Robert Grumbine – Movies and the Masses

Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 3:53 pm

We’ve interviewed all kinds of people in our Movies and the Masses segment, but this week we class up the joint a little by speaking with a bona fide scientist. I’m referring to Robert Grumbine, a man who holds a doctorate from the Department of Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago. He’s done post-doc work in oceanography, and his undergraduate degree involved engineering, astrophysics, glaciology, and applied math.

Simply put: Robert Grumbine is smarter than you (although he’s too polite to say it himself).

In addition to writing an excellent science-based blog at More Grumbine Science, he finds time to run in ultramarathons, travel to Greece to watch plays, and even take the stage to do a little acting of his own. Here’s a little more about Robert Grumbine in his own words:

Online, the best place to find me is my blog, More Grumbine Science. It got named that because my science-teacher sister had taken Grumbine Science. My daughter does Even More Grumbine Science. It runs in the family.

I’m not a major movie-goer, though I do rent them. I’ve also got a bit of a “do rather than watch” streak, so I’ve been on stage a little (ok, all of it in 1999, totaling 4 plays, I think). That included some juggling, and playing the clarinet.

Back to the science thing … one of the things about being a scientist is that we try to understand our strange universe. Consequently, my movie tastes run to movies that recognize that the universe is a strange place (2001), or at least the people in it are (Little Miss Sunshine), and celebrate that.

Now let’s put Dr. Grumbine’s big brain to the test with our weekly Movies and the Masses questionnaire…

This is NOT Robert Grumbine

Only Good Movies: What’s the first movie you remember seeing?
Robert Grumbine: 2001: A Space Odyssey.

OGM: If you only had a few hours to live and could do nothing but watch five movies, which films would you select?
RG: If I had time to watch that many movies, I’d have time to call up or write friends and family. So it’d be mostly friends and family. If we watched a movie, it would probably be one where death is treated suitably — like Little Miss Sunshine, or maybe a movie of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld including DEATH. So far that is only Hogfather, but maybe someone will do Thief of Time.

OGM: What’s your favorite movie?
RG: Wow, couldn’t say. What movie I like best depends on my mood. It’s hard to envision a mood where I could really compare Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Little Miss Sunshine, though I like all three a lot. And probably several more that just aren’t leaping to mind.

OGM: What’s your least favorite movie?
RG: I was going to say I didn’t have one, but then realized that there is — It’s a Wonderful Life. The message that your life is meaningless if you haven’t saved other people, I find exceedingly depressing. (I have, through my work, helped save some lives. But that doesn’t save the movie for me.)

OGM: In 50 years, which modern movies do you think will be viewed as classics?
RG: It seems likely that Avatar will be, if only for the technology in how the movie was made. In terms of the story and story-telling, some I think might be watched in 50 years are Little Miss Sunshine, Forrest Gump, Crash, Capote.

OGM: If you see a movie based on a book, are you then more or less likely to read the book?
RG: More so. But, if I’ve read the book, I’m less likely to see the movie, unless I thought “gee, this would make a good movie” when I was reading it.

Nope, this isn't him, either.

OGM: How do you feel about all the remakes of older and classic films?
RG: Kind of sad for the most part. Most of the remakes are merely pale imitations–nothing is added, and things that helped make the original good and interesting are often missing.

Sometimes the remake is a more true re-invention and re-telling of the story, and those can be quite good. Kenneth Brannagh’s version of Much Ado about Nothing was far from the first film version, but was excellent in its own right.

OGM: Do you consider movies to be works of art?
RG: Yes; but as with other forms of art, some are good art, and some are bad art. We don’t all seem to agree on which are which, so there’s something to talk about.

Thanks again to Robert Grumbine for participating in this installment of Movies and the Masses. For more interviews on cinema with people from around the Internet, try visiting the following:

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