composer Graeme Revell (who did the scores for PITCH BLACK and CHRONICLES) will present an original piece of music as well.
With any luck, I’ll make a pilgrimage to their $179 million Great Canary Telescope — and get a little hang time with some really big stars.
So what’s my interest in all this? Well, if I hadn’t been a filmmaker, I’d probably be an astrophysicist today. (If I could’ve dealt with all the math, anyway.) That urge lead to my 1996 movie THE ARRIVAL, which features (brace yourself) Charlie Sheen as a radio astronomer who picks up an errant message from space and concludes that Earth has already been colonized by an extra-solar race. The movie is good pulpy fun, and some of you still write me about it. There was even a retrospective showing of THE ARRIVAL last month in Nashville. It did so-so at the box office, maybe because the not dissimilar INDEPENDENCE DAY came out a few weeks later and just swamped us at the box office. Will Smith will do that to you.
Oh, and a warning: Avoid ARRIVAL II. I didn’t write it, didn’t direct it, didn’t see the finished film. But I heard it seriously sucks. This was a case of the studio trying to milk a few more dollars out of a title that made a little coin and got some good reviews. They did it over my dead body.