Christopher Nolan is a director that “visionary” and “auteur” monikers seem to be thrown at and stick to frequently and it is deservedly so.
Nolan reinvented Batman and redefined the superhero movie genre. He bent our minds with Memento, The Prestige and Inception and reaffirmed that big cinema doesn’t need to be dumb cinema.
Rather than needlessly complicating his films with CGI like many contemporary directors, whenever practical he uses practical effects, with Christopher Nolan what you see is exactly what you get.
So how does his latest offering Interstellar stack up?
Well, I liked it, go see it.
Come back for the spoilers contained within when you have.
So this movie follows a tradition of hard Sci-Fi, traveling the same territory of Kubrick’s 2001: A space odyssey, Contact, Sunshine and Gravity
It lacks some of the existential terror of 2001, the mawkishness of Contact and the immediacy of Gravity.
The visuals are outstanding, they had to build a whole new simulation of the way singularities bend light especially for the movie, that will in turn allow scientific study of this computer model for years to come.
Hans Zimmer’s score is strident, suitably epic if a bit overbearing drowning out the dialogue in places. The score has a heavy Phillip Glass influence throughout which adds to its atmosphere.
Interstellar does have some of the same issues that (for me at least) ruined Sunshine, more about that later.
Oh yeah about those spoilers…
The setting of the movie is something that has been appearing more in films, for want of a better term, an agricultural dystopian future. (Looper’s primary setting.)
Armies have been disbanded and all non-essential resources have been turned towards feeding the planet.
There is something in this setting that is timely and cautionary with humanity’s current trajectory.
There are intercuts of oral histories that could be straight out of a Ken Burns great depression dust bowl documentary which lends authenticity to the setting. It’s all happened before and it will all happen again.
The technology in this world is what you could find in people’s homes today and has not really progressed to the gleaming futures presented in other Sci-Fi. Something that is repeated several times in the set-up is that the world needs farmers not engineers.
The plot is progressed hrough a sequence of events that if handled in a less skillful way would have seemed to erupt from the quill that penned M. Night Shaymalans Signs, although it becomes clear later the source of these incredible coincidences and how it ties to the characters.
Matthew McConaughey is in fine form as Cooper, former NASA pilot turned farmer, he is believable in his role as the movies credible everyman anchor point.
The child actor playing Murph is a bit ehhhh and it’s quite starkly contrasted against the fantastic performance of McConaughey.
But the show is stolen by the Robot actor TARS (Voiced by the not instantly recognisable stage, screen and voice actor Bill Irwin).
When this character is first introduced my brain had a meltdown at why this very human voice was coming from an agitated silver Kit-Kat.
TARS has some of the best lines of the movie and you will be left longing for a spin-off buddy adventure movie about TARS and McConaughey cruising around the universe Dazed and Confused style picking up chicks and trying to score some wormholes.
Michael Caine’s character Dr Bland, (the elder) is more than serviceable in the role, but I did feel there some of his usual charisma was missing and would have made one of the second act plot points more impactful were it present. He is a treasure though and doesn’t detract from the film, but he could have enriched it a lot more.
Anne Hathaway’s Dr Bland (the younger) is okay if a bit one note. For me her character never left orbit, even if she was doing an inscrutable intellectual ice queen, there are ways of portraying buttoned down repressed characters in such a way where every facial twitch screams volumes. She just looked like she was having an attack of hay fever.
Wes Bently’s beard as always was a welcome addition to the cast and was gone all too quickly. He seems to be the go to actor when you need someone kind of intense to eyefuck the camera a bit. Neither beard nor eyefucking disappointed.
Now on to the problems I had with it.
Spoilers anyone? If you are still reading and haven’t seen the movie, you, my friend, are a masochist.
You know what? Fuck space madness, it turns whatever Sci-Fi movie it touches into Event Horizon and unless that movie is Event Horizon it has no place being in it.
It has already been done much better before, it is a very clichéd plot crutch that causes otherwise strong movies to limp to the finish.
The only example you need of this (after Ren and Stimpy that is) is Michael Beihn’s performance in the Abyss. (Not technically a space movie I know, but I dare you to find a better acted not tacked on example.)
Beihn did such a convincing descent into madness it’s up there with the Aviator’s portrayal of Howard Hughes. Oddly enough there are many links between the Abyss’s plot and the real life Howard Hughes, in fact, the Hughes designed mining barge that was funded by the CIA to lift a downed Russian submarine during the cold war directly inspired a massive chunk of Abyss’ story.
Most notably for me “Space Madness” also ruined the much-anticipated Sci-Fi movie Sunshine, it was unnessa-scary.
Space is frightening enough without space Freddy Kruger showing up to fuck things up more. It could have still been just as nerve-racking the crew battling the odds to complete the mission.
Would Gravity have been better if George Cloony went loony, lost his shit and Sandra Bullock had to fight him the whole way to the Soyuz? Would Apollo 13 have been a better movie if Tom Hanks had to zero gravity curb stomp Kevin Bacon because he touched the “do not touch” switch while Bill Paxton floats in a corner weeping softly, repeating “Game over man, Game over.”
So imagine my dismay when in Interstellar a wild Matt Damon appears, his robot should have been called Wilson.
I had already pegged the plot twist before it happened. It was pretty predictable, it didn’t sink the movie like it did with Sunshine, but it did weigh it down needlessly.
There was also a rather convenient technical prop that a sequence hinged on which struck me as being absurd. After luring McConaughey away to show him something real cool or some shit, Damon unplugs McConaughey’s thumb sized communications device from the side of his helmet and throws it away. Well that is pretty bad design for starters, you couldn’t have that like built-in to the suit or have a back up? If they were going to do that scene (which I wished they hadn’t) it would have been just as well served by some earlier dialogue about a communications black spot, magnetic anomaly whatever, not “Oh hey I just stole your phone, wait let me change your Facebook profile picture first, LOL.”
This leads to further fail which sends the plot in a particular direction for the conclusion. Just a reminder, space is still a pretty randomly dangerous and fucked up place without Matt Damon or Space Freddy Kruger there to wreck shit, just sayin.
Does anyone remember the very late 70s Disney “Oh shit, was Event Horizon a remake of this?” movie the Black Hole? Interstellar is pretty much a remake of that.
Black Hole: Check (duh)
Space Madness: Check
Quirky Robot companions: Check
Crew + Robots get to find out whats on the other side of the Black Hole: Double Check
This wouldn’t be the first time Nolan has directly lifted the plot from Disney, Inception was almost verbatim from a Donald Duck comic. I shit you not.
So to sum up it didn’t quite hit the jaw dropping emotional levels for me that Inception or The Prestige did. It is a solid Sci-Fi movie none the less, The visuals are amazeballs and worth the price of admission alone, but I get the feeling it was just a few months of plot polish away from being a classic (or decades depending on which side of the Black Hole you are on).