Directed by: Christopher Nolan || Produced by: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, Lynda Obst
Screenplay by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan || Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Matt Damon, Michael Caine, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Josh Stewart, Mackenzie Foy, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Topher Grace
Music by: Hans Zimmer || Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema || Edited by: Lee Smith || Country: United States, United Kingdom || Language: English
Running Time: 169 minutes
Bringing us the most divisive film since last year’s Man of Steel (2013) is none other than fan-favorite director Christopher Nolan. Ever since his smash success with The Dark Knight trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012), Nolan has become the most loved and universally recognized filmmaker working in Hollywood today. Most average movie-goers may not recognize the man’s photograph, but everybody knows his name. The man has made a career out of writing and directing blockbuster entertainment with brains and street-smarts. He makes entertainment that’s not afraid to think and possesses thematic and emotional depth — or at least he did before 2008.
In my opinion, Nolan hasn’t made a noteworthy film since his Batman magnum opus, The Dark Knight. Inception (2010) was an overrated, pretentious wannabe Matrix (1999)-ripoff, bloated with nonsensical plot devices and boring characters, while The Dark Knight Rises (2012) was a disappointing, poorly paced, and incoherent mess. As good as Nolan’s movies were before 2008 (Memento , Batman Begins , The Prestige , The Dark Knight ), his last two mega-blockbusters were lacking any of the attention to detail that had defined his rise to fame.
I spent the majority of my teenage years singing the man’s praises after the miraculous resuscitation of the Batman franchise in 2005 and again in 2008, as well as retroactively appreciating his earlier non-Batman films like Memento and The Prestige; however, I turned against the man once Inception and The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) hammered me with a double-whammy of disappointment. In many ways, my opinions of Christopher Nolan have followed the same arc as my love/hate-relationship with James Cameron. Both directors have made some of my favorite films (Terminator , Aliens , TDKR, Memento), but then they went in another direction with back-to-back, overrated blockbusters that were doubly annoying due to their pretentious screenplays and hamfisted social commentary (e.g. Avatar ).
Enter Interstellar, one of Nolan’s most ambitious projects and arguably his most philosophical film yet. In the couple weeks since its release, the movie has become the most polarizing, divisive film since the aforementioned nerd-rage-fest that was Zack Snyder’s and screenwriter David S. Goyer’s (and producer Nolan’s) Superman-reboot. After viewing the film opening weekend, it became clear to me why this film has split so many audiences down the middle. The problem filmmakers have combining blockbuster spectacle with high-minded philosophical themes and New Wave character analysis is that they’ll rarely please everybody.
With Interstellar, Nolan tries to make a broad thematic shift from his supposedly “intelligent” blockbusters with brains (Inception, TDKR, etc.) to a full-fledged Stanley Kubrick-tribute that combines the American New Wave symbolism and artistry of Nolan’s creative idol with the technological spectacle and adventurous ambition of Nolan’s previous efforts. Interstellar is further notable among modern blockbusters in that it is a purebred science-fiction film. Where as most films posing as “sci-fi” blockbusters nowadays tend to be action films taking place in Star Wars-esque, space-adventure settings (e.g. the new Star Trek reboots [2009, 2013], Guardians of the Galaxy , Elysium ), Interstellar is true science-fiction. It’s focus is on the narrative’s melding of speculative science, known science, and quasi-realistic fiction, not on action scenes —- which is good because Nolan sucks at shooting fistfights or shootouts. I like my sci-fi slow and dull, and I like my action fast and awesome, so that’s why to me, Interstellar is a science-fiction movie before any sort of adventure tale or action extravaganza; for a conceptually-heavy sci-fi film, it’s a pretty darn good one.
Interstellar still suffers from the misguided, over-the-top ambition and shaky writing (particularly with respect to dialogue) that has plagued Nolan’s last two efforts, but nonetheless it’s his best film since The Dark Knight. Interstellar sports Nolan’s best visual FX to date and has a great, awe-inspiring scale. Some of the setpieces are paced to perfection and coordinate great visuals with an effective score by (you guessed it) Hans Zimmer. The performances from several key cast members (Matthew McConaughey, Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain, Annie Hathaway) do much to temper Nolan’s dialogue; moreover, the not-so-subtle subtext of the film is amusing.
In the end, whether Interstellar captivates or repels you depends on your particular tastes as a film-fan, because all the arguments for and complaints against the movie are equally valid. The movie is adventurous while still being philosophical and contemplative, it uses actual science-fiction with real scientific speculation, and it’s well acted. However, the story goes off the deep end by the final forty minutes of the film, with McConaughey getting whipped into alternate dimensions and communicating incoherent, gravitational-theory mumbo jumbo through “the power of love,” numerous monologues by multiple characters are painfully cliched regardless of the actor’s attempts to compensate, and Nolan crosscuts boring back-at-the-ranch scenes on earth with the far more interesting space-exploration sequences.
That’s all that can be said about Interstellar. While it is an intellectually ambitious film, the final project itself you’ll see in theatres is not exceptional (particularly when compared to Nolan’s original inspiration, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey ), and there’s little reason to look too deeply into the movie’s narrative when it’s thematic content isn’t all that subtle. Compared to a Gravity (2013) or your average space-adventure film, Interstellar is smarter and more emotionally engaging, but in comparison to most of the films it’s paying homage to, it’s rather straightforward. My guess is that this film is easy to overthink for general audiences, and that’s probably why many non-sci-fi fans are either loving or hating this film.
Check your Nolan expectations and genre preconceptions at the door and you’ll probably enjoy Interstellar. It’s neither Nolan’s best film nor even in his top three, but it’s a clear step or two above his most disappointing, overrated hits from the past few years. In a way, Nolan stayed true to his roots by forsaking them and switching things up, exploring new genres and pushing a form of pure-bred science-fiction that general audiences don’t often see these days. In that sense, I respect him for not shoving another generic space-adventure romp down our throats, but rather using his name-brand recognition and complete freedom from studio interference (that latter point a true rarity in Hollywood) to do something commercially risky and against-the-grain. He used his mega-mainstream status to do something decidedly non-mainstream.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Interstellar’s scientifically accurate yet speculative visuals are glorious and not just for show, but in fact critical elements of its adventurous story. Several setpieces, such as the spinning mothership-docking sequence, are as magnificent as the most pulse-pounding moments from last year’s Gravity while featuring none of the annoying Sandra Bullock. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is awesome, Interstellar is proficient at telling a true science-fiction story that makes use of actual science, speculative fiction, and philosophy to contemplate interesting questions about the human condition, exploration, and the future of humanity. Some of it is hokey, but much of it is truly engaging.
— However… the story gets too far up its own ass by the time we get to the fifth-dimensional black hole sequence, and numerous parts of the story’s premise are either incoherent, confusing, or nonsensical to the point it’s distracting (super-evolved, 5th dimensional human beings, really?). Nolan’s major directing misstep is how he refuses to stop intercutting the scenes back on earth with the astronaut team. The earth sequences should have been edited down to a minimum.
? Matthew McConaughey is the ONE THING that transcends space and time. So is this what he was talking about when he said his hero is always himself in ten years?