At a very lengthy 2 hours 45 minutes and a moderately slow pace, Interstellar isn't the easiest stroll through the park. While the scientific plot details require focus and attention, the mystery and interest factor behind it all is more than enough to keep this film from shredding itself to pieces and floating away in various directions, like it nearly does with its final act.
The visuals are pleasing, but nothing new when it comes to space. At the same time, there isn't much to overcome the storytelling.
Matthew McConaughey actually carries this film on his shoulders, but a good supporting cast of Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, and Jessica Chastain doesn't hurt.
Interstellar is a science fiction trek to experience, if only once.
Over the years, director Christopher Nolan has carved himself a place among the Hollywood elite. His sophomore movie Memento still remains one of my top ten personal favourite films but it was his hugely successful Dark Knight trilogy and the teasingly elaborate Inception that most people identified with. As a result of these blockbusters, there was much anticipation upon the release of his Sci-Fi epic Interstellar. Many were so enthused that they were literally counting down the days till the film's release. The anticipation was so huge that there was bound to be disappointment as few films can ever truly deliver on such a basis of expectation. Interstellar has become prey to this and I can honestly say that I wish I hadn't listened to the naysayers and their feelings of deflation.
In the near future, Earth is on the brink of decimation from climate change - resulting in dust clouds, famine and drought. Humanity's last hope comes in the shape of astronaut turned crop-farmer, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) who leaves behind his family to join a small crew of scientists and explore a wormhole in the far reaches our solar system. Travelling through this allows them to investigate planets which may be capable of sustaining life and possibly pave a new beginning for the human race.
Let's face it, Nolan has never been one to scrimp on ideas or refrain from challenging his audience. Trying to tie your head around Inception or Memento, for example, were hard enough but he manages to go even further with Interstellar - and on a even grander scale. Beginning as a family drama, Nolan builds his characters and their relationships with a touching sensitivity - that he's not normally known for. As much as he's been able to bring a realism to his imaginative and convoluted films in the past, he's never really brought a deliberately paced, dramatic edge. He normally sets up his stall and fires on with it. Interstellar, however, shows him at his most restrained. He builds slowly and assuredly which, ultimately, add real scope to his overall vision. And that scope is astounding; he achieves the apocalyptic dread of a decaying earth before reaching for the stars and injecting hope and wonder. Of course, this is not before he forces you to get your thinking cap on and ponder the complexities of gravity, neutron stars, spinning wormholes, black holes and Einstein's theory of relativity.
In order to ensure the film was scientifically accurate, Nolan enlisted the help of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne - who acted as a consultant throughout. His theories may be challenging but they only add to how impressive the film's idea's are and how they're not merely grown from a Hollywood script - they actually consist of scientific possibilities. This alone, hugely contributes to Interstellar being more than your average science fiction yarn. True, these theories and possibilities can be hard to wrap your head around but by building three dimensional characters and having reliable actors to embody them, Nolan has enough behind his grand ambitions to make events believable and manages to explain a fair bit on layman's terms. That being said, there are some questionable moments whereby we are offered a hypothesis on how love can transcend time and space. Admittedly, this is misplaced and clunky (even laughable) but the magnitude and scope of the film is so vast and ambitious that it's easy to overlook.
It's occasions like these, however, that resemble a maudlin, schmaltzier touch more akin to Steven Spielberg (who was originally planning to make the film). Where it benefits from a Spielbergian influence, though, is in it's sense of wonder and adventure. Despite it's heavy themes, Nolan never forgets to entertain and (like Spielberg) delivers a real visual spectacle that reminds you of just how magical and escapist movies can be.
The film does, admittedly, have inconsistencies but they were not enough to bother me. If anything, I found the whole experience to fit wonderfully together: Hans Zimmer's marvellously emotive score echoes the ethereal work of Philip Glass and serves the film perfectly - bringing a real gravitas to the whole spectacle - and McConaughey, yet again, delivers a central performance of real depth to a character that could so easily have been swamped with the big budget and special effects.
