I was going to just do my usual quick review of the movie, but there’s so much going on tied to the success/failure, hype, and other aspects of this movie that have clearly skewed the other reviews of the film I want to address them first.
One of the bit bandied about the interwebz is about the “backlash” against Chris Nolan as a writer/director. His detractors view him as pompous — and certainly his statements about Interstellar have borne some of that out; his claims to have wanted to create something on par with 2001: A Space Odyssey seem to have infuriated that clique of sci-fi fans for whom the Kubrick opus cannot be matched. But that’s not the point. Is Interstellar a better movie than 2001? No, it’s a different movie, and in some ways excels at storytelling in ways Kubrick often failed; in other ways, well it’s not that good.
Others claim Nolan’s films aren’t particularly clever, or complain about plot holes. Welcome to Hollywood — you’ve got two hours (well, three here) to do what you want or need to, and usually that’s going to require some fudging figures. Complaints about The Dark Knight usually revolve about the weak last act with Harvey Dent, or the dense amount of social topics addressed rather offhandedly — like ubiquitous surveillance. Batman does it, there’s a bit of hand wringing, then it’s over; Winter Soldier kicked you in the face with the subject…but that was, in many ways, the main thrust of the movie. Inception is seen as overly convoluted to disguise its weaknesses. Fair enough. It was still fun. Insomnia was still great — anyone who can make Pacino act instead of yell for two hours is okay by me.
If there’s a sin Nolan commits as a filmmaker, its the same one we’re seeing with all writer/driectors, from Nolan, to Tarantino to Peter “Fuck, three movies to do what is essentially a novella” Jackson. Interstellar, like King Kong, or Inception, or Django Unchained would have been much more engaging if they were slightly shorter then Wagner’s Ring opera.
Then there’s the issue of hype and audience expectation. This is something I’ve noted, particularly from the know-it-all cinephiles in review circles — they can’t stand when the product doesn’t match the advertisement. It’s that Christmas toy that isn’t so cool once opened. We saw this a-plenty in recent sic-fi movies — particularly ones with the name Damon Lindelof in the writing credits somewhere. People were angst ridden that Ridley Scott’s Prometheus didn’t do deep meaningful questions about the state of reality and man’s existence. Yes, they tried to gussy the movie up with stunning visuals and a few hand waves at philosophy, but in the end — if you were paying attention — you were going to get a monster movie. Go in with that expectation, and it’s not that bad. (But certainly not up to the quality of the original Sphaits script.) Both of the JJ Abams Star Trek movies were awful if you expected a Star Trek movie; but if you realized they were set pieces for crazy fun action sequences with a bit of plot stringing them through — sort of a action porn movie — you probably didn’t feel like your childhood was raped out of you through your eyes.
At heart, though, the question should always, first be, did you have a good time?
So having heard about the overblown questions about the nature of reality, the importance of love as some kind of supernatural bond, and seeing the 2:45 runtime, i took my freebie Fandango ticket and went to see it on a Friday night.
…and I loved it.
It’s not without issues, but what film this year outside of Guardians of the Galaxy (yes, GotG is that fucking good) doesn’t have some issues. Here’s the first one: it’s too damned long. It’s been about 14 year since Lord of the Rings meant any successful writer/director stopped having to hire a damned editor. Chop some of the scenes back a bit – mostly the first 45 minutes on Earth and the black hole/time travel bits — it’s a fantastic movie. (Kinda like cutting the stargate sequence and trimming the intolerably long, dry talking bits from 2001 and concentrating on the events on Discovery would have improved that film.
It’s a bit schmaltzy. The Brand character (Hathaway) has a long diatrabe about the power of love and time and space, but she’s essentially trying to find anyway to convince Cooper — for whom she just destroyed his chance of seeing his kids before they were collecting Social Security — to take her to the planet her lover had surveyed. I didn’t see it as philosophizing; I saw a desperate woman trying to convince the kid she just screwed over to do things her way.
One of the critics’ complaints was the lack of a real emotional through line between Cooper (McConaghey) and his kids. I have a three year old that would fall apart if I left for another galaxy tomorrow; this apparently missing emotion queue kicked me in the balls so hard I started crying after the movie was over. Not during; after. For the whole walk home, I felt guilty about the possibility I might let my kid down in some hazily defined, not-going-to-space way. Bravo, Chris; screw you, critics.
The end is not as pathetically high-brow as 2001, and before your blather, yes, I read The Sentinel and yes, I understood what Kubrick was doing. It still sucked. This is the weakest point of the movie — the “in the black hole” act. It gets better after that.
The science is good enough for the average audience. Kind of like people bitching about satellite altitudes in Gravity, you’re missing the point if you’re busting out your Casio calculator watch and trying to work out the actual time dilation the planet should be experiencing. There’s no sound in space and Nolan uses the sudden silence of a decompression scene to scare you as easily as if he had done the big noise gotcha. The ship is well thought out and looks realistic enough. They worry about fuel, but not in the sort of numbers crunching way Apollo 13 did; that’s not the point of the movie. The “Earth is dying” trope is a bit worn out (sorry, environmentalists!) but it is a serviceable McGuffin for putting the characters in space.
The visuals are absolutely arresting. The sound design is great. Matt Damon plays a cowardly douchebag with abandon.
So past all the hype and hissy fits about Nolan, Interstellar was a solidly entertaining movie, with generally good performances, mind-boggling visuals, decent science, and a nice twist connected to time dilation at the end.
On my full-price, matinee, rent, borrow, avoid scale — it’s a full-price. I might have popped for IMAX, if I wasn’t a cheap bastard. But if it’s between Interstellar and Guardians of the Galaxy…Guardians, my son, Guardians.