Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review: Interstellar

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Produced by: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan & Lynda Obst
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Executive Producers: Jordan Goldberg, Jake Myers & Thomas Tull
Cinematography by: Hoyte van Hoytema
Production Designed by: Nathan Crowley
Edited by: Lee Smith
Costumes by: Mary Zophres
Music by: Hans Zimmer

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Matt Damon

2014 / 169min / Rated PG-13

In a not-too-distant future where everyone is a farmer, mankind is on the verge of extinction. It's only hope lies in the stars. A former-pilot-turned-farmer must make the sacrifice of leaving his children behind on Earth in order to lead a mission to other worlds in the hopes of finding a way to save the Human race.

Over the past decade, Christopher Nolan has proven himself to be a filmmaker of big ideas. Even his Dark Knight Trilogy was filled with ideas that transcended the comic book superhero genre and made them much more substantive than any other film in the genre. With Interstellar, Nolan sets out to create a film that's this generation's 2001 and fills it with the big ideas for which he has made his name. He sets his ambitions high. Perhaps a little too high as with Interstellar Nolan bites off more than he can chew. However, a film by Nolan that missed the mark is still far better than most of the other films that pack the theaters these days.

Nolan and his brother Jonathan create a future Earth where mankind is on the verge of extinction but doesn't even know it. Humanity leaves in a global Great Depression under constant threat of monster sand storms. Everyone is a farmer as the population struggles to grow enough food for survival. With each passing year, they hope that the next will be better, unaware that their situation is only growing worse and that they may only have a generation or two left to live. Professor Brand (Michael Caine) leads a NASA that literally operates underground to avoid scrutiny for wasting tax payer money from a public that believe the Apollo moon landings were a hoax to bankrupt the Soviet Union. Brand has discovered an artificially-created wormhole near Saturn that leads to a solar system in another galaxy that may be home to a planet capable of sustaining human life. His belief is that humanity's best hope for survival is not on Earth but in the stars.

Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a hot shot pilot who discovers NASA's compound following a seemingly supernatural event in his daughter, Murph's bedroom. Brand believes Coop's arrival is no coincidence and enlists him to pilot the mission to find a new home for humanity. The catch is that he must leave behind his son and daughter without knowing when he could return. Due to the laws of physics and relativity, Coop could likely return to find that while only a few years have passed for him, decades may have passed on Earth. Coop accepts the mission with the hope that he will ensure his family's survival.

Unlike most science-fiction films, the plot of Interstellar is based heavily on real science. The dialogue is laced with physics and talk of relativity yet isn't confusing and doesn't detract from the enjoyability. It adds a sense of authenticity and serves to raise the stakes as, in true Nolan fashion, time becomes as valuable of a resource to the characters as water and good. Nolan has always displayed a fascination with time and the way we perceive it and the laws of relativity are used to great effect to show how our different perceptions of time can greatly vary. The worlds that are visited are fascinating as they're depicted as truly alien worlds that are quite different from our own.

The influence of 2001 is often on display. Like 2001, space scenes are depicted realistically with no sound mix present aside from the musical score. The two robot characters are also an homage to 2001's HAL, though infused with more personality to have them better relate to the human characters. Even the docking sequence feels like a reference back to Stanley Kubrick's earlier film.

Nolan's films have often been described as being cold and lacking real human emotion and Interstellar threatens to be the same with all it's realistic science. Yet with Interstellar Nolan seeks to break from that mold by packing in real human emotion and melodrama. The results are decidedly mixed as he sometimes borderlines going overly mushy and sappy. But he keeps things reigned in just enough thanks to wonderful performances by McConnaughy and Anne Hathaway who plays Brand's daughter. The affect of Nolan's time manipulation are taken on the characters while what's only a matter of hours for them is decades for everyone else. A powerful scene features McConaughy watching messages from home in which he literally watches his children grow into adulthood before his eyes while he's only aged a couple of years. McConaughy conveys the powerful toll that's taken on Cooper who's children mean everything to him.

Despite those efforts to keep the story grounded by the human element, the jumps back and forth between the scenes in space and those on Earth are sometimes jarring. Though the Earthbound story following Chastain's adult Murph is necessary to the overall story, something about the back and forth shifting doesn't flow naturally. It takes a few moments to readjust to the different narrative. These jumps are something that Nolan has perfected in his other films, but here it doesn't feel as effective.

The characters also lack real depth. Only McConaughy and Matt Damon feel like real people. When Damon shows up, he brings a very real take on basic human instinct and emotion. Though his appearance is unexpected and could remove the viewer from the experience, the exploration of humanity in it's most primitive state is fascinating to watch and Damon sells it with brutally raw performance. The rest of the characters, including Hathaway's Brand and Chastain's Murph are sadly underdeveloped despite their substantial roles. The performances of the cast are excellent, especially Caine and John Lithgow in very dignified turns, but they serve little purpose besides offering exposition.

It's only in the third act where things threaten to unwind as a film that spends most of it's almost-three hour runtime grounded in science makes a departure into being borderline fantasy. While it avoids jumping the shark, it feels like liberties were taken to wrap things up neatly and provide a happy ending. It's far from a bad ending and doesn't ruin the picture, but it feels almost disconnected from the rest of the movie.

Interstellar is always engaging, though, never feeling overly long as Nolan keeps the pace moving but never feeling rushed. From shots of ships traveling through space dwarfed by massive planets, to planetary vistas and depictions of wormholes and blackholes, the visual effects are breathtaking, flawless and seamlessly integrated into shots involving real actors. Nolan strives to use practical effects whenever possible, especially with the robots that accompany the crew, using computer effects only when necessary. Interstellar is one of the most strikingly beautiful movies I've seen in a long time.

Hans Zimmer accompanies with a score that predominantly features the organ. Though he doesn't use a full orchestra, Zimmer's score is epic in scope and most enjoyable.

Interstellar is an incredibly ambitious effort by Christopher Nolan. His attempts to keep emotion at the heart of the story only undermine him but not enough to ruin the film. It's still far better than most movies out there these days and Cheistopher Nolan shows his passion for filmmaking as an art form. Tackling big ideas to make one think, Interstellar is an excellent movie that delivers a memorable experience.

Story: 5 / 5
Plot: 8 / 10
Dialogue: 4 / 5

Development: 7 / 10
Growth: 7 / 10
Acting: 20 / 20

Pacing: 4 / 5
Tone: 4 / 5
Overall Enjoyment: 9 / 10

Music: 8 / 10
Visuals: 10 / 10

TOTAL: 86 / 100

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