Added to which, at a running time close to three hours, Nolan, seemingly, doesn't know when to stop. However, I didn't want him to. Any clock watching I found myself doing was only a result of not wanting it to end. It's visually spectacular and as much as I greatly admired Alfonso Cauron's Oscar winning Gravity for it's visuals, I thought it's story was found wanting. Interstellar, on the other hand, is narratively dense and the overall film that Gravity wishes it was. That being said, Nolan (and his co-writer and brother Jonathan) came in for some criticism in terms of their (almost indecipherable) plot and the holes therein. Personally, I think the criticisms are a tad harsh. Can it be deciphered? Is it too complicated for it's own good? Is it because it strives to be an intellectual voyage yet remain a crowd pleaser the reason it has split audiences? These questions are better left to the individual viewer but big budget spectacles, where they dare to challenge and entertain are hard to come by and on it's ambition alone, Interstellar succeeds.
Nolan's epic odyssey is an old fashioned mix of grandeur, sophistication and entertainment. The frequency on which he's transmitting hasn't been well received by everyone but, personally, I was fully tuned in.
"Interstellar" is the only Christopher Nolan movie I've liked since "Memento." This sprawling space and time saga is set in the nearly apocalyptic future where food is scarce, farming is an essential though still blue-collar career, NASA has become SNASA (Secret NASA), and the smoonlanding (secret moonlanding) is thought to have been faked. Cooper is an aeronautical pilot tapped for a dangerous mission of indefinite duration to find new life-sustaining planets. His young daughter never quite forgives him for leaving, and his quest is one of survival and return.
I especially love the scene of Coop driving away in a cloud of dust, underscored by the space shuttle countdown. Mackenzie Foy as young Murph is sweet and teary, and Jessica Chastain deftly takes her into adulthood as a tough yet tender space crusader. Surprise Matt Damon (the best kind of Matt Damon) is tender and menacing as the "destroyer of worlds" - a recurring motif that I enjoy in Nolan's work.
The movie has its nonsensical flaws, of course. Wes Bentley's character is killed off way to quickly and anticlimactically because emotional plot point. The one equation to save humanity is a mere deus ex machina McGuffin. It's not explained in any plausible, scientific manner; we just have to roll with it. And dat Anne Hathaway doe. So melt-your-face-off-brilliant in "Les Miserables," yet so full of nothing in this. Dr. Brand has gumption written into her, but Hathaway can't infuse enough life into a character with no compelling purpose or motivation beyond blah-blah-save-the-human-race-blah-blah-love-conquers-all.
"Interstellar" manages to be captivating throughout most of its run but struggles to effectively pay off its immense potential. But you have to applaud its conceptual ambition.
Right off the bat, the visuals are extremely reminiscent to the likes of "2001: A Space Odyssey". Drawing inspiration from one of the most beautifully shot films of all time is not a bad thing whatsoever. The sweeping visuals are jaw droppingly gorgeous and what is even more amazing is that most of these sequences are shot primarily with practical effects.
Yes, at heart, "Interstellar" still remains a blockbuster, and hey, I don't have anything against blockbusters, but if a commendable director begins making blockbusters, he or she's gotta stick to their skills and craft it their own way, not Hollywood's way. I believe Nolan has done that with his latest two movies prior to "Interstellar". But surprisingly, Nolan crafts this film to be a slow burn. Gone are the flurry of quick cuts between Alfred opening an elevator and Gordon stopping a mayor and a judge getting blown and Harvey Dent getting rejected. It worked for "The Dark Knight" as it seemingly meshed well with the theme of "chaos", but it absolutely did not work in "The Dark Knight Rises". Here, "Interstellar" starts from beginning to end in chronological order, giving the film a very natural organic, and mature tone.
But by far the biggest achievement that this film succeeds on are not the outer space, mind blowing shots that twirl around with finesse -- it's the emotional tug with the characters. Nolan has never done character development well for any of his films. I repeat -- never. Just take a look back; "Inception" had a puzzling story that dug into multilayered portions of the narrative that made it fascinating, but the entire core of the film that was about Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mal's relationship had absolutely no weight. Even "Memento", undoubtedly my favorite Christopher Nolan film, had an interesting concept of memory but yet the main character was a character that audiences had no attachment with. Here, Nolan drives the characters home and tugs at the heartstrings so powerfully that I almost choked up. The anchor that hinges this powerful emotional core is Matthew McConaughey's visceral performance. His presence coupled with the superb direction and Hans Zimmers score (quite possibly his best score he's ever made) makes the close-to-3-hour-film zip by super fast.
