Interstellar – A Review

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Sigh…..again with the outer space.

As I explained in my review of last year’s Gravity, I’m not really one for the space movies. It’s just not my jam and much like war movies, I always dread when Hollywood decided to crank another one out in the genre. I’m not guaranteed to dislike space movies – I actually thought Gravity was decent – but the cards are stacked against them. I was admittedly not very psyched to see Interstellar; not only was the subject matter not my favorite, but the film is really long. Clocking in at two hours and forty minutes, Interstellar is a time commitment. I had planned to see Interstellar closer to when it opened, but called a mulligan when I wasn’t in the mood for that kind of time commitment. It took the lure of the World of Beer and hanging out with a friend that I haven’t seen in a while to finally get me in to the theater for this space epic. I even dropped the big bucks and saw the film in IMAX; that’s unheard of.

Ultimately, I’m still not sure how I really feel about Interstellar; there were parts of the movie that I really liked, parts that just didn’t work for me and parts that I simply did not understand. There were moments where I was riveted to the (giant) screen and there were moments where I was ready to blow my brains out because I was so bored. In the words of Charles Dickens, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I’m still unpacking all these competing ideas to decipher where I ultimately come down on Interstellar; I think it’s an ambitious film that doesn’t quite live up to its own ambition. The things it does well it does really well, but there are enough flaws that Interstellar doesn’t succeed in what it set out to do.

The Earth in Interstellar is nearing the end of its ability to sustain human life. Widespread hunger is on the horizon as crops continue to die out and massive dust storms rage across the land. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA test pilot and engineer turned farmer who lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), teenaged son Tom and young daughter Murphy. Cooper is recruited to participate in a secret mission to save humanity by traveling through a newly discovered wormhole to find a planet in another galaxy that can sustain human life. In order to secure his children’s future, Cooper will have to abandon them for the mission and thanks to the different rates of time, they may even be dead if and when he returns. Accompanied by his crew, Including Anne Hathaway and Wes Bentley, Cooper tries to find a place to recolonize the people of Earth. That’s as much as I can explain without spoiling a lot of surprises in the film or without running into some of the science stuff that I don’t fully understand.

There were plenty of things in Interstellar that are impressive – first and foremost, this is a film that is beautifully shot. Especially in IMAX, there are some spectacular visuals in Interstellar. I may not be all that interested in space, but there is no denying that when filmed right it provides a gorgeous setting for a film. The acting is also as solid as you’d expect from a cast that boast several Oscar nominees. I didn’t even mind Anne Hathaway that much and we all know how I feel about her. McConaughey is unsurprisingly the anchor of this film and does a nice job with all of the emotion of Interstellar. The film dips a bit too much into sentimentality in places for my liking, but the actors manage to prevent it from spinning into complete saccharine nonsense.

Interstellar is also a film that constantly surprised me; I had my suspicions about how things would turn out, but there were several moments in the movie that I absolutely did not see coming. There is an actor that I like that has a surprise role in Interstellar –his/her presence in the film has not been widely publicized – and everything related to that particular storyline was totally unexpected. I enjoy not being exactly sure where things are going and on that front Interstellar did not disappoint.

On the other hand, there are also a lot of things in Interstellar that gave me pause. There is absolutely no need for the film to be as long as it is; while there are moments that are thrilling in the film, there were also points where I thought about heading for the door. I could easily trim 30 minutes from Interstellar without doing any damage to the story – there are pointless diversions and plots that wouldn’t be missed if they were removed. It’s a slog in places and that kills some of the momentum of the film.

One of the knocks on Christopher Nolan as a director is that he doesn’t do emotion very well. Interstellar is Nolan’s attempt to change that, but the execution is not as polished as he may have hoped. While there are moments of sentimentality in the film, more often than not they feel forced. I may have reacted the way that Nolan intended, but I also saw him pulling the strings in manipulating me. There were some Speilbergian turns in Interstellar, which isn’t all that surprising since Speilberg was originally attached to the film. You may feel something while watching the movie, but it just doesn’t feel completely earned; corny dialogue and emotional shortcuts hinder what Nolan was trying to do.

While I appreciated the element of surprise in Interstellar, there is a difference between an unexpected revelation and plot holes. I’m not sure that Nolan knows that, as there were several moments in Interstellar where failures of the narrative were covered up by roaring of spaceship engines. I’ll acknowledge that there are parts of Interstellar that I didn’t get just because I hear the word “wormhole” and my eyes glaze over, but these gaps in the story go beyond that. There are many instances where outside the science of the film, the actions of the characters make little to no sense. These aren’t minor details, but things that impact the events of the story; I won’t spoil anything here, but this article from Business Insider highlights some of the problems I had with the plot of Interstellar (especially #3 – that drove me batty). I thought the ending of the film was particularly problematic – part of that comes from my meh-ness when it comes to science fiction, but it also felt like a very convenient explanation.

Some other thoughts:

  • I do have one “get off my lawn” complaint – this film, at least in IMAX, is really, really loud. They say that in space no one can hear you scream, but that’s because they are deafened by the score of Interstellar. Look, I have done my time at plenty of rock concerts, but I actually had to cover my ears a few times during Interstellar just to give my eardrums some reprieve. It’s just too much and is a distraction from the film; I could barely make out the dialogue in a pivotal scene over the swell of the music.
  • Anyone who thinks parents don’t have a favorite child so watch Interstellar. It’s painfully obvious that while there is a strong connection between Murph and Copper, his son Tom is basically chopped liver. As the eldest child who refers to her younger brother as “the chosen one,” I can relate.
  • I think the less you know about Interstellar going in, the better.
  • If you have some trouble keeping the timeline straight in the movie, there’s a handy infograph making the rounds that might be helpful.
  • Look, I like Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night as much as the next person, but around the third time it was quoted in Interstellar, even I thought that it was enough already.

I’m probably not the target audience for Interstellar and I’m sure my feelings about the genre contribute to my general ambivalence about the film. If you want to take my thoughts with a grain of salt, I wouldn’t blame you. But while I’d say that Interstellar is an above average movie, it just has too many issues for it to be a great one. I’m glad to see Nolan flex his creative muscle and move a little outside his normal comfort zone; Interstellar simply can’t meet the ambition behind it. It’s a beautifully shot film and has some nice performances, yet there are enough problems with the execution that the film doesn’t always hit the mark. Interstellar has big ideas, but never fully soars.

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