Interstellar (2014)

The end of Earth will not be the end of us.

Born one year after the monumental Apollo landing in 1969, Interstellar is perhaps director Christopher Nolan’s response to the wonder he felt as a child, gazing up at the infinite night sky or an ode to his favorite film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Either way, Interstellar is fueled by large ambitions and big ideas or theories, all brought to life with wondrous imagery. However, this grandly conceived picture throws undue melodrama into the mix, stumbling more often than it strides, as it attempts to juggle intimate human emotions alongside speculation about the cosmos. Overly long and immensely complicated, Interstellar may test viewer’s patience, as the picture is an uneven affair that’s sometimes engrossing and other times as flat and lifeless as its vast immeasurable space.

A corny father/ daughter moment!
A corny father/ daughter moment!

Co-written by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, Interstellar was chiefly inspired by theoretical physicist Kop Thorne’s work on traversable wormholes, along with Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, yet, the brother’s screenplay never slows down to explain its science or tentative theories; in turn, one may require a full science degree to fully comprehend the actual premise. Nonetheless, Interstellar takes place in a retro-future, where we meet Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), one of NASA’s last pilots, prior to the agency being disbanded due to the diminishing food supply on the planet taking priority over technological advancements such as space travel and exploration. With Earth’s ecosystem steadily falling apart, the widowed ‘Coop’ finds himself reluctantly running a family farm with his father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow), his son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy).

Convinced that there are ghosts in her room — knocking books off shelves and sending her messages via Morse code — Murph attempts to convince her skeptical father of her supernatural suspicions. But when a windstorm hits town, Coop realizes that lines of dust left on Murph’s bedroom floor are in fact binary code, revealing the secret coordinates of the very last NASA base in the USA. There, Coop is reacquainted with his former mentor, Professor Brad (Michael Caine), who happens to be overseeing an enormous undertaking. In an attempt to travel beyond our solar system, NASA plans to track down three previous missions sent into deep space to gather information from three different planets, each with the possibility of sustaining human life.

After Coop is startlingly recruited by Professor Brad, asked to pilot a craft named the Endurance, through a newly discovered wormhole near the rings of Saturn — possibly put there by a unknown life form — he must leave his family behind, including a teary Murph — who disapproves of her father’s departure — if he wishes to save humanity. Accompanied by the professor’s feisty daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), who constantly challenges Coop, a low-key physicist, Romilly (David Gyasi) and a smart-alecky robot TARS, voiced by Bill Irwan, the crew of the Endurance are required to think bigger and go further than any other human, as they embark on an interstellar voyage into the unknown, in an endeavor to save mankind from extinction.

A long way from Dallas!
A long way from Dallas!

Given its gargantuan budget, Interstellar is a visually impeccable marvel and a well-devised picture — it features a glimpse of a near future apocalypse that’s brilliantly written and imagined — whilst investigating space and time, showcasing visuals never before captured on camera. Kop Thorne, who worked as a scientific consultant and executive producer on the film, ensures that the wormholes depicted are as accurate as possible, whereas images of space bear a resemblance to the grainy ultra-realism most notable in IMAX documentaries, seamlessly integrating CGI with live action effects. The planets themselves are well designed, and with Nolan’s long-time collaborator, Wally Pfister, busy working on Transcendence (2014) — his directorial debut — cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, Her (2013), has been called upon, lavishly illuminating these bleak minimalistic shells, most notably, a watery hell, complete with thousand-foot waves and an icy region where even clouds freeze. The 60s inspired robotics are equally as exceptional, with the robot crew members, TARS and CASE resembling chrome LEGO bricks that twist and rearrange themselves manually in order to perform complex tasks with minimal effort; interestingly enough, little CGI was used to bring these machines to life as actor, Bill Irwin, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), manually operated them.

