WRITTEN REVIEW – Interstellar (2014)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain & Michael Caine
Music: Hans Zimmer
Release Date: November 7th 2014
Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar‘ is a breathtaking cinematic experience and will go down as a landmark in space-faring movies and pioneering visual effects. It’s easily the most ambitious movie of Nolan’s impressive career and is a movie that needs to be seen on the big screen. It even has emotional pathos and ideas about reality and relationships that have very rarely been attempted on film before. Even though there are going to be a few prominent negative points in this review, ‘Interstellar‘ is a movie that I deeply deeply respect and while Christopher Nolan is going through uncharted territory for himself as an auteur, befitting ‘Interstellar‘s themes, those who explore are the ones most likely to wind up lost.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”
It’s the future and life sucks. The dirt that used to give Earth’s population its crops and resources is now starting to turn on them. Frequent dust-storms ravage the landscape and humanity has resigned themselves to becoming farmers to try and salvage what’s left. However, Cooper (McConaughey), a retired NASA test pilot still has exploration on his mind. After him and his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) receive a mysterious message leading them to a secret NASA mission, Cooper decides to lead a small group of pioneers crewing the “Endurance” in the search for a new planet for humanity to call home.
Let’s start with what ‘Interstellar‘ does right because, make no mistake, it does certain things phenomenally right. The emotional core of the movie is solid, with Cooper wanting to save mankind, but also his family. However, due to the nature of space travel with Time Dilation, Cooper has a new resource to consider. The crew of “Endurance” need to not only consider fuel as a resource, but also time. There’s a sequence where Cooper (on a very cleverly concealed whiteboard) is debating with the rest of the crew members on how to save fuel and time when visiting a planet whose increased gravity means that every hour spent there equals around 7 years on earth.
The antagonist or threat on that planet isn’t a giant space monster, or a crew-member turned rogue (the latter of which would be a terrible direction for a movie like this to go in). It’s time. And that is fascinating.
When the consequence of that threat is revealed later on in the movie, it’s an incredibly powerful emotional punch and instantly makes ‘Interstellar‘ one of the most unique science-fiction movies in recent memory. The emotions in the first two-acts are conveyed effectively and this isn’t due to the script (more on that later), but to the performances. The cast are terrific, with Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and child-actor Mackenzie Foy being the stand-outs. All of them take the emotions that are buried in the core of the script and convey the weight and the scale of what’s happening effectively to the viewer. Bill Irwin even gives a great vocal performance as a rectangular robot crew member who at first looks like it has the most cumbersome design imaginable, but as the movie progresses it displays more and more unique ways to travel and use its swiss army knife-style limbs.
The visual effects are also absolutely stunning. The vistas on display, particularly the film’s portrayal of black holes and the effects its gravitational pull would have on a ocean planet are inventive tableau’s that deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible. The cinematography is gorgeous and one of the more inventive camera-tricks of ‘Interstellar‘ has the camera bolted to the side of the spacecraft’s which is a subtle touch but it helps to give the movie a certain degree of authenticity.
Despite everything I’m about to say over the next few paragraphs, ‘Interstellar‘ is probably worth seeing in a movie theatre because of those visuals and I’ll be shocked if it isn’t nominated for many technical Oscars next year.
Going back to that script, the reason many of the emotions don’t transfer to the audience is that ‘Interstellar‘ spends way too long explaining the science behind what is going on. The filmmakers are so desperate to prove that what’s happening has a basis in reality without giving the audience the opportunity to just suspend their disbelief and enjoy the ride. In the film’s final act, in what should be one of the most emotionally powerful and resonant sequences ever put in a blockbuster, ‘Interstellar‘ REFUSES to let its audience get involved with the character’s plight because the exposition. Just. Won’t. Stop. Scenes that would normally be put into a movie to establish chemistry and potential relationships between the crew members are instead scenes of just more techno-babble.
Do Cooper and crew-member Romilly get along with each other? I honestly couldn’t tell you. But I do know that they like to talk about the science of worm-holes. Michael Caine and Anne Hathway are father and daughter in this movie. If it wasn’t for the fact that the movie tells the audience this fact, you wouldn’t even have a hint at the family connection through the dialogue. But the two sure like to discuss Dylan Thomas poetry. The priorities this film has in terms of its narrative are simply baffling.
Ironically enough, the audience members don’t need the techno-babble because their suspension of disbelief and the emotions being hinted at should be more than enough to carry them through the movie. If they’re REALLY that bothered whether or not ‘Interstellar‘ is scientifically accurate then they’ll research it after the fact, or be smart enough to already know that ‘Interstellar’ has done its homework, which it certainly has.
