Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Premise: Set in the near future, the Earth is dying and soon it will be unable to support human life. NASA sends a crew of explorers through a worm hole in the hope of finding a new planet to colonize.
What Works: Science fiction is among the most popular film genres but much of what is called science fiction are really fantasy adventure movies like Guardians of the Galaxy. Those kinds of films are perfectly legitimate but there has been a dearth of authentic science fiction, the key word being “science.” Interstellar is science fiction in the true sense of the term and the movie compares favorably with titles like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Moon. The picture does a number of things different from other movies in the Hollywood marketplace right now but chief among them is its depiction of the world on the verge of an apocalypse. There have been a lot of movies about the end of the world recently but Interstellar takes a slightly different approach. In the premise of this film, Earth’s ecosystem no longer produces enough food and so people who were formally engineers—like the main character played by Matthew McConaughey—are now forced into agriculture. But as McConaughey’s character soon finds out, the crops are destined to fail, leaving humanity to starve to death. This slow burn scenario for the end of the world is indicative of the thoughtful nature of this movie. McConaughey’s character is recruited to participate in a space mission to find a new place to live and the film sets him and a group of scientists on a voyage that raises challenging questions about mankind’s place in the universe. While Interstellar has a lot of scientific content, it’s never overwhelmed by it. Interstellar is intellectual but it is also dramatically satisfying with engaging characters and compelling human stakes. The crew of astronauts have to make choices that will literally impact the fate of humanity but unlike so many other movies with similar scenarios, those stakes remain credible. As a piece of cinema, Interstellar is a remarkable achievement. The film is a beautiful piece of work; director Christopher Nolan conveys an appreciation for the beauty of nature, science, and mathematics in much the same way that Stanley Kubrick did in 2001. The moviemakers delight in the precision of technology and the skill of technicians, making this ultimately a very humanistic movie that inspires awe.
What Doesn’t: The one technical flaw of Interstellar is in its sound mix. Hans Zimmer has written some terrific music for this film but at times the score so dominates the soundtrack that it is distracting and drowns out the dialogue and other sound effects. Interstellar also has a number of problems with its story. Several plot beats are more than a little reminiscent of 2001, Event Horizon, Contact, and The Abyss. The middle third of the picture coheres to the conventions of movies about explorers, black holes, and deep space travel. If any element of Interstellar’s story is really troublesome it is the ending. In a way the filmmakers are victims of their own success; three-fourths of Interstellar set the bar so high that finding a satisfactory conclusion is inherently tough going. But the finale that the filmmakers come up with has a lot of problems, not the least of which is its several deus ex machina resolutions. The spectacle of Interstellar is so overwhelming that it compensates for many of the narrative inconsistencies but the end of the story has some serious logical problems. The conclusion that this story is driving toward has dark implications but the filmmakers opt for an ending that falls back on the old Hollywood adage that love conquers all and while that ending will please mainstream audiences it also compromises the film.
Bottom Line: Despite some misguided storytelling decisions, Interstellar is a remarkable film. There is a lot in it that is to be admired, especially from a technical standpoint, but the quality that really defines the movie is the awe that it inspires for nature and for humanity’s place in it.
Episode: #518 (November 16, 2014)