Friday, November 21, 2014

Interstellar Review

In late 2013 we saw teasers for Christopher Nolan's latest film, Interstellar. Throughout 2014 it was among the most anticipated films of the year. So many people were predicting Interstellar to be the 2001: A Space Odyssey this century. That's a bold expectation and is no doubt a high complement to Nolan's movie directing skills. While Interstellar is an intriguing film, it's less "2001: A Space Odyssey" and more "2014: A Space Exposition."
In the near future, the entire Earth has been devastated by drought and famine, causing scarcity in food and extreme changes in climate. When humanity is facing extinction, a mysterious rip in the space-time continuum is discovered, giving mankind the opportunity to widen its lifespan. A group of explorers use this wormhole to travel far beyond our solar system in search of a planet that can sustain life. The crew of The Endurance is required to think bigger and go further than any human in history as they embark on an interstellar voyage into the unknown. Pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is torn between seeing his children again and the future of the human race. He reluctantly joins biologist Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gayasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), and robots TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart) as they search for a new home for humanity.
Christopher Nolan has earned the respect of audiences with some outstanding films such as Inception,  The Dark Knight trilogy, Memento, and others. His stories generally revolve around a character who has been wronged and wants to make it right, forcing him to fights against a universe that insists that things must ramain as they are. That makes for some fascinating stories and dynamic, interesting characters. In Interstellar, the universe dictates that mankind has reached the end of its existence. However, there are a handful who refuse to accept that fate, and they fight against the literal universe so that mankind can continue to thrive and exist. This had a lot of potential to get into some deep philosophical concepts and show us some fascinating struggles.
There are some complex struggles that the characters are faced with, but they aren't as deep as they could have been. Most of the problems that the characters in space are faced with involve managing time and resources. Einstein's theories of relativity are incorporated in Interstellar in ways that most sci-fi stories gloss over. There's still some aspects of "fantasy" science, but a lot of it is based on hard science. At one point they must decide whether or not to visit a planet which is near enough to a black hole that time bends with the gravitational pull, causing one hour on the planet to be close to seven years further away from it.
The story is episodic in nature; it's basically a tour of alien worlds with unusual climates. This kind of story lends itself a magnificent display of visual effects, but not a terribly interesting storyline. There is a great deal of dialogue explaining things as they go along. It makes sense because apart from Cooper, most of the characters are scientists and feel a need to explain things as they go. This results in a very verbose story in a visually based medium. Dialogue is important but a good piece of writing should show, not tell, us what is happening and why. More so in movies. Inception had a lot of exposition in it, too, but it was done in small increments between tense moments of action while still showing us examples as new information was presented. In Interstellar there was a lot of sitting around discussing science, relativity, and exchanges of feelings and doubts. It was good and well written dialogue, but made the movie feel slow at times. I still yearned to be shown these things rather than told. Possibly my favorite segment of dialogue was when Hathaway's character is speculating about love being a scientific force of nature, like gravity, that we haven't had the forethought to incorporate into our views of science. I'm unconvinced of that idea, but it was a good bit of dialogue.
Without the very important relationship between Cooper and his daughter, Murphy, Interstellar would have been much weaker and nothing more than a tour of alien planets. Generally I don't like having major child characters only because children don't tend to be good actors. Mackenzie Foy was highly impressive for a child actress; she and McConaughey had some outstanding and emotional moments together and father and daughter. I'm very much impressed with her, and look forward to seeing how she fares further on in her career as an actress.
It's hard not to hold 2001: A Space Odyssey up to Interstellar. Both are about space exploration, have "movie epic" lengths (a run time that exceeds two hours), and comment about man's place in the universe. I think comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges. While I'm not the biggest fan of 2001, it is a masterpiece of cinema art, full of elaborate camera work, complex symbolism and theme, and mind-blowing abstract concepts. Interstellar is basically a gorgeous display of visual effects and a few touching family moments. It was lacking in symbolism, had a good but straightforward theme, and didn't feel nearly as profound as 2001. Similar to 2001, the last thirty minutes of Interstellar does some far out, even trippy things while tying the story together for its conclusion. As was the case with Inception, you may need to watch the last bit a few times before you are able to piece it together in your mind. Also, it's hard to ignore the similarities between 2001's monoliths and Interstellar's robots.
Overall, I did enjoy Interstellar, but it took me a while to decide that I did. It had some great visuals and camera work, several good characters that I could relate to, and some great bits of dialogue. Since it was so dependent upon these great bits of dialogue, the story feels slow from time to time, and it lacks the symbolism and thematic complexity that many of us where hoping for when we saw the trailer. Admittedly it was a bit foolhardy of us to expect another 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Christopher Nolan has given us reason to expect Kubrick-level cinema art from him, and I don't doubt that he is capable of that in the future. It simply wasn't accomplished on this occasion. If you value special effects and graphics in movies then Interstellar is worth catching in theaters. If you are like me and value characters, story, and theme above all else you're better off waiting for this on home video. I wouldn't mind seeing it a second time, but I didn't love it enough to get my own copy.

What did you think of Interstellar? Did you like it? Was it a disappointment? Do you have mixed feelings about it? Comment below and let me know! (But please avoid spoilers)

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