INTERSTELLAR Review: Some Fault In Those Stars
According to Box Office Mojo, prior to the release of Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar, the film’s costar, Michael Caine, was ranked 13th on the all-time Box Office chart with 53 of his films earning about $2.94B. Five of those films represent more than half that amount. Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) combined for more than $1.53B in US box office earnings. They were also all directed by Nolan. Caine is back in this Nolan film and if it performs remotely as well as the others, the actor will cross the $3B mark and ease his way into the Top 10.
In the near future, the planet Earth is in critical condition. Blight and famine have decimated the planet, leaving humanity in jeopardy of becoming extinct. NASA (or a form of it) hopes to change that by finding new planets, inhabitable planets, with the plan being to transport survivors off Earth and onto the new planet(s).
Leading the intellectual charge is Professor Brand (Caine), who recruits Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a widower and former NASA pilot, to lead a mission into space to find a new home for humanity. Included in the space crew is Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi), and Brand’s daughter (Anne Hathaway). Cooper has a daughter, too; her name is Murph (Mackenzie Foy), and she is devastated that her father is leaving her (and her brother and their grandfather) to go on a years-long mission. Once in space, Cooper and his team face challenges they hadn’t anticipated, and their fates, and the fate of Earth, hang in the balance.
In a cinematic landscape riddled with dystopian futures where only the young and fabulously coiffed can save the day against random and superficial rules of oppression, Interstellar opens with dystopia as painted by Norman Rockwell. America (and the world, but …) is experiencing a dustbowl renaissance and real decisions about real fates need to be made. Many already have been, most significantly the dismantling of NASA, as space exploration has become a luxury that cannot take resources – financial or human – away from farming whatever crops are left.
This opening act of the film – which also celebrates America’s willingness to do what it takes despite the rules (read: Professor Brand’s “secret NASA” – my words) – is strong, offering genuine patriotism along with a stark reminder of both the preciousness of natural resources and the importance of space exploration. Woven into that is the beginning of an emotional narrative about parents and children and sacrifice.
Once the film makes its way into space, Nolan jettisons John Ford for Stanley Kubrick, but to mixed results. The visuals of the film are breathtaking, be they massive and serene space-scapes or FX-heavy set-pieces presenting Nolan’s vision of what a black hole might look like from the inside. There is also a fair amount of heavy science to consume, and it’s perfectly acceptable to take it at face value because most viewers aren’t rocket scientists. Once you get past the razzle-dazzle, though, the story disintegrates like a piece of meteor reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.
Part of that disintegration has to do with an odd choice for conflict. Nolan, who cowrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan Nolan, decides that the threat of extinction, the exploration of uncharted space, and the challenges of time moving at different paces between where they are in space and Earth (for every 1 hour in space, 7 Earth years pass) isn’t enough to deal with, so he introduces … well, a bad guy. He introduces two, really – one back on Earth and another already in space. The Earth baddie is bad enough, but the space baddie is simply preposterous, amounting to a sexy celebrity cameo turning a portion of Act Two into a run-of-the-mill action movie. For a movie that spends almost three hours trying to be the smartest thing ever committed to film, this subplot is positively pedestrian.
Another part concerns the resolution of the film which, without getting spoiler-y, introduces strong enough elements of faith and emotion into the scientific equation that by the end it feels like Nolan simply didn’t know how to realistically bring the thing home, so he clung to more feelings than facts.
Speaking of home, for as good as the Earth scenes are in Act One, they feel almost inserted into Act Three, as if to serve as a reminder that despite how much screen time and Earth time has passed, the planet still needs to be saved. The scenes also give Jessica Chastain a chance to play a grown Murph and allow her to share scenes with Caine.
The final scene again recalls B-grade action films from the ’80s to today.
To dive any deeper into the flaws of the film is to dive headfirst down a slippery slope. There are plot/story/writing issues – holes, if you must – throughout the film. It isn’t the details of those issues that concern me so much as it is what they represent: an abandonment of, even a disregard for, solid storytelling in the name of stunning visuals and deafening sound (at times loud enough to drown out dialogue). Most disappointing is that the film demands you respect its intellectualism, yet treats you as stupid at the same time.
There is enough impressive stuff in Interstellar to make it worth watching. But at three flawed hours, one trip into this deep space is enough.