Review – Interstellar

For a film that puts so much currency in science, Christopher Nolan’s most grandly ambitious work to date ultimately asks us for something far more down to earth – our faith.

As a spectacle, Interstellar is astonishing and its ambition is virtually unmatched, but an overblown final act means we're going to have to wait that little bit longer for Nolan's masterpiece

As a spectacle, Interstellar is astonishing and its ambition is virtually unmatched, but an overblown final act means we’re going to have to wait that little bit longer for Nolan’s masterpiece

In many ways Interstellar can be seen as a companion piece to Robert Zemeckis’ Contact. Aside from starring Matthew McConaughey and featuring imput from theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, the galaxy-spanning premise of both films is grounded by a seemingly impossible human connection between a daughter and her father.

The hard science at the core of each movie gradually gives way to a far more intimate tale wherein love is the rocket fuel that propels us to the closing credits and faith, when given into, can transcend time and space. In that respect it also bears more than a passing resemblance to Solaris (more the Steven Soderbergh version rather than Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 Russian classic).

Watching Interstellar, the excitable talk surrounding the picture prior to its release was that Nolan had delivered his masterwork; his 2001: A Space Odyssey. While there are obvious threads to Kubrick’s magnum opus and Hans Zimmer’s use of organs is as direct a nod as you’re ever likely to get, this is a very different animal; one that, for good or ill, is a product of 21st Century moviemaking.

The Endurance crew - Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and Romilly (David Gyasi)  in Interstellar

The Endurance crew – Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and Romilly (David Gyasi) in Interstellar

Nolan’s script, written with his brother Jonathan (who originally penned it with Spielberg in mind to direct, interestingly), falls into the trap of so many sci-fi films before it (2001 notwithstanding, it must be said) of turning certain characters into walking exposition announcers. Michael Caine is particularly ill-served in this regard as Professor Brand, who very swiftly convinces NASA test pilot-turned-farmer Cooper (McConaughey) to leave his kids Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet) in the care of father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) in order to embark on a grand quest to save humanity.

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) spells it out in Interstellar

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) spells it out in Interstellar

The lapses in logic that marred The Dark Knight Rises (exactly how did a penniless/passport-less Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham City from the arse end of nowhere?) come back to haunt Nolan here. Glaring moments, such as when fellow crew member Romilly (David Gyasi) gives a ‘wormholes for dummies’ talk to Cooper as they are about to enter one (as opposed to before they’d even left Earth, for example), pull you out of the film.

The criticism often lazily thrown at Nolan that he’s too ‘cold’ and doesn’t invest enough in his characters doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny here, thanks largely to a committed cast who work extremely hard to overcome the occasionally clunky script. McConaughey anchors the film as an everyman who never forgets the reason why he’s risked life and limb travelling thousands of light years from home. He’s smart enough not to overdo it, which gives his big moment when an increasingly distraught Cooper watches a series of family videos transmitted from Earth that much more impact.

TARS comes to the rescue in Interstellar

TARS comes to the rescue in Interstellar

Anne Hathaway successfully convinces as Cooper’s fellow intrepid astronaut Amelia in spite of having to utter more than a few leaden lines, while Jessica Chastain’s flinty-eyed scientist adds heft to her scenes as she tries to save an Earth succumbing to blight and ferocious dust storms that resemble something out of The Grapes Of Wrath.

If the script doesn’t entirely convince, the visuals surely do and it’s here that Interstellar goes, well, interstellar. Right from his devious debut film Following, Nolan has proven extremely adept at knowing what to do with the camera and over the course of an increasingly revered career has continued to refine this skill. He also tries where possible to use physical effects in-camera rather than relying on CGI and by having his actors interact with replicas of spacecraft or go on location to an Icelandic glacier (captured beautifully by the director’s new cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema) to represent an alien world adds an authenticity that computer effects cannot match.

Interstellar goes, errrr, Interstellar

Interstellar goes, errrr, Interstellar

The film’s several set pieces are edge-of-the-seat stuff, in particular an enthralling sequence in which Cooper attempts to dock with a damaged mothership. It’s in these near-wordless moments when Zimmer’s bombastic score lifts the film, but too often elsewhere the soundtrack ends up overcooking the tension and drowning out sections of dialogue.

Murph (Jessica Chastain) faces the slow death of Earth in Interstellar

Murph (Jessica Chastain) faces the slow death of Earth in Interstellar

The crew’s robot companions TARS (humourously voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart) – which resemble 2001-esque monoliths when motionless – are both believable in their functionality and engaging in their own right. We root for them in the same way we would Cooper or the rest of the crew and form a genuine emotional bond in much the same way as we do with Dewey, Huey and Louie in Silent Running.

As a spectacle, Interstellar is astonishing and its ambition is virtually unmatched, but an overblown final act means we’re going to have to wait that little bit longer for Nolan’s masterpiece. The question now is, where does he go from here?

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27 comments

  1. Joseph@thecinemamonster · November 14, 2014

    Outstanding write-up, my friend! Although I disagree with you for the most part ;), there’s no denying Nolan can do better, even if we are looking at it from opposite ends of the spectrum. I don’t have nearly as much qualms with the film’s final act(s), but we’re definitely in agreement regarding the tremendous spectacle Nolan has created here.

    • Three Rows Back · November 16, 2014

      Hey Joseph, opinions are like assholes; everyone’s got one! I want to watch this again on the biggest screen I can find. I may warm to it even more.

  2. Stu · November 14, 2014

    Good read mate. I am yet to see it but hoping to check it out this weekend. To be honest I’m not actually expecting too much but there’s enough positive elements by the sounds of things!