‘Interstellar‘ wants to be a grand, scientifically accurate space-faring movie, but it also wants to be emotionally transcendent and meaningful. However, in this case at least, it simply isn’t possible. What’s interesting though, is that it’s kind of obvious what’s gone wrong when analysing the film’s production history. Director Steven Spielberg was originally attached to direct this movie when it first entered production, but had to drop out due to complex legal reasons concerning Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures. After that, Christopher Nolan took over the director’s chair. The film’s over-sentimentality is something Spielberg would have absolutely nailed, but because of the type of film-maker Nolan is, he doesn’t have a handle on it.
Think of it this way; what is Spielberg had directed Nolan’s ‘Inception‘? ‘Inception‘ is possibly Nolan’s best non-Batman movie because it perfectly utilises his strengths as a film-maker; the constant exposition, the cuts between two sequences that have thematic links to each other (an editing trick that’s completely botched in ‘Interstellar‘, incidentally) and its themes. Spielberg might have nailed the visuals and some of the emotional moments, but it would ultimately be a much much lesser film, though one I’d be genuinely interested in seeing. ‘Inception‘ is an insight into how Nolan’s mind functions when making movies as its a metaphor for the way he perceives film structure and how the antagonist of that film is Cobb’s emotional subconscious.
To quote ‘CollegeHumour‘/’South Park‘ – “Sometimes thoughts of my dead wife manifest themselves as trains.“
Basically, Cobb in ‘Inception‘ must put aside his emotions to successfully complete the mission. This is an underlying theme in most of Nolan’s movies, so when ‘Interstellar‘ comes along and claims that emotions and love are the most powerful force in the Universe and are capable of transcending time and space, as fascinating as the idea is, because it’s coming from Christopher Nolan I didn’t believe it for a second.
That’s not a knock against Nolan as he’s a terrific film-maker, but it’s just the way his mind works as a story-teller and it’s a difficult mindset to break out of. It would be like Tim Burton making a completely 100% grounded realistic movie or Dapper Laughs writing a pro-feminism script. You just wouldn’t believe its authenticity by the virtue of who it’s coming from. Also, without getting into spoilers or specifics, the movie seems to not understand its own message as a vital plot-point in the last 30 minutes seems to be tied to a LOCATION and not a person, which completely contradicts the movie’s ultimate point.
There are also some structural issues that are incredibly hard to ignore with ‘Interstellar‘. The relationship between Cooper and Murph is the focus of the movie, despite Cooper having another child; Tom. Not only does this relationship have zero time to breath, but the direction’s his character has to go in the 3rd act of the movie feel completely unearned and don’t contribute a single thing to the movie. It’s also hard to believe that what’s happening on earth really is a world-changing event because we don’t see anything outside of a single dust-bowled blighted town (in which NASA is conveniently located down the road). Also, as great as McConaughey is, you could take anything he says in the first two acts and it would sound like something written for the trailer. He just spouts lines and lines of motivational, sentimental drivel and he doesn’t come across as an actual person. Many characters come to conclusions that were utterly impossible for them to reach but they had to in order to advance the plot and many of the plot-twists are almost embarrassingly obvious for the audience to figure out from the offset.
The movie also becomes a complete slog during the 2nd to 3rd act transition…but it’s hard to tell you why because of spoilers. So I’ll have to spend a few sentences being vague and if you have seen ‘Interstellar‘, then you’ll know what I’m referring to. The last hour of the movie essentially comprises of challenges and complications that need to be overcome in the mission. The problem is that while these sequences are well filmed and frequently tense and exciting, it doesn’t challenge the characters emotionally or contribute to the overall theme of the movie, meaning that their inclusion is questionable. Especially a late-in-the-game cast addition which actively seems to CONTRADICT everything the movie is hoping to achieve thematically and just drags the movie into the dirt that the characters are so desperate to get away from.
Simply put, ‘Interstellar‘ did not need to be almost 3 hours long and could have easily been edited down to 2.
I’m sorry if this review comes across as completely negative, as I do actually like ‘Interstellar‘. It’s just that the reasons it doesn’t entirely work are far more complex than the reasons why it does work. The fact that a movie can have so many flaws as ‘Interstellar‘ and still ultimately be watch-able is an absolute marvel of production and execution. As I said earlier on, the emotions are buried in the script which means that they are there and while ‘Interstellar‘ is inspired by ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ there is ultimately more going on in ‘Interstellar‘ emotionally and thematically. Hans Zimmer’s score is effective, though not his best, the performances are terrific, the emphasis on practical effects is commendable, the cinematography is breathtaking and there are some truly original on-screen visuals that need to be seen to be believed. It’s just ultimately disappointing that its let down by a lack of faith in its audience to just enjoy the ride and not focus on the science.
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Posted: 12th Nov 14