Interstellar (2014)

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Interstellar (2014)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Timothee Chalamet, David Oyelowo, Wes Bently, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, Mackenzie Foy

Rated: PG-13 for Some Intense Perilous Action and Brief Strong Language

Running Time: 2 h 49 m

TMM Score: 4 stars out of 5

STRENGTHS: Directing, Writing, Soundtrack, Cinematography, Acting, Visual Effects

WEAKNESSES: Cheesy Climax

Summary

A team of astronauts travels through a wormhole in search of a planet that might support mankind. 

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My Thoughts

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It had been a long time since I’d seen this movie. Actually, I can tell you the exact moment I last watched this: November 7th, 2014 around 7:00 in the evening, in an IMAX theater (I feel like I’m about to start detailing a crime scene). I only saw this movie once before rewatching it for the first time last night. Why? Well, I thought the first two hours and twenty minutes of this film were absolutely spellbinding- brilliantly executed, intriguing and foreboding, intense and sometimes funny; it was perfectly acted, the music was dazzling, and the visual effects were out of this world. Then, the third act came, and took me completely out of the movie. The first time through this film I thought the third act was wildly misjudged and a whimper of a way to end this otherwise epic space odyssey. I disliked the ending so much that even though I owned the film on Blu Ray, I’d never gone out of my way to watch it again until last night. Upon my second rewatch, anticipating the ending, I enjoyed the film a bit more, but I still maintain that it has problems.

"Mankind was born on Earth; it was never meant to die here."

Now, first and foremost, I want to say that despite my ambivalence towards the third act in this movie, this is a very well made film. In almost every aspect, this film flourishes with brilliance. It’s epic in every sense of the word. It boasts a star-studded cast, and all of them perform exceptionally. The visual effects are still some of the best I’ve seen in recent memory. The cinematography, particularly the stuff shot in the IMAX 70 mm format, is absolutely breathtaking. The writing, while it suffers from some pseudo-corny dialogue here and there, is both smart and emotional, and the situations and crisis we’re shown are incredibly intense. Really my only issue with this movie comes in the third act, but we’ll get to that. I’ll try to avoid major spoilers, and when I get to talking about the third act, I’ll be sure to throw up a big warning.

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First off, I want to talk about writing. This movie, as I mentioned before, is epic, and a lot of that starts with the world building and the scope that Nolan starts to establish with the first scene. From the very beginning, he starts to lay the groundwork for how big this movie will be by showing us faux documentary footage of people that ‘lived through’ the dust storms- the last days on earth, as it were. In showing us these people, and telling us their stories, we establish a human element already- someone that needs saving back on Earth- but also, in the end, that will come back to give us an inkling of how long the mission took. It makes the world and scope of the mission feel that much more epic when we look back on it, but it also helps to establish the world that Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club) is trying to save. The scope, in terms of time, is just one element that makes this film feel so epic- the characters too, feel larger than life. The movie really takes the time to build each of the characters and let us get to know the world around them. One of the more interesting aspects of the script is its use of relativity and how that affects time. From the very beginning, we know that this trip is going to take years (though how many, we don’t know). I think one of my favorite parts about this film is actually the familial relationships and how they change over the course of the many years during which this film takes place. The human element is indeed important in this movie, because the rest of the movie can feel cold and calculated comparatively. As far as themes go, this is a rather grim film, after all- much of the film is dealing with how the world is dying and can no longer support human life. There are two plans to save the human race- the first plan is to get everyone off planet, and the other plan is to populate a new planet, leaving the remaining population to die off on Earth. It’s the human element that keeps this film grounded, and often times, very emotional. The fact that Cooper and Murph’s (Mackenzie Foy, forthcoming The Nutcracker and the Four Realms/ Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty) relationship is strained due to Cooper’s leaving her behind is heartbreaking, and it leads to some of the most emotional stuff in the film. One of the best scenes comes right after a leap in time happens due to an accident, and Matthew McConaughey takes the time to look back through the messages of the last years. As this happens we get to see his son Tom’s (Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name/Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea) gradual pulling away from his father because he never receives messages back, and at the same time we see Murph’s anger that she still harbors towards her father because he left her. On top of the familial drama there are also some great twists as far as plot, some really intense moments that come from being on different planets, and some great revelations about things that were previously set up. As I keep saying- this film is EPIC- it’s nigh three hours long, and it really does earn that length. Though perhaps the first forty-five minutes (before Cooper and Co head into space) feels a little slower, it all has weight and reason for being there, and many of the things they discuss on Earth come back in space. 

