Starring: Mathew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Genre: Sci-Fi/ Action
In the near future, changes in the earth’s climate have led to draught and famine with only wheat being the crop that can be grown, with that too gradually dying and the human population facing starvation and eventual extinction. After the emergence of a wormhole mysteriously appearing in the galaxy makes space travel to other galaxies possible, a mission piloted by Cooper (McConaughey) embarks on an interstellar voyage to search for a potentially habitable planet and a new home for the human race.
Now, the release of a Christopher Nolan film is such a huge event on the film calendar that one of the best filmmakers of his generation (in my opinion) must surely feel the pressure to perform. The new Christopher Nolan film will be discussed, analysed and scrutinised at greater length than most director’s films, this is of course a compliment to Nolan and the extraordinary standards he has set for himself. Though it does make it seem that he has almost been set up to fail. It at times felt that instead of being a film that I would want to see, Interstellar became a film that I just had to see because of its status as such an event on the cinematic calendar. As much as I tried to enter it with no preconceptions and a completely open mind, it gives me no great pleasure to say that in my opinion Interstellar is Christopher Nolan’s worst film. I have to add the context of the astronomically high standards he has previously set, and that it is still a film of undeniable ambition containing some great moments, but it is also his most emotionally uninvolving film, almost collapsing under the weight of its own ambition.
Many have spoken about the science and whether it stands up; there are most certainly better people to argue about that than myself, so I will leave any detailed dissection of the science of Interstellar to the experts. I personally was able to follow it and never found it alienating or confusing, however for me the problem lies with Nolan’s storytelling and his (very admirable) attempt to merge big scientific ideas held together by very human and emotional stories. Not only does this lead to an exhausting running time, but as a piece of narrative cinema Interstellar in my opinion only just about works, but certainly has many problems.
Though I am sure most have now seen Interstellar, I will most certainly attempt to avoid spoilers. However doing that means it is hard to truly go into detail about the problems with Interstellar as a film and why its narrative it just on the whole, an emotional vacuum. The concept behind why our characters undertake an interstellar voyage is, in isolation, quite a relatable one, but yet it is actually really hard to care for any of the characters. Nolan tries to give us a family unit as the narrative’s emotional core, but his admirable attempts at combining this with high concept science fiction and visual spectacle not only makes for an unsatisfying and sometimes laborious viewing experience, the attempts at such emotional involvement threaten to undermine the other two components. His attempts often verge on clunky, lazy, contrived and even embarrassingly Roland Emmerich-esque! (thought thankfully he doesn’t go as far as to have a scene featuring a dog jumping to avoid a fire).
When the audience is asked to invest compassion for the film’s characters these moments feel like an intruder on the deeply fascinating ideas that Nolan tries to explore in Interstellar. I of course appreciate that this is a blockbuster and so therefore there has to be mass appeal, but it does feel that Nolan (who co-wrote the script with his brother Jonathan) is compromising and the emotion is forced. If this is the case then it is a sorry state of affairs that such a talented and visionary auteur has to make these compromises. If it is the case that Nolan has not had to compromise then Interstellar is proof that he just struggles to write human drama. The father-daughter relationship is to some extent what drives the narrative, and its depiction is certainly in many ways original, but for me it provides no emotional involvement for the audience. The concept alone (the future of the human race’s very existence) is a pretty big deal and certainly easy to relate to, but yet in forcing emotional engagement onto the audience instead of letting it come naturally from the film’s key ideas, Interstellar’s supposedly more emotional moments just do nothing except bore and fill like unnecessary filler.
Interstellar certainly has an impressive cast list of very talented actors; they all give adequate performances, while some cast members are just completely wasted such as Casey Affleck or others have their own subplot which the film could have done without and been a good 30 minutes shorter (I am not going to say who as it may be considered a spoiler, but let’s just say it is a famous name that is not on the poster). How each other character knows one another certainly verges on lazy contrivance in some cases, with Anne Hathaway’s character being particularly poorly written. For me the most likeable character was a robot by the name of TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin), it got the best lines and actually the almost bromance-like relationship that develops between TARS and Cooper was the most convincing of the film as it felt far more natural, particularly in terms of the dialogue shared. I of course once again do not want to second guess the brothers Nolan’s approach to writing the script for Interstellar, but maybe it is the one convincing relationship that they enjoyed writing and wasn’t a compromise to make the film more ‘emotional’.
From a visual point of view Interstellar is truly spectacular, and it is for this reason alone that it needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible (preferably in a comfy seat with a lot of leg room – you are going to be there for a while after all!). It is truly a relief that Nolan likes to make his films in good old fashioned 2D, and focuses more on the detail of set designs than cheap and tacky gimmicky visuals. The set designs and Nolan’s camerawork are truly phenomenal, many scenes and set pieces do make Interstellar feel like a true science fiction space epic for reasons other than its length. Many have criticised Hans Zimmer’s score, and as trendy as it is now to be anti Zimmer these days, for me his spectacular score works perfectly with the visuals. Nolan and Zimmer collaborated on Interstellar from the very start, with both having input into both the making of the film itself and the very organic process of the film’s score. At times Zimmer’s organ based compositions are very loud, but for me only enhance the spectacular audio-visual experience of some of the film’s superbly put together moments.
As the film enters its final third, ideas and theories pile up on top of each other and perhaps slightly take for granted the ability of the audience to follow what is reasonably complex science and theory. It is certainly a satisfying finale third that once again contains meticulous set design and astounding visuals, it is just shame that it takes such a huge amount of effort from the viewer to get there. I cannot comment if all the scientific theory completely stands up, but it was easy enough to follow. However the lack of emotional investment through poorly written characters and some of the clunky contrivances in the drama are still there right to the end. Who knows what Nolan will do next as a director, but the world certainly waits in anticipation.
One of the biggest events of the 2014 cinematic calendar is certainly in no way one of the best; Interstellar is certainly text book Nolan in terms of its big outside-the-box ideas and being a spectacular audio-visual experience. It is just a shame about the poorly written and unsuccessful attempts at emotional engagement that cause a laborious running time.