Worm holes, parallel universes and family values – Jack Woodward on the sci-fi epic, Interstellar.
Interstellar is Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious creation yet. We’ve all heard that phrase before, but this time it’s true. We’re used to Nolan stepping up the scale – he’s been on a streak of ballooning ambitiousness for a good three movies now – and now he’s aiming for a big-budget, serious, thinking man’s science fiction film, reaching high into the stratosphere and far beyond. The hype levels are so ridiculously high that comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey already happened months before its release. And now that Interstellar has taken off, it’s safe to say that the final journey… isn’t entirely successful. It’s not a Challenger level of failure, though.
One thing is for sure – you can’t call it generic. The setup of a famine-ridden Earth is an interesting one, in a not too distant future where the world is more or less as it exists now. It feels grounded and realistic in a way that’s typical for Nolan, and we’re soon introduced to Cooper, played in an excellently serious turn from Matthew McConaughey. He always tries to do the best by his two kids and father following the loss of his wife, teaching them to question everything, and there’s always an underlying melancholy to his demeanour. The relationship he has with his daughter, Murph, acts as the emotional heart of the film, and it works. Mackenzie Foy steals every scene she’s in playing Murph, and definitely has an Oscar-coloured future if she has more roles like this. Soon enough, however, Cooper is whisked away from his new life as a farmer back to his old one as a NASA pilot. He’s told that they have a mission to find a new planet for humanity to survive on, and before Cooper knows it, he’s zipping through worm holes and exploring a new universe.
Despite a 3-hour running time, Interstellar could have easily been longer, and better for it. This opening act setting up the rest of the space-based journey constantly feels rushed. The information we get about its world and universe are the bare minimum, and the loose explanations of wormholes and space travel feel like half-answers. You’re never confused by what’s happening, but you’re never 100% comfortable with the world of the film as you were in Inception or The Dark Knight Rises, and before you get the chance to fully understand the set-up you’re thrown right into the action.
That being said, the action is spectacular. Interstellar is a wonder to look at, being shot on 70mm IMAX cameras for the gorgeously exhilarating space sequences. It’s something that needs to be seen on the big screen, even more so with the fantastic sound work (cutting all sound save for the music during space shots a la Gravity was a masterstroke) and an exceptional soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. It’s a lot subtler than his usual work, but when it soars it soars. The performances across the board are very strong, with McConaughey being the very likable centre of it all, and the direction is as reliable as always from Nolan. It’s a hugely eventful film, and always brilliantly engaging and entertaining.
The problem with Interstellar is that the script never really finds its emotional or intellectual footing. It tries to mix elements of time travel, black holes and saving humanity into this one moving, smart, epic, cohesive whole, but the elements never quite gel together. At times, it really works. One moment in particular, where a small mistake causes serious relativity ripples, will leave you gasping at the emotional fallout on Earth. But then at other times, the film takes a few minutes to logically analyse the power of love, and it leaves you cringing at the whole attitude. It’s unsatisfying from a logical point of view, and very impactful emotionally (save for Cooper’s relationship with Murph). Not just that, but once the film hits the half-way mark, the plot starts adding in more and more plot twists that feel unnecessarily dramatic, and by the third act, it veers so far from science fiction into straight-up fiction that the whole affair becomes preposterous. The ending in particular is mind-warpingly weird, however entertaining.
And the same can be said of the whole film. Interstellar is too ambitious for its own good, and gets flat-out bonkers very quickly. Yet you can’t ignore the craft behind it all, and you can’t help but be entertained. Though, having set the bar so high with his previous blockbusters, Interstellar is ultimately an unfortunate disappointment.
Images sourced from Creative Commons.