It's where the 3rd act begins is where many people have issues with "Interstellar". Now as of today, I have rated close to 600 films via Flixster and quite possibly on every single one of my reviews have I never actually talked about the details of the film itself nor have I criticized certain plot turns that films take (other than "The Game" by David Fincher). The plot can take a turn this way or that way but that is not what dictates a good or bad movie. So the common misconception many have is that people are having issues of where the actual narrative takes them. I am here to say regardless of what specifically happened in the 3rd act, it is a design choice. I still believe that the WAY it was told was still excellently crafted. It all comes down to the audience's suspension of disbelief. Yet, I'll have to admit -- "Interstellar"'s 3rd act could've ended 10 minutes shorter. There is a certain part of the movie where if "Interstellar" ran the credits, the movie would be stellar (no pun intended). But because Nolan ties up any kind of loose ends, the ending feels too much like a neatly wrapped present.
Hope has risen once again. After being disappointed by recent Nolan films, I was pleasantly surprised by "Interstellar". It kept me gripped to my seat waiting to see what would happen next. Nolan has proven that he does not need to solely rely on an extremely witty premise for his narrative; he's proven here that he is equipped with the ability to concoct deeply interesting characters in a marvelously mysterious and deeply imaginative universe.
In the twenty-first century, food shortages and climate change will render Earth inhabitable. The planet is dying and the only hope is to find a new home in the stars. Conveniently, a wormhole near Saturn has opened and a secret NASA mission sent 12 brave astronauts through to send back information on the 12 potential worlds. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is the best pilot in the world, a former NASA employee, and trusted by the project's leader (Michael Caine) to lead a team (Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi) to the other side of the universe. Cooper is hesitant to leave his children behind, particularly his ten-year-old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), who says a peculiar ghost is haunting her in her room. The greater good wins out, and Cooper reluctantly blasts off into space to save his children and all Earth's children.
Interstellar is clearly a personal film for Nolan. It's about nobility, exploration, sacrifice, but really it's about a father trying to get hoe to his daughter (the son doesn't really seem to matter as much in the story). Nolan's catalogue of films has been able to straddle the line between blockbuster and art, providing mass appeal with uncommon intelligence and nuance. However, I don't think Interstellar is going to work for most audiences.
Maybe I'm just too savvy for my own good having seen plenty of movies, but I could accurately predict every single plot turn and Nolan and his co-screenwriter brother Jonathan made it easy. When we're told about a ghost within minutes and it's a movie about space travel, you shouldn't need any help. And then the ghost ends up speaking in Morse code and communicating, "stay," that's Nolan hitting you over the head with what to expect by the end (a conversation how parents are ghosts for their children is too much). You should also be able to figure out who Ellen Burstyn is going to be, and it's not going to be Talking Head #3 in a television interview. Likewise, the illustrious astronaut Dr. Mann is referred to but purposely never shown, so you can assume it's going to be a familiar face, which it is. Then once that A-list actor is onscreen you know there has to be more to this character because why would a movie star agree to play a part that amounts to merely, "Yeah, this planet is good. We're done here"? Because of the slow nature of the film it makes the easily telegraphed plot turns more frustrating. The supporting characters are presented so incidentally, as if they didn't merit extra time. Amelia has one mushy monologue about the power of love, tipping the film's philosophy, but that's all there is to her character. The rest of the cast amounts to stuff like Black Guy on Ship and Bearded Wes Bentley. Nolan's past work has been very generous to the characterization of his supporting players, especially with the Dark Knight trilogy. These people mattered. With Interstellar, their impact is purely in the name of plot and serving the father/daughter relationship.
