Saturday, November 15, 2014

Interstellar Movie Review

My take and theories about what the film was about and how it all makes sense, mostly.

By Ken Parker

I have to admit that Interstellar looked like my type of film from the trailers. With comparisons to 2001 A Space Odyssey, one of my favorite films of all time, I had high expectations for Interstellar. Having reservations about the length of the film, I had confidence in Christopher Nolan's track record with movies such as Memento, Inception, The Prestige, Insomnia and The Dark Knight. Going into the movie with high expectations is not always a good thing.

The following review has spoilers and is meant to be read by someone who has seen the film. I won't go into detail about the story, just facets of the script and what I thought worked and didn't.

The story, I will have to stay is very solid for the most part. Nolan does want to say a lot and show us a lot for the 3 hours of the film and he barely had time to do it all. We have many skips in the story and leaps in the script that seem to gloss over some of the issues with the dying Earth. Certainly it is all there on screen for the viewer to process and as with most of Nolan's films, he reveals the background throughout the story. We know Earth is dying and we know farms are failing and learn more about this problem as the movie goes on. Not knowing some of the details to start with gives at least this viewer some moments where I felt Cooper (Matthew McConaughy) jumped to go on the mission a bit suddenly. 

Cut scene from the movie
The emotional continuity was not as strong as some other moments but this is a sacrifice Nolan made to reveal the story as he did. Rather than make the movie 6 hours long, we gather just enough story from before the launch to set the stage for what the mission is for and the emotional drive that all the characters have to complete plan A or B. By the end of the film, all motivations for the characters come together and makes sense – for the most part – see below for a possible exception. This material might have been better as a mini series or perhaps a series of movies but Nolan does his best in compressing the ideas into the script and at times this feels overloaded. The film does change pace in order for the viewer to experience the drama unfolding among the relationships and he made the right choice to push many of these moments toward the middle and end of the film rather than the start so as to not bore the audience.

I think the emotional structure for the first hour is just enough to allow the story to develop from there and we see how important the mission is, how devastated the crew are when learning that plan A was never on the cards and how powerful love is (ah, that plot device we will talk about later).

In my opinion the story is flawless apart from what I mentioned above up until Brand's sudden reveal that she is in love with Edmunds, one of the other astronauts who left Earth 10 years earlier to explore his particular planet. This might be one of the hardest pills to swallow in the movie. First off, this revelation comes out of left field but does allow for the dilemma of personal decisions clouding the minds of our crew. Cooper has a promise to keep for his daughter, Murphy and his goal is to save the people of Earth. He wants plan A to succeed. Brand wants either mission to succeed but has the alternative agenda of reuniting with Edmunds. Dr. Mann is all about plan B as is Brand's father played my Michael Caine. These opposing motives clash in a big way and create tension and tough decisions for the characters.

The 'love' idea stems from this as it is a driving force for these characters and in the end Cooper seems to feel, as does the writers, that love is what will ultimately give Cooper the power to communicate with his daughter and save their world. This is perhaps a roll your eyes moment in the film but if you can look at the science behind the story, the 'love saves all' theme is not as annoying.

The movie does certainly open things for discussion and right off the bat, if a film does this then it is better for it. The concept that Cooper can communicate with his daughter might another hard part to accept but it was obvious that the scenes with the 'ghost' were what was going on from the first moments in the film. Since in a black hole every moment is connected to every other moment, Cooper is able to communicate at different times with his daughter, ultimately giving her the knowledge to save the people of Earth. That, in of itself makes sense. He is not traveling back in time per say, he just exists in all times. He is not able to interact directly with all these points other than brief touches and so can only push the books and move the dust to send his signals. He is also able to 'shake hands' with Brand we originally saw when they entered the worm hole. One can look at the TV series Quantum Leap and see a similar idea where Sam Beckett is basically in touch with many moments within his life span. If you can buy this, you can buy Interstellar. It is basically the same concept just realized differently.
The ability for Cooper to enter this singularity and reach out to his daughter is certainly far fetched and so perhaps this is where 'love' enters the equation. Perhaps love is part of the universe and is more than just an emotion. It may be an tangible connection among people as Brand suggests. Certainly this would give Cooper the connection with the important periods of Murph's life to send those communications. It may be hard for some viewers who are all in on the science and science fiction to suddenly accept this unexplainable 'love' element but I see nothing in the film to completely reject this.