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The next thing I want to talk about is production design. This movie is great in keeping things looking futuristic enough so that it looks cool, but grounded enough that it looks realistic. How many times have you seen the future depicted in sci-fi films as a huge neon rip off of Blade Runner? It happens all the time- where films go so far that the future no longer feels like it has any roots in the modern day world. This movie pushes technology just far enough that it seems possible (not probable) that our space program might be able to commit to intergalactic travel. As far as visual effects, everything looks incredibly polished and detailed- the shots done in the IMAX format in particular are just incredible. The first time through this movie I actually didn’t care for the planet designs much- I thought they were too barren, and kind of boring, but actually this time through I feel like the bleakness of the planets adds a huge layer to the film. These planets are nothing like we’ve seen before, but at the same time, they’re not like Pandora on Avatar. Again, the planets seem more realistic than most sci fi films; because in reality not every planet can support life- this isn’t Star Wars.  Music is another great thing about this film- Hans Zimmer has written wonderful scores for lots of movies, but this one is one of my favorites of his (up there with the Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean scores).

All right, now I suppose here is where I’ll throw up that SPOILER tag- skip to the verdict if you don’t want to read my griping about the third act. This film had me hook, line, and sinker up until the moment when Cooper goes through the black hole, and that’s when it almost lost me completely.  Cooper is sucked into a black hole and discovers that inside the hole is a tesseract showing a five dimensional being’s three dimension projection of Murph’s bedroom. Inside this infinite tesseract, we are shown moments of time that took place inside Murph’s room, and Cooper realizes that gravity can transcend time. Using this bit of information, Cooper can relay a message to Murph that will help her solve an equation that will let the people on Earth prepare themselves for the journey into space. All of that, I can still buy. The first time through, I was a little miffed that inside a black hole was a construction of a little girls bedroom, but this time through I actually think it worked a little bit more. However, the one thing that I still have trouble buying is that love is what guides Cooper to the correct instant when he had to relay the message to Murph. It’s funny because I can accept the fact that aliens (or humans from the future, evolved beyond four dimensions) created a tesseract that allows Cooper to communicate with the past, but I can’t accept the fact that Cooper followed his heart to find the spot when he was supposed to communicate. Nolan even goes so far as to set this moment up before it happens by having Anne Hathaway (Les Miserable) wax poetic about how love is quantifiable and measurable, but we just don’t know how to measure it in this dimension. For me, the whole ‘follow your heart’ thing comes off as one of the cheesiest endings in a sci fi movie I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t work at all for me even now. It’s too bad, because this is truly one of the most impressive Sci Fi movies to come out in recent memory; if Nolan could’ve stuck the landing, this movie could’ve been a masterpiece. 

Verdict

This is a very good film; I’d go so far as to say it’s just short of great. Technically speaking, it’s a masterpiece. From a story standpoint, I find the third act a bit lacking and it’s so cheesy that it’s almost eye-roll inducing. The first two hours and twenty minutes of this film are incredible, I just wish the ending would’ve been approached a little differently. I recommend this movie, but with some reservations. I think that it’s wonderful, but lengthy journey, and it doesn’t quite pay off as well as I’d like in the end. Overall, a very solid entry by Mr. Nolan; the man knows how to make smarter blockbusters than most directors working today. 

 

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Review Written By:

Seth Steele