And yet, the movie also precariously dips into the danger zone of boredom. Quantum physics isn't going to be a popular conversation topic for your average moviegoer. There's a reason that Back to the Future has a wider audience than Primer. By no means am I advocating for a lobotomized science-fiction experience, but Nolan seems to only have two modes when it comes to his characters and their dialogue here: treacle or science jargon exposition. I paid attention but it's easy to zone out or just have your eyes glaze over as characters talk about the ins and outs of time travel, black holes, relativity, and gravity. The equally frustrating part is that all of the emphasis on science is thrown out the window for the film's protracted resolution, offering a climax that intends to close a time loop but really only opens further questions when you know the identity of the "they" in question making all the plot mechanics happen. It all just ends up as a simple message to spend more time with your kids. The plot is dense without being particularly complex. The pre-space sequences take up far too much time and in general the Earth plots just don't compare with the alien planet space exploration. When Cooper is venturing into a rocky alien world, I don't want the film cutting back and forth between that struggle and his daughter on a dusty Earth. I wish all of the Earth sequences post-liftoff were jettisoned from the screenplay.
For a solid chunk in the middle, Interstellar becomes the exact film I wanted it to be. The crew has traveled through the wormhole to another galaxy and how has to deliberate. Which planets will be visited? What are the risks? Is data more important than human messages? Is returning home more important than fully exploring the worlds? What happened to the explorers? I could have dealt with the entire movie playing out this intriguing and conflict-driven scenario. You feel the immense magnitude of every one of their decisions. The future of humanity depends on them. Every planet provides a new mystery; what's it like and what happened to the explorer? When you're dealing with a finite supply of fuel and time dilation, there are debatable options as to what is best for the numbers. There's always Operation Repopulate as well. If you have to start somewhere, McConaughey and Hathaway are not bad genetic pools. For this stretch, Interstellar is fabulous. It's a shame then that the film then engineers a plot conflict that dominates the direction of the third act.
Nolan hasn't lost his gift for crafting eye-popping visuals and bringing a rousing sense of scale to his movies. Interstellar is blessed with spectacular images of our universe, alien worlds, and mankind's place in the whole realm of the cosmos. Nolan's usual DP, Wally Phister, was unavailable, taking time to direct his own debut, Transcendence (probably the last film he directs as well, like Janusz Kaminski's little-seen, little-remembered Lost Souls). The change of DP does Nolan good, giving the film a different, Earthier feel under Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her, Let the Right One In). Nolan isn't the greatest stager of action but he is remarkable about putting together memorable set-pieces, and Interstellar has some standouts from the hostile alien environments to a thrilling space-station docking that is not for those susceptible to motion sickness. The special effects are terrific and the retro cubist robots are a fun addition. The only technical element I found lacking is the score by Nolan's usual accompanist, Hans Zimmer. It's bleating organ music intended to add a spiritual sense to the cosmic sense of awe but it mostly becomes annoying. It sounds like a church organist died atop their instrument.
There is one great moment of acting in the film. Not to say there is an overabundance of bad acting, more like over emoting with a script and dialogue that do not deserve the waterworks. It involves Cooper after a mission, catching up on video messages sent from his children on Earth. In this very efficient scene, the magnitude of the consequences of Cooper's decision is emotionally raw and he is overpowered with regret. McConaughey has been on a record-breaking tear of supreme acting performances, especially if you count the mesmerizing turn in HBO's True Detective. Nolan allows the moment to play out, to sink in, without overdoing it, and it succeeds wildly. The other times Interstellar tries to wring out emotion feel too facile and maudlin to be effective.
This is my first Nolan disappointment, a bloated film struggling to be important and say Important Things about the Human Condition but coming up short. It has its moments of excitement and awe but more so those moments are surrounded by a lot of dead space. The story is dense while still being undercooked, with too many listless supporting characters that amount to nothing, and easily telegraphed plot turns that are frustrating. Interstellar snuffs out all the intriguing possibilities it has to come back to its sappy father/daughter relationship that never truly feels earned. By no means is Interstellar, Nolan's space travel opus/ode to Stanley Kubrick, a bad film. Unless you're a sucker for easy sentiment, it will likely be a disappointment in some way, whether it's too long, too boring with its science, too cloying with its emotional tugging, or just underdeveloped and overcooked at the same time. Interstellar is ambitious with its vision but seriously flawed and ultimately an obtusely personal sci-fi snoozer.
Nate's Grade: C+
But once the plot got going, it was rapturous and I saw planets and worlds that I have never dreamed of anywhere else, Borges-like in their fantastic imagination. It was a thoroughly enjoyable ride.