    • Three Rows Back · November 16, 2014

      Cheers as always Stu. Hope you enjoy(ed) it! Let me know your thoughts mate.

      • Stu · November 17, 2014

        I’m sort of split right down the middle after seeing it – a mix of ‘overblown guff’ and ‘wow that looks pretty good’!

  3. Stu · November 14, 2014

    And – by the way – ‘Alright, alright, alright’.

  4. Zoë · November 14, 2014

    Great review! I thought this was well worth the watch and waiting for, and visually it was beautiful. That whole reconnecting scene in space? Intense!

    • Three Rows Back · November 16, 2014

      Glad to see we are in the same part of the galaxy on this Zoe. That docking scene is awesome!

  5. John Hitchcock (@HitchcocksWorld) · November 15, 2014

    I’m super-excited about Interstellar, so much so that I even went and started a whole crazy blogathon to go with its release (http://hitchcocksworld.blogspot.ca/2014/10/voyage-to-stars-blogathon.html). Perhaps you would be interested in checking it out?

    I’m actually about to go see it. Interestellar is playing at a movie theater near my house and in about twenty minutes I’ll be going down to check it out and see if this does live up to the hype.

    • Three Rows Back · November 16, 2014

      Let me know what you think mate. Will check out the blogathon; thanks for the invite 🙂

  6. MovieManJackson · November 16, 2014

    Well written review sir! Really enjoyed this one, and after 1 watch (of course I’ll have to check out again), I put it up there with The Prestige. Was a little too long and certain characters exist for only exposition purposes (common Nolan), but I loved the visuals, and despite this being Nolan’s most grandiose movie, it is really his most human one as well.

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Hey! Good to hear from you and thanks for the kind words. I need to check it out again too I think to give it a proper appreciation. The Prestige is a really underrated movie in my book; glad I’m not the only one who thinks that.

  7. mlbradford · November 17, 2014

    Great review!
    Really wanted Interstellar to have th Right Stuff, but for me, it fell short
    Try this:
    http://bradscribe.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/interstellar/
    Cheers!

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Thanks! I shall make sure to check out your review my friend.

  8. ruth · November 17, 2014

    Great review Mark! You’re right this would be a good companion piece to Robert Zemeckis’ Contact. I just saw it not too long ago, interesting that both have McConaughey in it. I agree this is not a masterpiece but still a worthwhile and unique piece of cinema that ought to be seen. I give Nolan props for trying to be more in tune w/ the emotional parts of the story and this is a much *warmer* film than his other films though I still can’t quite connect with the characters as much as I had hoped.

    P.S. Ha! I have the exact issue w/ TDKR about that giant plot hole following Bruce escaping the prison. Not only was he penniless [and shoe-less], he’s also Alfred-less at that moment 😉

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that towards TDKR! I loved Contact and saw so many parallels here, but that’s not a bad thing. I need to see this again.

  9. Chris · November 18, 2014

    Nice review, with some real interesting insight into more of the behind the scenes stuff that went into making it. Wasn’t entirely aware of all of that, but the fact that Nolan insisted so much on using practical effects and such really makes me appreciate what went into this all the more. Certainly an ambitious picture, and yeah, it’ll definitely be interesting to see where Nolan goes from here. 🙂

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Appreciate that Chris. I try to make my reviews interesting!

  10. CinemaClown · November 18, 2014

    Nolan’s insistence on practical effects over CGI is one aspect I’ve always admired about him… Don’t care much about film vs digital war though.

    However, what was truly amazing to watch was Nolan trying to explore the father-daughter dynamics n even if it comes off as a bit sentimental, I admire that he tried to delve into the emotional aspects more this time than in any of his previous films.

    It’s not his best but definitely an audacious effort that’s worthy of admiration for its ambition alone! Splendid review, my friend.

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Much obliged; thanks for the kind words. I so wanted this to be masterpiece and man it’s close, but close ain’t quite perfect.

  11. Tom · November 18, 2014

    Very, very good point about the soundtrack occasionally overriding sections of dialogue. When me and some friends saw this opening night we saw it in the very back row and at the top of the stadium seating bit. I think a lot of our issues had to do with being in an awkward spot relative to the speakers, but apparently this has been a common issue with viewers.

    Interstellar definitely had more issues than I had preferred it too. (Well, that’s a little silly, we all want movies to be perfect, don’t we? Lol!) But you have just got to give Chris the credit for looking so far down the line, this is some heavy and ambitious stuff. As you have dully noted here in another stellar review.

    Great work man.

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Thanks mate, but I don’t know. I found it hard to write about this for whatever reason. I had so hoped this would be my film of the year, which wasn’t very fair on it to be honest. That being said, it had enough moments of genuine awe that I will go and see it again; hopefully in IMAX. I feel I need to see it again in order to make a full judgement.

  12. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · November 19, 2014

    Cool review mate and pretty spot on all round. The script was a bit iffy and some parts of the plot were daft, but the ambition and grandeur of the whole thing won me over I must admit. Far from perfect but still quite the spectacle.

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Cheers mate and well said. I want to watch this again (in IMAX preferably) as I wonder if my view of it may change.

  13. sati · November 22, 2014

    So glad I wasn’t the only one not giving it the highest score. Hell, I have it 5/10 and still felt it was generous. i didn’t even find the movie that impressive visually, but that script? It was so ridiculous it buried any good will the film earned from the genuinely wonderful moments like messages from home scene

    • Three Rows Back · November 22, 2014

      Thanks for the feedback. Looks like you took to it less than I did. I enjoyed the movie from a visual perspective certainly, although the script is lacking as you say.

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