Adventure Film Review

An Odyssey of a Film Review: Interstellar

November 5, 2014Ben Mk


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Last year, it was Gravity. This year, it's Interstellar. The common thread linking these two films is, of course, the fact that they're both big-budget space sci-fi spectaculars, but make no mistake — that's where the similarities end. For unlike Alfonso Cuaron's harrowing and intimate survival story set in space, Christopher Nolan's latest film is a sprawling epic — a struggle for survival that plays out on a grand scale, where the fate of all of humankind hinges on the success of a last-ditch mission to travel to another galaxy, in the process bending the rules of space and time itself.

   

To put the aesthetic vision and tone of Nolan's ambitious, nearly-three-hour opus — rich with black holes, wormholes and "giant sarcastic robots" — into perspective, think Stanley Kubrick meets early M. Knight Shyamalan. Admittedly, it's not the most straightforward concept to wrap one's head around, which is why it's probably for the best that Nolan (who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Jonathan) chooses to launch the story in a more grounded manner: on Earth, where, in the not-too-distant future, a global food shortage threatens to extinguish the lives of every last man, woman and child on the planet.

It's here — in a rural farmhouse constantly being battered by swirling dust storms — that we're introduced to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a widower and former pilot whose NASA career has crashed and burned. Nowadays, he does what he can to prolong the survival of the human race, which translates into growing corn (the only food that hasn't yet gone extinct) and caring for his two children, 10-year-old Murph (Mackenzie Foy), and her older brother, Tom (Timothée Chalamet).

That is, until one day, when a series of unexplained "gravitational anomalies" leads him and his daughter straight to the front gates of a top secret NASA base, where a group of researchers — professor Brand (Michael Caine), his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), and scientists Rommily (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) — have been working tirelessly on a possible solution to Earth's no-win scenario: namely, a manned expedition to another galaxy, to explore the viability of life on other worlds.

It's the culmination of work that began with the discovery of twelve potentially inhabitable worlds, each on the other side of a wormhole that mysteriously appeared in the vicinity of Saturn some 48 years earlier. 38 years after that, NASA sent one intrepid astronaut to each planet — canaries in a coal mine, if you will — to evaluate each world's candidacy for supporting human life. Now, NASA is ready to send a crew to visit three of these possible worlds, to make the final determination about which should be humanity's next home. And they want Cooper to fly their spaceship.

Thanks to the wonders of relativity, the storyline spans multiple decades — with Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck eventually taking over the roles of Cooper's children — and, believe it or not, we've only just begun to scratch the surface of its mysteries. So perhaps you can understand — maybe even appreciate — why Interstellar requires the nearly three hours it does to unspool. The movie bristles with such heady astrophysics and wrestles with such weighty themes that anything less would simply fail to do justice to the Nolans' jaw-dropping vision.

In fact, its daunting running time can barely contain the scope of their ambition, as even with seemingly all the time in the world, there are still aspects of the narrative that come across as somewhat hurried. Not that it diminishes the impact of the story or dilutes its overall message in any way. The movie's central conceit is that all the science in the galaxy can't hold a candle to the power of the human heart and its capacity for love. And though it sounds corny on paper, it resonates exceptionally well on-screen, thanks to Foy and McConaughey, who lay the fundamental emotional groundwork for the film's ultimate payoff with their brief but powerful scenes together.

Still, those who may not necessarily buy into the film's tear-jerking father-daughter story needn't despair. For even if you aren't able to connect with the story emotionally, Nolan has yet to make a blockbuster that doesn't also satisfy as popcorn entertainment. And Interstellar is no different.

Visually, it's guaranteed to leave moviegoers awestruck. Especially in IMAX, which, frankly, is how it was meant to be seen. Nolan has been a major proponent of the large-scale format ever since he shot portions of The Dark Knight Rises in it. And here, he and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema take full advantage of the ratio, immersing viewers in stunning scenes such as those that depict Cooper's spaceship landing on a water-logged planet and contending with 1600-foot waves looming on the horizon. Rest assured: if it's spectacle you're after, it's spectacle you'll get.

The Bottom Line In the end, Interstellar may have all the trappings of a typical Hollywood blockbuster, but what's truly wondrous about it is that it works on so many levels. It's a thought-provoking sci-fi treatise, a visual tour de force and a moving piece of dramatic filmmaking, with a surprising amount of humor to boot. And even at nearly three hours long, rarely does it overstay its welcome. Without question, Nolan has taken a huge leap of faith, betting that moviegoers will have the courage to strap in for the long haul and tag along for a ride not just to the farthest edges of the galaxy, but to another galaxy altogether. But he sticks the landing in stellar fashion.  Ben Mk








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