Interstellar‘s beauty is skin deep: at its best it is inspiring and gorgeous to look at; at its worst it can be cliched and paradoxically lacking in explanation.
Planet Earth is dying. The land is turning into a dustbowl and little to no life or vegetation can survive the dust storms that ravage the surface. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) lives as a farmer but once flew experimental aircraft due to growing demands of produce. His aspirations (and his ideal for Humanity) is to travel to other worlds, and when his daughter mysteriously finds the location of a secret government project of interstellar travel, he finds his destiny to be woven with that of Humanity’s survival.
To say Interstellar is heavy material would be an understatement. Running at a weighty two hours and fifty you will feel exhausted by the end of it all, yet for all its perpetual severity and borderline preaching, it has great pacing and as a film it feels complete. Throw in some of its dry humour (something director/co-writer/producer Christopher Nolan is getting better and better at!) it does tide you through it all once you register its ponderous pace.
The actors are great, including the child actors, and the casting itself is splendidly tactful. The star of the show though is the visuals, which is why I came to see it to be fair. There are whopping big parallels with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and also Danny Boyle’s massively underrated Sunshine, but made more mainstream than either of those by reducing jargon and “science” to a minimum. In fact, Nolan has notoriety for having scripts that over-analyse every solitary concept presented and one would imagine Interstellar, with its sci-fi near-future setting and pre-requisite for theoretical physics and space travel, it will start sounding like a thesaurus rendition. But Nolan’s script is surprisingly light! Maybe a little… too light.
So it feels wrong to criticise Nolan for scrimping on details, but perhaps it was needed. Interstellar somehow feels too short for the awesome weight of time and information to be shown. While this is near-future, we are still dealing with massive distances and incredible time distortions. Yes we have robots, yes we have cryo-stasis, but when your characters flippantly say things like: “I’ll have a couple of years to study it”, only to wrap this concept up with a simple cut, the audience will be perplexed. Compound this further when things go wrong and a couple of years becomes decades!
Going into a film like this, having seen 2001 and Sunshine, I wasn’t that surprised at any particular point. I was amazed, in awe, at the high definition spectacle. Planets with frozen clouds or colossal tidal waves, these things capture my imagination! But as a story things get very flaky in the third act, and actually jeopardise the entire venture.
You see the problem is, with all three films, is when Humanity (or at least your entire cast, who are by extension representing Humanity) is unified to one goal, the goal to survive, it is very hard to write in a believable antagonist or threat. Interstellar might have been a sci-fi docu-drama about the Solar system and I’d have been perfectly happy! But no… this is cinema, it needs a third act twist, and unfortunately I saw it coming a mile off. After this the screenplay wants to have its cake and eat it too, which felt a trifle forced. Honestly, I preferred Boyle’s Sunshine.
But Interstellar is a good movie and deserving a watch (on IMAX it would look gorgeous!) It stumbles as it carries its own incredible weight, but it inspires all the right feelings. Acting is good, visuals are gorgeous, the spikes of humour brings out laughs, the first and (especially) the second act are the best and most credible.