It turned out to be a very good weekend for movies, with both Big Hero 6 and Interstellar coming out on the same day. The two cater to two very different audiences, though. One is a friendly movie that is suitable for all ages, the other is a super-serious sci-fi movie that aims to be the next landmark in the genre much like 2001 or Blade Runner. Having Interstellar being directed by Christopher Nolan (after Steven Spielberg passed on the opportunity) probably won’t hurt this movie’s draw at the box office, seeing as there are rabid hordes of Nolanites that eat up every single thing he produces, claiming that he is the next big thing in movies altogether. Nolan, in my opinion, is overrated as a director, but he does manage to make films that draw you in and are very aesthetically pleasing. It’s safe to say that Interstellar is an ambitious film and it succeeds on partially all fronts. I’d imagine this will be polarizing for some viewers but Nolan seems to have that effect on several of his movies (Dark Knight Rises, Inception, and even Man of Steel).
Interstellar depicts an Earth in the distant future. Our worldwide food resources are dwindling and the planet has been covered in dust storms. Corn is the only crop that can be grown and it won’t be very long until that source dries up along with everything else. Earth is dying, and our main hero: Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) is recruited to pilot a mission to find a new home for humans. This mission will take him up into the depths of space and through a wormhole located near Saturn, in order to determine if there is a planet on the other side of the event horizon capable of sustaining life. If I say anything else it will get too spoilery, something the adverts have managed to keep relatively secret, which is rare in this day and age. It’s a very interesting journey that aspires to be as scientifically correct as possible, themes of relativity and gravity are all introduced and played around here, perhaps one of the few films that has managed to pull off the physics of which perfectly.
Since we are in the middle of the McConaisance, it’s no wonder that McConaughey is the best actor in this film. He plays a loving father that bears the weight of leaving his children to save the planet very well. You see that his relationship with his daughter seems very real as he dotes on her because she wants to be an engineer just like him, demonstrating a knack for advanced scientific topics. This makes his struggle to tell her that it could be decades before they see each other again all the more painful because you can see that they both love each other but he is driven to go in order to save her from starving to death on a lonely planet. It’s a well developed relationship and the theme of them reuniting is the primary motivator for McConaughey’s entire reason for leaving in the first place. He’s doing this for her.
The rest of the cast is good, but not as good as McConaughey. Anne Hathaway is her usual self as a dedicated doctor (but boy, does she get some hokey lines). Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, and Topher Grace all pretty much are delegated to extended cameos. But Matt Damon has a pretty important part in this film, even if you weren’t expecting him. (Say it with me now, “MAAATT DAAAAMON”)
Perhaps the next best performance comes from Jessica Chastain (who, to my knowledge, has never put in a bad performance in her life) as McConaughey’s daughter all grown up. There is some great tension that she has to endure in this film: her hatred of her father for just up and leaving versus her love for the bond that they once shared and her respect for their relationship. When the tears start flowing, do they ever start flowing. I wouldn’t say this is Best Actress worthy but it’s still a terrific performance overall.
I’m already predicting that this movie will probably get wins for Best Effects and Cinematography, if not at least noms. The painstaking detail that went into this film is very overwhelming and it shows respect to the laws of space and time as we know it. Hell, there’s even no sound in space, not even for a moment. The attention-to-detail in the scientific accuracy is very 2001-ish in its approach which makes it feel all the more Kubrickian, more eerie.
Speaking of eerie, Hans Zimmer returns as Nolan’s usual collaborator to compose the score for Interstellar. Whether old Z-Man had any ghostwriters working on this project or not, it seems that the focus on sound design has been toned down to give the film a more personal touch. The emphasis on sound design is still there, but more melodic passages immediately stand out in the forefront. There’s no string ostinatos, no drum circles, nothing that sounds remotely like Zimmer, actually. A nice piano line, the pronounced use of an organ, and a distinct lack of dumbness (*cough* Man of Steel *cough*) make this all the more surprising because Zimmer’s worst work usually comes from his collaborations with Nolan. Influences from other composers like Philip Glass can be heard in this movie which means that Zimmer has finally achieved that mature sound that he had been aiming for. I’d say that the soundtrack deserves a listen.
However, some quibbles still remain to be addressed. As per usual, the editing in Interstellar is not particularly good. The transition between some scenes is jarring and in some cases in appropriate, like using a fade out to a scene that happens immediately after (a fade out is supposed to emphasize the passage of a longer amount of time). Some of the actions that the characters make or explain don’t really make a lot of sense to the audience. The sound sometimes is so bass-heavy that it manages to drown out what the characters are saying in the background rendering a supposedly important conversation unintelligible, a problem that Nolan has run into in the past.
But perhaps the worst offender in this film has to be the final act. Without spoiling anything, the last 20 minutes or so are a hodgepodge of mass confusion that manages to raise more questions than it tries to explain. And, almost comically, the film tries to answer those unexpected questions with even more answers, thereby prompting more questions in the first place. I can get what the movie was trying to do but everything seemed a little too convenient, as if the writers dug themselves into a hole and tried desperately to climb out of it. Perhaps I’ll refer to this as the Mass Effect 3 Condition. It doesn’t break the movie, but it is a big WTF for people trying to follow along. Maybe I’m just stupid and couldn’t understand it right away, or the ending was too complicated. Your pick.
Would I see this film again? Probably not. Once was enough for me but I’m glad that I took the time regardless. Interstellar is not afraid to go above and beyond the big picture to give us one ambitious story in the meld of Stanley Kubrick and Ridley Scott. Time will tell if Interstellar joins that coveted pantheon but until then, it remains a solid adventure film that is tense, gripping, and very well told throughout. Sci-fi buffs should not miss out.
Final Score: 79/100