Friday, November 7, 2014


In 1970, NASA’s third attempt to land on the Moon would ultimately be known in the history books as a “successful failure”; although the mission had not been accomplished, its story did not end in tragedy. Such a label or metaphor can easily be applied to any film which succeeds overall even if it fails at its goals. Enter the universe of Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR.
In the near future, the Earth is dying and unable to sustain life for mankind. Taking advantage of a newly discovered “wormhole” near Saturn, astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and scientist Brand (Anne Hathaway) lead a small crew on a mission to find a new habitat. Their trip takes them to new galaxies…and while time passes on Earth, it moves slowly for them.

INTERSTELLAR is 100% composed of science-fiction elements much in the spirit of names such as Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury…and even Einstein. It is saturated in the spirit of exploration-and-survival and science-and-technology…with every type of spaceship, spacesuit, space-walk, space-roll and spaced-out trip re-imagined for a new generation. The stakes are high and the mission is clear, and director Christopher Nolan fully embraces the sciences and theories that our voyagers and scientists have grappled with for decades. As Cooper’s crew journeys through the cosmos, time moves as normal for them…while decades pass on Earth. It’s the Theory of Relativity unfolded for real, and Nolan challenges our minds ten-fold to keep up with what is happening in space and on Earth as time is bent and folded and unfolded before our very eyes. In that regard, INTERSTALLAR soars and soars far.
But where Nolan loses altitude is when he tries to bring us back to the human side of the story. Although INTERSTELLAR is all sci-fi with lots of theories and thick lingo, ultimately the movie is all about saving humanity, so the narrative is forced to come back to that no matter what. Nolan uses the relationship between Cooper and his daughter to represent this, and the attempts to pull emotion out of this dynamic falls flat. Generating an emotional response on film is usually best handled by being subtle or coy and letting the emotions take the viewer by surprise. This is a gentle touch that Nolan has yet to develop as he bluntly tries to force emotion out of it. Like space itself, this is a very cold film…and it’s difficult to root for humanity or even Cooper, leaving INTERSTELLAR with no moral center.

There is still a ton to enjoy. Nolan’s knack for showing scale is on full display, as the vastness of space and the planets we explore is startling and stunning and beautiful all at once. The blackness of space with her celestial bodies are gorgeous, and some stressful scenes where things go wrong for the astronauts are pulse-pounding and executed with precision. This is big-screen spectacle at its best and perhaps greatest.
Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway are brilliant and have great chemistry together. As star-voyagers with family they know they might never see again, both actors have to show great burden and they both handle is very well. Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck come into the film as older versions of the children Cooper had left behind, and they both perform well as characters who actually have something vital to do on Earth while dad is out exploring. The supporting cast; Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn, and a certain un-named, un-credited whopper of a cameo…are all excellent. Major props need to go towards young MacKenzie Foy, who plays the younger version of Cooper’s daughter.

The finale really pushes the limits of what you want to believe, and how much you buy into it depends on how much you love your science fiction. That sort of un-balance makes INTERSTELLAR a genre-specific film and not for everybody. Christopher Nolan succeeds on many things; spectacle, story, thought-provoking, thrill and adventure…but he fails to make us care. It’s not a tragedy of a movie, but it doesn’t quite accomplish what it sets out to do either. INTERSTELLAR soars and crashes, with a slight edge towards getting it right more often than not.


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