Let’s be honest here: space is pretty dang awesome. If we had the technology, we would boldly go where no man has gone before; whether it be in a galaxy far, far away or on some distant forbidden planet. For a director with such a hit streak as Nolan’s, his first proper science fiction exploit comes with high expectations to say the least. While there may be some turbulence along the ride, I am confident in writing that Interstellar blasts off into the science-fiction world marvellously in what is one of the director’s most emotionally striking films yet.
The film starts on future Earth, now a literal dust-ball: if starvation doesn’t kill you then suffocation eventually will. Everyone ploughs on (pun intended) with life, yet widowed ex-engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) yearns for more. He tells his father-in-law (John Lithgow) that mankind must find ‘his place in the stars’, living in a world where he doesn’t belong. Miraculously, a supernatural (or perhaps extra-terrestrial) force leads Cooper to a top-secret NASA base, where Dr. Brand (the always smashing Michael Cane) offers him the chance to lead a mission. The goal? Find a new habitable planet through a wormhole. Off goes Cooper with Brand’s team of scientists; Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Brand’s own daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway). Yet Cooper faces a difficult choice as time’s relativity mean his daughter (Jessica Chastain/Mackenzie Foy) and son (Casey Affleck/Timothée Chalamet) grow decades older as he barley ages a day.
The universe that Nolan creates is almost this year’s anti-Gravity. While Alfonso Cuarón sticks in the realms of scientific accuracy and possibility in his survival blockbuster from last year, Nolan starts within the realms of science, and then launches into the world of dark fantasy. It’s a difficult, not entirely balanced, line that Nolan treads: his world isn’t set in absolute fantasy (like Star Wars where the logic of science can just switch off), but it also isn’t a Cuarón nightmare about the real dangers in space. Of course, most won’t complain once Nolan’s practical and digital special effects kick off. With a remarkable use of gravity, the truly alien planets, even the spaceship itself, Nolan does what he does best in making the sci-fi thriller into some gorgeous cinematography and visuals that look like something from the Hubble Telescope. Rest assured that Interstellar is a hit in its main attraction, and you shall get your money’s worth in the eye-candy alone.
Hans Zimmer’s score helps in these films of course. The big orchestral backings are so bombastic, so epic to the ear-drums, that they swallow you into the experience. This would be too excessive if the use of silence was also used at pivotal moments as we watch McConaughey’s ship drift in space. Hans almost oppresses us, but we do get our chance to breathe.
Interstellar’s greatest letdown is the script. The science is explained well, and there are a few stand-out scenes between characters, but more of the film comes from the performances and direction than the words themselves. There are just too many undeveloped characters and glaringly cheddar-filled speeches about the celestial power of love with the occasional reference of Dylan Thomas thrown in. The movie is emotional, but its lines are sappy. Also, exposition isn’t as smoothly written in as Nolan’s other films are (e.g. Inception); when a NASA scientist flying towards a wormhole needs explaining what it is, you may have a problem.
The script mainly is a hindrance to its crew: Bentley and Gyasi do well with what they have, while Hathaway’s character Amelia Brand grates in middle when she nearly jeopardizes the mission twice due to her unprofessionalism. A surprising star in this film is actually the faithful robot TARS (Bill Irwin) whose deadpan snarkiness complements McConaughey’s Cooper. The best performance, or performances, comes from the family dynamic between McConaughey, Chastain and Affleck in what is definitely Nolan’s most emotional film. While I may have qualms with script and the treatment of characters, the various family moments between astronaut dad and earth-bound daughter are nothing but heartbreaking. Expect to get John Lewis levels of emotional punch.
As for running time, I may not be the popular voice, but I enjoyed the length. It’s an opera-sized space epic and the time is needed to have our fill of the Nolan Touch.
Despite my one major problem with the film, Interstellar is visually and emotionally exceptional. Nolan does have an amazing craft not just making a film, but a cinema experience. I recommend not only watching this film, but paying that bit extra to see it in IMAX, to truly appreciate the scale that this film operates on. The quality of the film is there, but the heart is what allows Interstellar to have its safe landing.