The space exploration plot is incredible and the effects, action and especially with IMAX to practically blow me out of my seat, was impressive on every level. The film could have just been about that and I would have been fine (more on the long ending in a minute – my review is just as long!) It is interesting to note that Nolan went out of his way to deliver a space exploration film that centers so little on the actual craft they are using to explore. Rarely do you see the space craft. You only see close-ups of the launch and mostly close-up of the craft. It is not until later do you actually get a good look at the craft. Not sure what the purpose was for this. It was not an important part of the story. The craft were just background and by the time the landings occur on the various planets, we do see more of the smaller crafts in action.

The realism and spectacular look of this part of the film, including the trip into the black hole harken back to 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as Contact. They are highlights for sure.

The family drama may not be everyone's cup of tea but is handled well in my opinion. There is plenty of it to go around and might have improved a bit being cut back a little. You do not want to lose the desperate situation on Earth nor the passage of time as well as the relationship between Cooper and his daughter but it did help make the movie longer.

The black hole part of the film takes us into a different realm entirely for the film. We go from a fairly accurate science plot to the surreal and weird, just as 2001 and Contact did before. A black hole, in a story, can be an easy out for writers. Once you have a black hole you can basically do anything. Dancing clowns riding chipmunks could happen because there is a black hole. Interstellar keeps the idea of the black hole fairly grounded. Compared to the rest of the film the imagery is out there and hard to grasp but the idea of being able to touch all parts of your life, as mentioned above is not completely ridiculous. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson finds the idea scientifically possible!

Now, the film, for me takes a few new spins toward the end that I feel could have been done differently. After communicating with his daughter successfully, Cooper's 'quantum world' collapses and he is found drifting in space a short while later near Saturn. Somehow he is returned to our solar system but years into the future. That singularity meant that all times and places are touched and toward the end he seemed to be backtracking his time line from the mission (therefore touching Brand in the ship) and now back near Saturn. He is able to see that his information gathered from the black hole and given to his daughter, enabled mankind to leave the dying Earth and build a giant space station world. While this new reveal of the actual plan A is important to the viewer, it may have not been needed. Cooper is now happy and re-united with his daughter who is very old and on her death bed. Cooper then leaves the solar system to go find Brand, who is all alone on Edmonds's world but with the frozen embryos of the human race. Again, a convenient ending and thankfully we did not see this re-union more it is implied. I think if anything could have been excised from the movie, this could have been it. 

 The viewers seeing the outcome of Cooper's info for his daughter and the daughter sending one last message to her father telling him mankind was saved might have been a better and potentially shorter and logical ending. The stretching of the plot to allow him to make it back and then to leave again was a bit jarring to me and was not the strongest ending. It reminded me of another shout out to the 2001: A Space Odyssey universe specifically the book, 3001, The Final Odyssey.
I will make one mention of the poor sound mix.  The film is not playing properly in many theaters. The mix may prevent you from clearly hearing some scenes with over loud music and fainter dialog.  For the most part you can get the gist but there is at least one major moment where the audience all turned to one another and asked "What did he say?"

High expectations were matched and excelled to a great degree. I would have to see this film again to really get an idea about how good of a film it really is. I certainly place this film right up there with Inception, The Dark Knight and Memento as Christopher Nolan's best films. I felt the film tried to do too much in the same way that The Dark Knight did with a drawn out ending with Harvey Dent. The Joker was the strength of that film and once he was out of the way, the film petered out to a degree. Interstellar did this in a similar fashion with the return to Saturn but this was not enough to degrade the quality of this film that much.

I feel the film may be too much sci-fi for the general audiences although I am sure there are sci-fi fans who find the film to full of itself and grand. I love films like this and with that mixture of drama and emotion it made it that much better. It is hard to grasp all the concepts for sure and we can debate it all we want but the Universe is a place we know little about and Interstellar can easily fit into that concept. The film has everything it needs to tell the tale and warrant multiple viewings. I would not be surprised to see this film creep up into my top 20 sci-fi films of all time. Time will tell.

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