A group of explorers use a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer an interstellar endeavor.
Year 3, Film #38
THE GOOD: A lot of people, myself included, always like to say that Christopher Nolan’s films force you to think about what you’re watching. To this day people still have long discussions about what exactly happened in Inception because the simple answer is, we’re not sure. Coming out of the theater my friend remarked at how Interstellar is just Inception set in space and I find that analogy to be quite accurate. The end isn’t quite as open-ended as Inception was but the journey to reach that ending is just as crazy and puzzling. There will be many times as you watch Interstellar that your mind will be racing as fast as your heart is beating trying to keep up with all the action and mystery that surrounds this film.
But something I realized walking out of the theater is that I think the best way to watch a Christopher Nolan film is not to think about it and just go with the flow. Go in to witness Interstellar as an experience without worrying about trying to figure out what everything means. What’s so incredible about Interstellar though is Nolan’s ability to keep a strong attention to detail. Everything about this film, from beginning to end, feels beautifully crafted as if some it’s some sculpture created during the Renaissance. As I’ll get into a bit more, the sculpture itself may not be perfect, but the craftsmanship and passion that went into creating it are.
There’s no easy way to summarize or try to distill the essence of what goes on in this 169 minute epic. Suffice it to say, Interstellar is long, and feels long watching it. But, to it’s credit, it never seems to drag. A combination of the story and the brutally tense action sequences keeps you moving and invested. While the story deserves a lot of credit for making this film what it is, I’d argue that the action and tension represent why this film is so great.
Right off the bat, you get some beautiful visual and special effects — above and beyond what we’ve come to expect from today’s films. Many comparisons can be made to Gravity in terms of accuracy and attention to detail, but Interstellar explores more of the theoretical world; things we’ve never witnessed or observed but might be possible, like wormholes and the inner workings of black holes. It’s more about the exploration and investigating unknowns than showing reality. And from this theoretical point-of-view, the filmmakers succeeded, at least according to Neil deGrasse Tyson (who very famously knocked the aforementioned Gravity for poor movie-science).
In addition to these gorgeous and accurate depictions of the universe around us, there is a lot of mystery, suspense, and tension. Some of that is inherent from the story (I promise I’m getting to that) and the fact that these astronauts and engineers are exploring the unknown. But a major part of the energy in Interstellar comes from Hans Zimmer’s outstanding, incredible, stellar (no pun intended) score. It’s a combination of real instruments with synths, reality with theory, known with unknown. The result is something completely otherworldly, and yet has a tangible “human-like” quality to it. Not only is this a good representation of everything the films about, and could work as a standalone piece, but when combined with the visuals something amazing happens. The integration of the two enhances both individually. Hearing the score with the picture makes it even more powerful and stress-inducing (I was clenching my entire body for long portions of the film), but seeing the picture adds another mystical and delicate element to the sound. The soundtrack is not scheduled for release until November 18, but when it is released, I’d highly recommend listening to a few tracks, even if you haven’t seen the movie by then. “A Place Among The Stars”1 is a very good example of what this score brings to the table. Easily my pick for the Academy Award this year.
So, the story. Interstellar, as simply as I can put it, follows Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), and others on the Endurance as they try to find a new planet that can sustain human life. Dust storms are causing damage and health problems on Earth while corn is pretty much the only form of food left that we can grow. There’s a whole bunch of stuff about ghosts, NASA, gravity, robots, and time that I can’t go into much detail on because of spoilers. There’s also not much I can say with regard to motivations and feelings, but I’ll at least try to cover those.
A part of this film is about the exploration and trying to leave Earth and all the trouble we created there. This part of the film is about daring, courage, and trying to start anew with the best that humanity has to offer. However, even with this mindset of moving past our worst characteristics, the crew is still faced with issues of trust and betrayal and they have to overcome those adversities. Meanwhile, there’s another part of the film the explores why the Earth and the life we currently have is worth saving. There’s love that binds us together, our perseverance and determination. We somehow always manage to find a way to combat whatever problem we face, whether it’s naturally-occurring or man-made. This is the story of Interstellar, the plot just has details (lots of them, and almost all spoilers) thrown in.
THE BAD: A lot of criticism seems to revolve around poor dialogue, weak characters, and an overall sense that Christopher Nolan bit off more than he could chew. My issues with Interstellar aren’t about any of those things and this gets back to what I was saying about being forced to think versus not having to think. Without a doubt, a Christopher Nolan film leaves you scratching your head at the end thinking about the intricate details of what went on. I applaud this and look forward to it in each of his films I see. But for a film as complex, involved, and science-based as Interstellar is, you have to realize that there’s a certain amount of stuff you’re just not going to understand. That’s not to say you should give the film a pass for being so complicated, but detail-focused, that you can’t take it all in. Quite the opposite. With Interstellar you get a feeling for, a baseline understanding of, everything that’s going on, but you know that there’s information you must be missing. People say that a good book is one where you can get something new out of it every time you read it. Why can’t the same be true with film?
My criticism about the film is how it introduces and concludes various parts. One in particular, the interview clips of elderly people that are shown in the first thirty minutes or so. Why are they here and what purpose do they serve? When the movie had just started and this interview clips were still appearing, I went along with it. “Ok, this must be going somewhere,” I thought. Then, once the Endurance takes off and with it go Cooper and Amelia, there’s no more interview clips. Eventually, these clips are circled back to at the end and you sort of get an idea of what purpose they served. But there’s a big delay between the setup and the payoff and the payoff isn’t even that significant; it makes the entire concept pointless.
In addition to these interview clips, pretty much every act change (beginning to Endurance, Endurance to first planet, etc.) also seemed very abrupt. The transitions weren’t as bad as just a straight cut (except for the transition to Endurance launching, although that was a great transition), but there was a lack in finesse. Just a little work to make the different pieces try and flow together could have helped the film tremendously.
THE TAKEAWAY: Bottom line is that you should definitely see Interstellar and to see it while it’s still in theaters2. It takes you on a journey unlike any you’ve ever been on before. While the story and the structure may not be perfect, the craftsmanship and the effort that were put into this film are. Hans Zimmer should easily win the Academy Award for the incredible soundtrack he scored and the visual effects department will probably win a trophy themselves for the gorgeous images that come across the screen. The film may be largely about space travel, exploration, and science jargon and concepts, but the heart of the film rests on ideas we can all relate to: love, trust, and everything else that makes us human — the good and the bad.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5
I found this copy on YouTube, though I’m not sure how long it will remain up. ↩
While I wasn’t able to experience the full 70mm IMAX presentation, because there are no theaters anywhere near Boston showing it, if you’re lucky enough to be near a city that is, that is the highest quality format available, and the one Christopher Nolan made the film to be seen in. ↩