Interstellar review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Upon first glance, Interstellar appears as Christopher Nolan’s treatment for 2001: A Space Odyssey. It does away with most if not all of the tranquility and perplexing nature of humans seeking answers to existence across the stars. In its place is a larger presence of family, an epic series of intense special effects and an explosion or two. Of course, that appears to be a very unfair relation comparing Nolan to Kubrik. That’s not to say it’s a bad film; it just seems to be mainstreaming a story that’s trying to say so much more.
In the seemingly not-too-distant future, Earth has become the wasteland of the ultimate dust storm. The only crop that will grow is corn and even that variety is about to go out the door, effectively shutting down humanity. The answers lie in the stars at least according to astrophysicist Professor Brand (Michael Caine). Tasked with finding new habitable conditions on other worlds, he sends widowed astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and one or two expendable characters out into space. Armed with the spaceship Endurance and a robot that appears as a walking version of the 2001 monoliths, their goal is to seek out potential planets where other shuttles have previously been sent via wormholes.
While they adventure around the cosmos, Cooper’s family stays behind on a dying planet. His daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) grows older and becomes a NASA scientist hoping to find a solution to evacuate Earth. Her life goes through many changes that she records and sends to the Endurance. Cooper watches on as the time difference in space travel displays his little girl age into adulthood in just a few hours. The more news he hears about Earth in all the frustrations and failures of the mission, the more fragile Cooper becomes.
Nolan has an eye for using the camera well and he transports us once again into worlds of rich tapestries and morphing geography. The crew visit a planet with gargantuan waves that appear more as massive mountains toppling over their floating shuttle. They embark into an icy tundra with many layers folded on top of each other as if two worlds were staring back at each other. Not to give away too much, but the vision of the black hole they venture into at one point is one of the most unforgettable and lavish designs of a sci-fi contraption.
I can’t help but feel that some of the magic and mystery is spoiled by a spoon-fed script. Many of the emotional tethers and implications of alien technology are harped on and exposed just a tad too much. Part of the allure to 2001: A Space Odyssey's mysterious discoveries was that we were never given much of a clear explanation of what the monoliths do, who made them and where they came from. Interstellar seems somewhat unsure of letting the audience enjoy these quiet moments of connecting human emotion towards science. Everything has to be explained as if the movie came prepared for that one person in the theater who never stops asking questions aloud. Nolan could’ve been on to something as making one of the best sci-fi movies of the decade, but instead goes for his usual trademarks.
The good news is that Nolan’s bag of tricks still hasn’t quite worn thin yet. The action he stages is exceptionally well done from the scuffle on snowy mountains to a near-impossible docking on a rapidly spinning space station. There is quite a bit of space travel in the film and it rarely feels dull. Nolan lets the camera remain stationary and keeps the sound effects mostly mute, allowing the enormity to wash over you. But when the movie isn’t quiet, it’s usually booming with an exhilarating soundtrack and thunderous sound effects (sometimes literally eclipsing the dialogue).
While Interstellar may not challenge as much as the best science fiction, it does have enough ideas and striking visuals that you can’t take your eyes off of it. The special effects are remarkable, the cast unmatched and the plot has enough emotion behind it to make up for its preposterous tech. It requires a great deal of suspending disbelief for the themes it attempts to tackle, but it’s a ride worth taking for all its lofty goals as a sci-fi epic. If 2001: A Space Odyssey was the thinking man’s story of comprehending humanity’s place in the universe, Interstellar is one for the whole family.