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New Review: Interstellar (2014)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Mackenzie Foy, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Timothée Chalamet, David Gyasi, Wes Bently, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow
Note: Some spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.
The term "critic-proof" was coined for movies like Interstellar. No matter what's said about it, people are going to go see it, and to be fair, the movie is filled with images that deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Visually, the movie is phenomenal, and is nicely carried by strong performances from its A-list cast. If all you want is a well-acted spectacle, then Interstellar delivers the goods. Unfortunately, the screenplay is a mess.
Although the first forty minutes of the movie are promising, once Interstellar goes out into space, it becomes almost annoyingly silly. Director Christopher Nolan is a very good filmmaker who's proven in previous movies that he's capable of interweaving a compelling storyline with stunning visuals. This time, the special-effects overpower the story, leaving one marveling at the images, but not caring very much about the stuff that's happening in front of them.
The story takes place in an unspecified time in the near future. Famine, massive dust storms, and a rise of nitrogen in the atmosphere have made the Earth almost completely uninhabitable. Matthew McConaughey stars as Cooper, a widowed former test pilot and NASA engineer who owns acres of corn, which he farms with his teenage son Tom (Timothée Chalamet), 10 year old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow).
After a dust strom strikes their farmland, Cooper and Murph discover coordinates to a super secret, underground NASA facility in the form of dust on Murph's bedroom floor. Murph believes their house is haunted by ghosts, and that the spirits are using the dust coordinates to communicate with her and her family. The movie eventually offers an explanation for the so-called "spirits" haunting the house; they're apparently the same spirits who created a wormhole orbiting Saturn that could hold the key to mankind's survival. Unfortunately, the answer, when it does come, is a disappointment (and I can't say any more about it than that).
The NASA facility Cooper happens across is run by a man named Brand (Michael Caine), who was one of Cooper's former professors. Brand has a plan to save mankind. It involves sending Cooper, Brand's daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), and scientists Doyle (Wes Bently) and Romilly (David Gyasi) through the wormhole and scout out potenitally habitable planets on the other side of it. Cooper agrees to the mission, and Murph is devastated by his decision, causing the two of them to part on bad terms.
The trip through the wormhole leads to some of the most astonishing and exhilarating special-effects in the movie. Once they come out on the other side, however, the movie begins its downward spiral. The first planet they visit is covered entirely in shallow water, and because of its gravitational pull, time moves much slower there than it does on Earth (one hour on that planet would equal seven Earth years). There are the occasional massive tidal waves that race across the surface of the planet, one of which claims one of the crew members because said crew member decided to stand and stare at the approaching wave (if he was supposed to be "frozen with fear," then the actor didn't do a very good job conveying that).
Obviously, the first planet is uninhabitable. The second planet they visit is so cold that even the clouds are like icicles. As was the case with the previous planet, the special-effects used to create this world are fantastic. It's what happens there that's frustrating. The crew members find another astronaut in hibernation (who was sent there ten years ago on a mission), and once they wake him up, he goes psycho on them and tries to kill them all. For a movie that claims to be about the power of love (sample dialogue: "Love is the one thing that transcends time and space!"), this subplot comes across as an unnecessary distraction.
Occasionally, the movie cuts back to Earth, with Murph now the same age her father was when he left (and played wonderfully, of course, by the always wonderful Jessica Chastain). She's now working alongside Brand in NASA, and is apparently on a rocky relationship with her brother (now played by Casey Affleck). Topher Grace also shows up, in a role so underwritten that he practically fades into the background.
Although the movie runs on for an unconscionable 169 minutes, there's very little depth to Interstellar's story. The heart of the movie is meant to be the bond between Cooper and Murph, but McConaughey and Foy lack the father-daughter chemistry to make it work. The dialogue is quite heavy-handed (sample: "Our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, 'cause our destiny lies above us."), and the musical score by Hans Zimmer is so loud and overbearing at times that it literally drowns out the dialogue in certain scenes.
The actors work hard to sell the material, but screenwriters Christopher and Jonathan Nolan give them very lilttle to work with. McConaughey and Hathaway are as terrific as ever, and Foy proves once again what a talented young actress she is. Yet even with such talented performers in front of the camera, Interstellar never really engages on an emotional level. The characters remain two-dimensional, and Nolan's ponderous directorial flourishes ensure that the audience remains at arm's length.
With that said, I would be lying if I said I had a bad time watching the movie. As flimsy as the material is, Interstellar is always a joy just to look at, and the acting is good enough to keep the movie from ever becoming boring. The movie may speak volumes for some audience members, while others will no doubt hate this movie with a passion (Nolan does have a surprisingly large number of haters, although I doubt that they'll waste their time on this movie in the first place). On the surface, Interstellar is entertaining, yet in the end, I was left with the same feeling I had when I watched James Cameron's Avatar back in 2009: It wasn't bad, but it certainly isn't a movie I would ever want to see again.
Rated PG-13 for "some intense perilous action and brief strong language"
Final Grade: ** ½ (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
Other Thoughts on Interstellar (2014)
- Interstellar | Film Review | Slant Magazine
Much like his hero, Christopher Nolan's goal seems to be to take the humor and wildness out of imagination, to see invention in rigidly practical and scientific terms.
- Interstellar Movie Review & Film Summary (2014) | Roger Ebert
- 'Interstellar' tarnishes Christopher Nolan's name - redeyechicago.com
Matt Pais says this sci-fi flick is much worse than anything the filmmaker has done before.
- Dustin Putman's Review: Interstellar (2014)
Interstellar (2014) - 3/4 Stars - Dense and challenging in some respects and rather obvious in others, but there is no denying how poignantly felt its ruminations are about mortality, the process of life, and the infinite possibilities out in the uni