It’s tough to write a well-rounded review of a film like this without giving up any spoilers, but that’s what I’m going to do. Considering how secretive director Christopher Nolan has been about the film until now, it’s best to obey his wishes and go into a film like Interstellar with as little knowledge of the film as possible for the best possible experience, beyond what you couldn’t avoid seeing in the teaser posters and trailers. Seeing snow capped mountains and what appears to be a spaceship sitting in the ocean is spoilerish enough when you go in with the expectation that this is simply a deep space adventure film. But it’s so much more than that.
These days, when people throw around the words “science fiction“, our minds usually conjure up images of space aliens, starship battles, and laser blasts filling the screen as a stirring and triumphant music score pulls the viewer into an intergalactic battle of good over evil. This is not that movie. Interstellar has more in common with 2001, A Space Odyssey than it does with Star Wars. But while the most immediate comparison it receives will be with last year’s “A-listers in Space” Oscar-bait drama, Gravity, the only thing those two have in common is the black void of space as a backdrop. But whereas Gravity stayed in space, focused on one primary character, lit by the spinning Earth beneath Sandra Bullock’s space station, Interstellar takes our hero as far from his home world as he can get, while still regularly shifting back to the plight of the family he left behind.
Matthew McConaughey is Cooper, a former astronaut and pilot forced into a life of farming corn, one of the last viable crops on Earth. He is also a single father to two children, a son who has taken to farming like a pro and a daughter who has an equally adventurous and analytic mind like her father’s, destined for greater things in a world that simply needs people grow crops while they still can.
Just forget everything you just saw here.
The film takes place during an unspecific point in our future where “The Blight” has decimated the world’s crops and humanity is out of options. Once corn, the last surviving crop, succumbs to the infection, mankind will begin to starve within a generation. Beyond the technology that takes Cooper to the stars, don’t expect any Star Trek level technology to give you any indication that this is taking more than just a few decades in the future. If not for the devastating dust storms that cover what one assumes is the entire world with a heavy layer of filth on a regular basis, this movie could very well take place in the here and now. What we do know of this future world, we see only through the eyes of Cooper and his family. The rest of the world’s current state is left to our imaginations, only hinted at in passing conversation and visual cues, which is unsettling and makes us realize just how monumental Cooper’s mission will be. At the same time, that focus gives the film greater intimacy, making the stakes feel more personal, but no more or less important than what the rest of the world’s people are likely going through. It just so happens that the people we meet in Interstellar (including Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, and Wes Bentley, just to name a few) just might have the means to turn the tide against the planet’s imminent demise. By the way, if you want to avoid spoilers, DO NOT look at the film’s IMDB page, especially the cast list. It gives away big hints at character arcs as well as the introduction of more than a few surprising yet familiar faces.
The core of the film is based on Cooper’s bond with his daughter, Murphy, who connects with him in a way no one but they understand. Of course, she is crushed when he tells her that he has to go into space in search of a way to save the world. Cooper is equally devastated, but knows that if he doesn’t go, humanity has no other chance of survival. It’s their relationship, or the destruction of it, that both drives and threatens to compromise the mission.
I’ve heard some complain about the movie’s length and pace, but I don’t see the problem. There is probably an extended cut sitting in a vault somewhere, waiting for a Blu-Ray release. Clocking in at nearly 3 hours (169 minutes to be exact), watching Interstellar didn’t feel like a chore. In fact, it breezed by pretty quickly for me. And while there are more than a few lushly filmed star field shots peppered with crackling astronaut jargon while massive gray machines dock with each other and whatnot, it never seems gratuitous, nor does it drag down the story. There’s a tough balancing act to be maintained for a film like this, because it has to present some fairly heady high-minded concepts while presenting a grounded human drama… not to mention showing a fairly accurate depiction of futuristic Earth-originated space travel to keep the astro-nerds happy. I believe it does so deftly, but I know there are some that will go into this movie leaning heavily in at least one of those directions, either with no taste for true science fiction or with no desire to become invested in any human pathos along the way (just gimme spaceships and alien worlds!). If you can find a way to balance an appreciation for those concepts within yourself, Interstellar is a film you can enjoy fully.
My only real issue with the film is Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, which sometimes builds beautifully at key moments to build tension, but is often a dialogue obscuring cacophonic mess. Whenever it gets to that point, I just picture Zimmer in coattails, leering wild-eyed over his shoulder as he bangs away on a massive dusty pipe organ. I obviously don’t have the ear for that music, but it could have very well been just the venue. That venue was the recently upgraded TCL Chinese Theater in the heart of Hollywood, projecting Nolan’s film in (mostly) 70mm on an IMAX screen. It’s not just the picture that’s big in that theater, it’s the sound. Loud does not come close to describing it. “All-encompassing” gets close. You feel this movie in the marrow of your bones when things become unhinged on screen. You won’t have much of a choice. So maybe it was the mix of the sound that may have led to my distaste for Zimmer’s ivory smashing score. I swear I’m not getting too old for this stuff. I know not everyone will have the opportunity to see Interstellar in a stunning theater like this, but if you have an IMAX screen that’s playing the film anywhere near you, spend the extra time and money seeking it out. It is the definitive format in which to experience this film.
While this movie might not be for everyone and is hardly a lighthearted night out at the movies, it is a moving, stunning piece of film (shot on film) that is simply breathtaking to behold. This is not a movie you lazily pop into the Blu-Ray player and watch from the comfort of your couch. This is a film meant for a top notch theater experience. Interstellar is cosmic in its scope, yet very human at its heart, making for an exhilarating and mind-bending ride.