Wednesday, November 12, 2014

[Review] Interstellar

After closing out his Batman trilogy, Christopher Nolan returns with Interstellar, a visually astonishing and narratively challenged space epic. But like with any space mission and film of this sort, it's difficult to pull off such an ambitious task without a few clunks.

In an introduction and setup that somehow feels prolonged and rushed at the same time, we learn that Planet Earth is on its last leg, and humans are on the verge of extinction. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former astronaut that lives on a dust storm ravaged farm with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), daughter Murph (MacKenzie Foy, who is great), and son (Timothy Chamalet). One night, Cooper and Murph seek out some coordinates that turn out to be a hidden NASA base, headed by Professor Brand (Michael Kane).

In a motherload of exposition (some needed, and some not), Professor Brand has devised a plan for a group of astronauts to go through a wormhole in order to enter another galaxy and explore a sustainable planet, thus saving the human species. But this quest is full of dilemmas and Plan As and Bs that might not work. It also contains the time conundrum and theory of relativity. Cooper is asked to leave his family behind and helm the spaceship, and there's the possibility that he may never come back, or if he does, it could be decades later. He obliges, and is joined by Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), a couple of other crew members, and a highly intelligent robot of comic relief.

Once we have lift off, we're immersed into an incredibly visceral experience and visual marvel, especially when witnessed in 70mm IMAX platform. Cooper goes from driving through a cornfield, to flying through outer space, to spinning through an extraordinary wormhole. 2001: A Space Odyssey is an obvious influence here. The surreal shots of spacecraft floating through the galaxy astound, and views of Earth and other planets take your breath away. A highlight of the film is a towering tidal wave that actually causes you to tilt your head up as it expands the enormous screen. There is a great sense of realism within the sets. As demonstrated in the film's many promotional featurettes, the crafts are very physical. Of course, there is still a lot of computer work here (duh), but it doesn't look like it. And the sound design is as good as it gets, to the point where it takes on textural qualities.

A lot of Nolan's past work has involved savvy but cold (and sometimes flat) characters populating complex worlds. But in Interstellar, there are significantly grounded and hearty characters populating the more straightforward narrative. Yes, even with all the astrophysics, other dimensions, and time-warping, the actual narrative is somewhat linear and partially circular (or is it a sphere?), compared to the puzzling boxes in Inception. The story is still bloated in nature, and there isn't time to develop all of the characters, but they at least feel more soulful. The powers of love and family are brought into the equation, which gives the film its emotional pull. It seems like every other scene includes someone blubbering like a mess. Seriously, there are enough tears in this thing to fill an extraterrestrial ocean, and it's all ramped up by Hans Zimmer's grandiloquent musical score.

I'm not saying that there aren't clashes with confusion, though. This is still a very complicated concept. There are a few head-scratching scenes that are probably too spoilerish to mention, and there are moments where you'll be trying to sort out and justify some of the directions and time zones. The ideas twists, and payoffs are present, but they don't entirely resonate.

Interstellar, for me, falls into that category of films that I greatly admire but don't *love*. For such an extravaganza, it leaves more questions than satisfaction. I guess that's fitting for a topic that's often unclear and speculative. Still, I wonder how much of this story was actually left up in the air, shoved into a black hole, or just over my head. It's a beautiful and dangerous thing to get lost in, though.



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  2. I think a score of 7 or 8 is about right. I too admire Interstellar more so than I love it. I agree it's visually astonishing, together with Zimmer's score the film managed to wow me on a few occasions.
    However I was underwhelmed by the story, relying on so many homages, and very little substance besides the obvious warning on climate change.