Interstellar is at its most thrilling when the crew are journeying to unexplored worlds near a black hole, where time is imperative for the landing party, as every hour that elapses on the planet is equal to seven years for those orbiting in the spacecraft, while cliff-hanger sequences including a docking attempt with an out-of-control ship and a giant tidal wave demonstrate editor Lee Smith’s, Inception (2010), skill and ability. Composer Hans Zimmer’s energizing score is his best contemporary effort to date, surpassing his work on Nolan’s Batman trilogy. With more than an hour of footage shot in spectacular 70mm IMAX, Interstellar cries out to seen on an IMAX screen, particularly if one wishes to fully appreciate the film’s technical genius.

' ... but this hairstyle worked wonders for Sandra ...'
‘ … but this hairstyle worked wonders for Sandra …’

On the contrary, the Nolan’s writing doesn’t reflect the finesse displayed in the film’s outstanding imagery, as Interstellar features an underwritten cast with vague character relationships/ connections; let’s not forget about the romantic sub-plot that pretty much goes nowhere. Similarly, the problematic self-indulgent script, preoccupied with the abstract nature of physics, challenges viewers to think too deeply into its theories and concepts, and since our brains are already working in overdrive, we might as well question all the gaps and inconsistencies in rudimentary storytelling which somewhat derail portions of the picture. For instance, when Coop walks out on his weeping young daughter Murph, he refuses to tell her that the world is damned, as he wants her to feel safe and secure, then contradicts his actions by entrusting her to the care of Professor Brad, the scientist heading the entire doomsday operation. Likewise, we are asked to believe that a seasoned space-man like Coop is in need of a ‘simplified’ wormhole explanation; an untactful scene inserted into the picture to clarify the notion for us simple-minded Earth-bound folk.

Additionally, the feature’s A-list cast oddly deliver a mixed bag of performances, Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club (2013), is effectively a script-delivering module, but does okay in his role as the affable Coop, Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables (2012), feels completely miscast, lacking any real chemistry between her co-star McConaughey, while Nolan regular Michael Caine, The Dark Knight (2008), muffles his way through important dialogue. Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty (2012), enters the picture via implausible video messages as a grown up Murph, who resents her father for leaving, yet continues his work in an attempt to solve an equation relating to time, gravity and space, in turn, saving her dad’s mission and the world. Chastain delivers a decent one-note performance, and to some extent maintains the picture’s father-daughter story arc. Wes Bentley, The Hunger Games (2012), is wasted as a NASA employee who doesn’t really do much, as is Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone (2007), portraying a grown up Tom, struggling to make peace with his father’s prolonged absence. Then there’s the uncredited Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity (2002), who pops up at around the two-hour mark as another interplanetary explorer, veering the plot into unexpected territory.

Murphy's Law?
Murphy’s Law?

Perhaps the biggest pitfall within Nolan’s epic-scope is the film’s third act ‘twist,’ best comparable to late-career Shyamalan, as the narrative descends into staggering nonsense, making little sense for reasons one can’t disclose without spoiling the entire experience. After banking billions of dollars with his Dark Knight trilogy and proving his worth as an apt storyteller with Inception (2010), Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006), it’s obvious that Nolan was given free reign to do whatever he pleased with Interstellar, having limited studio interference. Sadly, in an attempt to outdo himself, Nolan throws his first-rate flick into absurdity by the time it reaches its final act. Had someone like Steven Spielberg — who was originally attached to the project back in 2006 — remained on-board, and restrained the Nolan’s, we would’ve finished up with a much more straight-forward, fulfilling event-picture.

Too drawn out, particularly given its nonsensical payoff, with far-too rare flashes of humor — it’s ironic that the script’s only shred of life comes from the Artificial Intelligence — Interstellar is perhaps Nolan’s first major misfire. In an attempt to simultaneously dazzle whilst tugging at our heartstrings, this brilliantly visualized affair is the British director’s soppiest, longest and silliest feature to date. Fundamentally, Interstellar is a difficult sell in terms of escapism entertainment as amidst all the technical wizardry, ill-conceived human drama and mind-bending scientific theories, it’s evident that Christopher Nolan forgot to have fun.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Interstellar is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia