Film Review: Interstellar

 

Written by: Graeme Wood
17.11.14

interstellar_Int-Poster

There’s more than one anomaly in Christopher Nolan’s ambitious space epic and it’s not the black hole that sits at the centre of the plot. Rather it’s the sheer scale of the idea and the way the co-writer/director has approached it. There is a potentially great movie sitting somewhere in theChristopher_Nolan almost three hours run time that Nolan delivers, however what we get is an oddly paced mix of interpretative science, parent angst and science fiction pulp that tends to overwhelm the viewer and sadly lacks clarity.

Former pilot (though it’s never made specific what he actually flew) Cooper lives on a corn growing farm, one of the few jobs left in a world drained of resources in a unspecified future time. Avoiding the words ‘climate change’ (The Guardian suggests such a description might offend American audiences) the drought, blight and increasing population growth are a clear analogy of where we interstellar_still3could be heading. However a secret NASA outpost is developing a last ditch attempt to colonise planets in another galaxy and within minutes of Cooper turning up on their doorstep they enlist him to fly the spaceship they’ve barely finished building. The plot relies on a sequence of coincidence, leaps of logic and unanswered questions that you hope will find resolution even as the questions mount up. Nolan’s films always develop over the entire run time and you accept what you see as you embark on a journey that sometimes seems as long as the two years duration depicted and that answers will eventually be forthcoming.

The first 45 minutes or so are excellent, Matthew McConaughey totally convinces in the role of Cooper, his everyman outlook a perfect fit and there are some naturalistic family scenes involving the always good John Lithgow as his father and Mackenzie Foy as the intelligent but clingy daughter Murph. The narrative suggests – as did the initial trailers – a tribute to the spirit of exploration that fired the world in the 1960s. A promising thread is established that schools have exercised the Apollo missions and lunar landings from their curriculum to focus on issues closer to the lives of ordinary people (a nice sequence but totally wasting the talents of David Oyelowo). It might have been a better film had they pursued this route and remained earthbound throughout. Imagine the intelligent drama that could be created from Cooper’s quest to reinstate the belief and zeal of exploration into a depressed nation. The Earth scenes never totally convince though as we are shown none of the global impact you would expect from this scenario, all we see are the corn farms and dust bowls of a depressed America.

An unlikely group of astronauts instead set off to journey through the black hole, a journey that is realised well with Nolan’s usual flair for in-camera effects, no matter how bad the science may be (or not, how would most of us know?). We’re soon immersed in a world of cryogenics, mathematics, interstellar_still6robots, thrusters and boosters. If it wasn’t for the light touches to the script which hone McConaughey’s ability to say anything convincingly and a sarcastic robot this would be quite a dull segment. Of the other crew members Anne Hathaway makes an unlikely addition as scientist/explorer/love interest Brand and we learn little about her character which might endear her to the audience. David Gyasi gives a convincing turn as scientist Romilly, particularly in the scenes where he is shown to have aged and you wish the character could have had more screen time. Wes Bentley as Doyle completes the crew but is so quickly dispatched that you hardly notice him. Back on Earth Jessica Chastain plays the older Murph well enough to make you believe she is the same person (though you wonder how her genius could have gone unnoticed) and there’s a strong turn from Michael Caine as NASA boffin Professor Brand.

While the space and black hole visuals impress on the IMAX screen for which they were designed homage’s’ to 2001 and Gravity amongst others mean it is little we haven’t seen before. Matters pick up when we land on the first of the alien worlds leading to one of the film’s best and exciting scenes in which an approaching tidal wave creates bags of tension. There are a few of these scenes punctuating the second half notably a shock moment, as the crew race back to their space station that outdoes Gravity. The crew’s emotions are explored via video messages from their family who are ageing in decades while the crew age in years, one scene involving McConaughey again is particularly poignant yet the script offers no real insight into how the explorers interact with each other. The crew’s human emotions are too often replaced by technical jargon and talk of theinterstellar_still8 ‘mission’. Just when you think the film ought to be turning a corner towards resolution along comes Matt Damon as the deranged scientist from one of the previous missions. Damon carries off the role well enough but the questions piling up become critical here as his Dr Mann sub-plot is filled with too many plot contrivances, flaws and unlikely logic. His motivations seem out of place in a hugely exciting segment as he tries to kill Cooper and leave the others behind. You’re then left incredulous as Cooper improbably manages to pull everything together in time and provide rescue for a last ditch attempt at survival.

There are moments when the clarity of dialogue is lost amongst an almost screeching sound score by Hans Zimmer but Nolan has defend this decision to drown scenes with sound telling the Hollywood Reporter; ‘Many of the filmmakers I’ve admired over the years have used sound in bold and adventurous ways. I don’t agree with the idea that you can only achieve clarity through dialogue. Clarity of story, clarity of emotions – I try to achieve that in a very layered way using all the different things at my disposal – picture and sound”.

By the time we near the conclusion the viewer will have already worked out the circular nature of the plot and there are no surprises only a slight disbelief at the Twilight Zone nature of the scenario. interstellar_still9You’re ready to scream along with Cooper towards the end as he miraculously survives to see mankind embark on its future among the stars. And then an even more unlikely scenario seems tagged onto the end as Cooper leaves it all behind to fly to an uncertain destination in the hope that the woman he lost and barely knows is waiting for him.

Interstellar is not a film to see if you’re after any insight into the issues it raises because the narrative relies on techno waffle or unbelievable human feats. Apparently the science is untenable but more importantly the story cannot convince despite some stand out cinematic moments. On the other hand if you just want to go for the roller-coaster ride and some hugely exciting sequences then you’ll likely enjoy it. ‘Flawed epic’ seems to be the most obvious description that one can apply to this film and it’s the one I’ll settle for too.

Watch the trailer in kushfilms.com New Release section Here