Christopher Nolan is one of my favourite directors of recent times. I love his Dark Knight trilogy, and Inception was my favourite movie of 2010. I enjoy how Nolan is able to create thinking man’s adventures, which are complex without being indecipherable, and he’s an original thinker too – as with Inception, which didn’t belong to any kind of franchise. So when I saw the trailer for Interstellar, I thought “Christopher Nolan directing a movie about space travel? I have to see that!” Now I have, and sadly I was left disappointed.
Interstellar takes place on a future Earth where humans are really starting to feel their negative impact on the environment; problems like dust bowls and a blight on crops are making it very difficult just to provide food, to the point that farming is becoming the most encouraged career path for school children. Not only that, but the blight is eventually going to render the atmosphere itself unbreathable. In the middle of this, our hero, a farmer/former test pilot named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), discovers a strange message in his daughter’s bedroom, which leads him to a secret base where what’s left of NASA has gathered. They have discovered a wormhole near Saturn, leading to a system containing several potentially habitable planets – and having met Cooper, they want him to pilot the spacecraft and make contact with the astronauts who have already gone to investigate these worlds. Off Cooper goes, along with his three fellow crew members and two talking robots, on what’s going to be a very long trip – while his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy as a girl, Jessica Chastain as an adult) is left to grow up without him.
(Side note: I wonder if Nolan would have called this film Gravity if the name wasn’t already taken by Alfonso Cuaron. The nature of gravity plays more of a role in this film than in Cuaron’s – you could practically make a drinking game out of the word coming up.)
So, just from reading that summary, you can probably see that this isn’t exactly a simple film. Indeed, the summary doesn’t even mention all the science involved in explaining how everything works. There’s a lot of jargon about gravity and relativity and black holes, and it really does become very difficult to understand. Inception also had a lot of long-winded details, but many of the smaller ones weren’t essential to the story so you could still largely appreciate what was going on. Here, on the other hand, much of the science is essential to certain aspects of the plot, so astrophysicists may appreciate this film better than the rest of us.
Aside from all that, the story itself is so-so. It’s made clear at the beginning that humanity is in the middle of an environmental crisis, but I would have liked some glimpses of this problem on a big scale rather than just the main character’s surrounding area; just a few news reports or something. The first act is too flat and slow, but the pacing does pick up once the characters set off into space. It’s still a bit too ponderous overall, though; there are some parts that could definitely have been shortened. By the time we got to the final monologue, where the monologuing character seems to be deliberately speaking as slowly as possible, I was pretty impatient. And while the film spends most of its time working as relatively plausible science fiction, there comes a point in the third act when it suddenly changes into something a lot weirder; without spoiling anything, what occurs here is a good twist relating to earlier events in the film, but the style of it almost feels like it belongs in a completely different product.
As for the acting, this film is more about plot than acting skill – but there are some stand-out moments by Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, and I empathised with the characters just fine, so they must have been doing something right. Even the robots, which seemed out of place to begin with, turn out to have some essential functions; plus I really liked their design.
Much like the aforementioned Gravity, this film is made to be appreciated visually on the big screen. There are some great shots of drifting through space, particularly at the start of the mission, that really emphasise the loneliness of the experience. The scene where the spacecraft passes through the wormhole, with the surface of spacetime twisting around them, is stunning. Nolan uses a lot of close-up shots, such as with cameras attached to the side of the astronauts’ shuttle as it’s flying (there are so many of these that you could make a drinking game out of them as well); these are effective, making you appreciate what the characters are witnessing and feel right up close with the action.
Unfortunately, those visuals don’t make up for the fact that the sound mixing in this movie is absolutely terrible. Some of the score is really nice, but a lot of it is made of harsh organ chords, that Nolan feels the need to turn up as loudly as possible. There are many moments where the music and background noise almost completely drowns out what the characters are saying, even when what they’re saying is pretty crucial to the plot. And occasionally, even without any background noise, the characters don’t speak clearly enough so you can’t understand them anyway. This all happens so often that it’s impossible to ignore, and the film does suffer for it.
Interstellar can’t be called a bad movie – it has its moments – but it was too long, not lively enough, and I didn’t feel it was really worth the time and the price. Despite the visuals, save it for a DVD rental – and remember to turn on the subtitles. Rating: 2.5/5.