Thursday, November 6, 2014

Interstellar review


WARNING: potentially major spoilers ahead

There are moments in "Interstellar" that are so breathtaking, I was legitimately in awe. My mouth was agape; I could not believe what I was seeing. Christopher Nolan and his crew not only captured beautiful images, they blew the doors off my imagination. For a good hour or so, really, "Interstellar" is deeply inspiring, blissful, wondrous, intense, gorgeous. There came a point where I actually felt that I might just be watching Christoper Nolan's masterpiece.

And then it came. The black hole. The moment Matthew McConaughey's character decides to make a brave decision to enter a place where no man has gone before. Once we find out what this place really is, that's when everything falls apart. Is this "black hole" going to bend our minds beyond comprehension? No, instead "Interstellar" decides to enter cheap, hokey, overly-sentimental territory which completely takes the wind out of the movie's sails. Nolan's incessant need to have everything "fit" undoes the movie and it made me realize that, through it all, no matter how great the visuals are, no matter how ambitious the movie is, everything begins and ends with the story. Ultimately, "Interstellar" is a marvelous visual spectacle with an incredibly weak story. 


It starts out promising enough. The movie does not open in space like "Gravity." Set in the future, the movie begins on planet earth, a world that is severely lacking in food. Cooper (McCounaghey) is a former-astronaut who's forced to become a farmer due to these dire circumstances. He lives in a town that it's in the middle of a nasty dust storm and is the father of two children. His son will most likely become a farmer as well, but his daughter Murphy is destined for something much more.

In the first act, while we're waiting for the inevitable: Cooper to put his astronaut suit back on and explore the world, we are left with all these puzzle pieces and hints about a ghost in Murphy's room that's trying to tell her something. This is Nolan's first real dive into the supernatural, and for me, I sensed that there was something strange and off about this whole ghost thing. Nevertheless, I was still willing to go along for the ride.

Cooper and Murphy, by accident, wind up finding NASA's secret headquarters. This is where we meet professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway). Brand tells us of NASA's mission to discover new planets, thanks to a mysterious wormhole that's been located in one of Saturn's rings. A mysterious wormhole? What? 

Before I can question the movie's logic at this point, we are off in space. Pretty soon, any questions I had simply dissipated. Believe me when I tell you, once again, that the scenes in space are breathtaking. "Interstellar" goes way beyond what "Gravity" merely hinted at. "Interstellar" is a must-see film, especially at an IMAX theater, because of the second act of this movie. I won't get too much into details here, but watching Cooper's crew explore the universe and these new planets was really a sight to behold. 

A common criticism with Nolan's other films is their lack of emotion. With "Interstellar," Nolan goes all-in on the emotions and, for the first 2/3s of the movie, it mostly works. When Cooper's crew enters these strange new planets, it's said that each hour spent on these planets equal 7 years in space. After their mission inside the first planet goes awry, more than 20 years have passed on planet Earth. This leads to some very heart-wrenching and emotional moments.

But when the movie tries to go for the big, deep, emotional climax, that's when it all comes crashing down. Because Nolan is such a literalist, as exemplified by the sheer amount of exposition that's in nearly all his films, he forces all the "supernatural" aspects of the first act to fit with the third act in such a literal, heavy-handed way that it makes the emotional ending feel incredibly superficial.

"Interstellar" has the ambitions to enter "2001: A Space Odyssey" territory, but its forced emotional beats takes it down to below "Contact" territory. I've been a huge fan of Nolan's for over a decade. I love "Memento", I greatly enjoy "The Dark Knight" trilogy, and "Inception" is one of the best blockbusters of the 2010s in my opinion. "Interstellar" did not do it for me, but it's not because of Nolan's critics who constantly put the director on blast for not being emotional enough. Maybe we should just accept the fact that Nolan just isn't an emotional guy. Just like Tarantino will always love violence and creating cinematic pastiches, just like Wes Anderson likes to construct his films with a very dollhouse, "make believe" look... there's no sense in trying to fit a square inside a round hole. Nolan's insistence in trying to make "Interstellar" an emotional experience completely undermines everything that made the first 2/3s of the movie feel so spellbinding.

With his ninth film, and with his Batman trilogy out of the way, Christopher Nolan really tries to shoot for the stars and I admire the hell out of him for that. But he completely misses the mark here. You would think the first 2/3's greatness would be enough for me, but it's really not. The final act of the film is so literal and obvious that all the expositionary dialogue that came before is just completely cheapened.

Don't let my words deter you from seeing the film, however. "Interstellar" is an absolute must-see in theaters, I cannot deny that. Just proceed with caution and hopefully you'll have a much better overall experience than I did.

Grade: C

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