Incredible visuals, slightly iffy dialogue, a multitude of ideas and thought-provoking concepts orbiting a sentimental plot about a father and daughter relationship told in a slightly non-linear pattern, yet enormously entertaining. Yup, Interstellar is definitely a Christopher Nolan film alright.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
An occupational hazard of reviewing films for Failed Critics, whether on the podcast or on these written reviews, is that you see some films you really wouldn’t have otherwise been arsed about. Whether it’s with a slight resentment over the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last month, Transformers: Age of Extinction a couple months back, or one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, I, Frankenstein, optimistically hoping they’re better than you think they’re going to be, they were all seen by me in the name of this little website.
However, for every time I’ve forced myself out into the cold, reluctantly putting my jacket on and sighing to myself about the next three hours I’ll spend watching something I’ll probably not enjoy, there’s also been times when I’ve made the short walk from the car park to the cinema a bit giddy in anticipation. Given the recent so-called backlash that director Christopher Nolan has received over his $165m project, this past weekend, Interstellar joined the likes of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla on my “fingers-crossed walk from car park to cinema” list. I really, really, really wanted Interstellar to be good. I have not jumped on the anti-Nolan bandwagon just yet. To my mind, he still makes incredibly enjoyable blockbuster movies with more brains than your average multi-million dollar project. But I’ll come onto whether or not Interstellar lived up to my expectations in a minute.
Firstly, the basic plot revolves around Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a single father of two, in the not too distant future. He was once an educated, highly skilled astronaut-come-engineer, but due to the dwindling population crisis and apparent slow death of our planet, necessitating the need for a focus on agriculture rather than scientific exploration, he is now a farmer of corn; one of the few remaining crops not effected by blight or the constant dust storms. His ten year old daughter, Murph (so named after Murphy’s Law), experiences something she describes as paranormal activity in her bedroom; books fly off shelves, figurines break in half and the dust settles in a peculiar pattern. Eventually, the pattern begins to make sense and Cooper stumbles upon a research centre planning to shoot some folks off into space to find a new home across the galaxy after a message from them – and I don’t mean some giant man-eating ants.
And thus begins one small crews journey across space, time and, erm, gravity in order to save their species.
In all manner of speaking, both in terms of the good and the bad, Interstellar is a very Nolan-esque movie. From his first real breakthrough with Memento, to one of our listeners/readers top 10 movies of 2012 (The Dark Knight Rises), and all that came inbetween, his films have all had a certain visual flair. The way they look and feel can easily be recognised as one of his movies within the opening quarter of an hour. They’re epic in their depictions of scope and scale, yet often contain frames with just one or maybe two characters at a time appearing in them. He creates a fantastic realism, and what with a large proportion of this movie being set in space, on distant planets or inside a shuttle with a wise-cracking robot, that’s no mean feat. You get people interacting with each other, as people do, but all the while there’s an element of fantasy about what’s taking place. Some truly astounding visual effects that might even eclipse those of Gravity, released this time last year. It’s almost a type of poetic realism. You know, that realism that occurs when people travel through worm holes. But poetic.
Continuing along those lines, the dialogue also has a balance of authenticity and complete and utter cobblers. Attempts to weight scripts with what could be seen as real science talk is largely superfluous. This is a ship containing three men, one woman and a bendy iMonolith travelling to another part of the galaxy; it’s safe to say that I have already conceded that my disbelief will need to be suspended in order to enjoy this. There’s really not any need to convince me of the whys and hows that this star hopping is actually possible. Although, that said, it was a nice change to not be treated like a complete idiot by a movie. Sure, there’s the typical exposition that you get in all blockbusters these days, but to have explanations that aid understanding without especially dumbing down, for example David Gyasi embodying the spirit of Laurence Fishburne in Event Horizon to explain to fellow crew members Cooper, Brand (Anne Hathaway) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) how wormholes work, was a nice treat. It was relevant, informative but not bogging the film down in droll pseudo-scientific theory.
Whilst these are two things that you could transfer to pretty much any films in Nolan’s back catalogue, one thing that is virtually out of his hands is that of the performances from the cast. The ever-reliable Matthew McConaughey (who would’ve thought that could be a thing three or four years ago – certainly not James) puts in a performance that is (pardon the pun) out of this world (I did say “pardon”!) It more than likely won’t grant him an Oscar for the second year in a row, but for a film of this magnitude with such high profile stars in it (Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon and so on) who are all on form, for him to outshine them in the way that he does is pretty extraordinary.
As said earlier in the review, I wanted this movie to be good. I can see how that might suggest the potential for me to be lying to you – and maybe even myself. However, I honestly do believe that Interstellar, whilst not without its problems, is quite probably the best film Nolan has created… objectively speaking. Everyone has a favourite Nolan. He has seven movies in the IMDb Top 250, with one of those currently sitting in fourth place and a further two in the top 15! He’s an incredibly popular filmmaker and not without reason. My personal favourite may not be Interstellar, but it’s his most sophisticated, well made, and intelligent movie yet. Yes, better than Memento before anybody suggests it.
Owen, Steve and Carole will be chatting about Interstellar (and no doubt Nolan in general) on the upcoming podcast.