Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

Release Date: October 26th, 2014 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Matt Damon

Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, Lynda Obst Productions, Paramount Pictures, 169 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

“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.” – Cooper

Man, where to begin?

Let me kick this off by saying that overall I did like this film. It wasn’t this generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as I had hoped and granted, those are massive shoes to fill, but this was a fairly okay effort by Christopher Nolan at trying to emulate Stanley Kubrick. And I say that because this film felt like Nolan trying to create his 2001 and his brother, who co-wrote the film, admitted to channeling 2001 while penning this story. Unfortunately, it fell short of coming close to the level of grandeur and wonder that is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also, it falls short of what Nolan has proven his skill level is capable of.

As far as visuals and sound, this film knocks it out of the park. I deliberately didn’t see this in IMAX, as I wanted to be wowed on a regular screen because that is how the majority of eyes will see this picture and to compare it to the amazing visual effects of other films throughout history, I wanted to see it on a level playing field and not on steroids. And truthfully, I’ve come to look at the IMAX thing as a fad like 3D. Until it is the norm in every theater, it isn’t what I consider the industry standard. It’s certainly a cool experience but films that rely on it, as greatly as Nolan has been over his last few films, just tell me that they are pushing their visual style and effects over their film as a whole: sparkle over substance. And that is what this film was. I got to the point where I was like, “Fuck these bells and whistles, just show me the damn film!”

There were amazingly shot sequences that used practical effects, which gave a lot of the important visual elements a sense of realism that can’t be manufactured digitally. This didn’t feel like a cartoon like the recent Star Trek films, it felt cold, dreary and authentic. In that regard, it had the real organic and realistic soul that 2001 had in 1968.

The score to the film and the sound in general were perfect. It definitely has an Oscar-caliber vibe to it and if the film isn’t nominated for the score by Hans Zimmer and for a best sound category, that would be a pretty shitty snub by the Academy. Additionally, it definitely deserves a nomination for visual effects.

The pace and editing of the film was pretty disjointed as things would pop in and out of the film that just didn’t seem to fit or be necessary. I feel like a two hour version of this film would play much better. The time spent with Matt Damon’s character on a dangerous planet is way too drawn out.

When delving into the story of this film, it is a convoluted mess. Yes, things are pretty straightforward but there are a few minor plot twists and developments that come out of nowhere and don’t fit the overall narrative of the film. For instance, Matthew McConaughey’s character Cooper has a son who, for whatever reason, is obsessed with staying on his M.I.A. father’s farm even though it is killing his wife and child. This is a bizarre side story that just doesn’t fit within the film. And after his sister burns his crops and tries to kidnap his family, after he punched her husband in the face, he just stands there like a mute retard when confronted by her babbling about her dad’s magic watch sending Morse code through space and time through the power of love. It was reminiscent of the plot to a bad 80s music video.

Another bizarre plot twist that we are introduced to is when Anne Hathaway’s character Amelia Brand uncharacteristically pushes for the explorers to use the last of their fuel to visit the planet with her former lover on it. After being a hardcore scientist and being bred for this mission, probably all of her adult life, she is willing to throw all of humanity away on her own selfish heart. This just doesn’t fit her character leading up to that point and this also leads to the film pushing the concept that love is a dimension that can transcend space, time and every other barrier. Love is a force similar to gravity. The film lost me with this mystic woo. It suddenly felt like a Manga written by a 12 year-old girl.

And speaking of mystic woo, we come to discover that getting sucked into a black hole brings a person to some weird alien-crafted maze of windows that look into Cooper’s daughter’s bedroom at different points in time. This led to Cooper reaching out through love to send messages to his daughter years prior, which earlier in the film, were dismissed as a ghost. Cooper discovers that the ghost was real and he was the ghost. Cue panic-ridden crying and yelling by McConaughey for fifteen minutes as he is stuck behind his daughter’s mystic bookshelf in the center of a black hole.

The film confusingly represents love as a force like gravity and somehow love can make a wristwatch’s second hand talk to someone in the past with Morse code.

What is somewhat irritating is that Christopher Nolan consulted with a very knowledgeable physicist on this film but the scientific accuracy was pretty shitty. What I had hoped would be a scientific film where we might encounter another intelligence beyond our scope of comprehension, was instead a fantasy film wrapped in fairy tale where the superior intelligence was just fifth dimensional human beings trying to help their own race evolve and get off of a dying planet. I’d have to write a series of blogs or a book even on the amount of paradoxes here.

In regards to the black hole sequence, Nolan used his physics expert to help him create a realistic scenario and to make the sequence visually authentic. What we got was neither. Now while the black hole looked absolutely fucking amazing and grandiose, when McConaughey flew into it, we never experienced spaghettification. Also, black holes are so powerful that even light cannot escape them, hence the name “black hole”.

As McConaughey pilots his craft into the core of the cosmic maelstrom, we can still see things and the lights inside the ship give a nice cool glow in the cockpit. Maybe it is hard to tell a visual story in darkness but I feel like a black screen with the sounds of a ship being torn apart would have been more haunting, more realistic and added more credence and authenticity. What we got was Nolan’s version of the lone astronaut entering the monolith, except this one finds himself behind his daughter’s bookshelf. It wasn’t anywhere near as cool and epic as where David Bowman went in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hell, it wasn’t even as cool as where the crew went in Disney’s 1979 film The Black Hole. At least they flew through Hell filled with evil robots.

It is worth noting that this film also borrowed from 2001 in the character of the computer/robot named TARS, who was this film’s version of HAL 9000. Except TARS didn’t kill astronauts, he just joked about it and served more of an R2-D2 role.

In the end, Matthew McConaughey’s mission is a failure, in a sense, but I guess it inspired his aging daughter to work hard on equations and save humankind from their dying world. Her work leads to humans ending up on some Saturn-orbiting space station that is a complete rip-off of the cylindrical spaceship Rama from Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama. Being that Clarke penned the original 2001 novel and all its sequels, this brings Nolan’s “borrowing” of Clarke’s ideas and concepts full circle.

What you have, in my estimation, is a good looking, often times visually amazing film, that unfortunately sells itself short by tapping into the Stanley Kubrick/Arthur C. Clarke well too often. The major difference, is that Kubrick took risks and did things that challenged filmmaking and changed it forever. Nolan played it safe and didn’t leave us with anything daring, as he seemed to be more interested in making a commercial success and an homage, as opposed to something more authentic and true to his heart. However, this is the difference between Kubrick and Nolan. One is the professor, the other is a really good student that idolizes the professor a bit too much.

Is the film worth a watch? Definitely. Is it destined to be a beloved classic? Probably to some but it lacks the depth and originality to truly make it stand on its own legs.

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