Interstellar (2014)

It’s interesting. The other night, my girlfriend and I watched a morbidly fascinating and inspiring documentary called ‘Food Inc’ (2008), which was about the state of our contemporary food infa-structure and how crop strains have now been patented for exclusive use by a handful of select corporations, thus keeping farmers under their thumb and under investigation (at times) with regards to how seed stocks are utilized and sold. One of the points that kept being raised was the distinct rise in the uses for corn over the last 30 years, being that corn is one of the primary agricultural crops in the United States and seems poised to start yielding the most raw, usable crop on the current market. Interesting and enlightening stuff.
“Why the hell is he going off about corn harvests and genetic patents on agricultural products?”- you ask? Well, ‘Interstellar’ goes to certain pains to communicate to us that, at an unspecified time in the near future, our environment will have turned against us to the point where corn is the ONLY major crop keeping Mankind going. I found the timely use of this as a plot device interesting in light of the chance viewing of THAT documentary (which I do recommend, BTW).
The Story:
The story opens somewhere in the American Midwest (I think), at a time when the world seems to be hanging on by a thread. We’re told and shown that the Earth is in the grip of a rapidly expanding environmental crisis, one that has killed off virtually all crop strains and has rendered the soil virtually useless. Humans now live in danger of vast, ominous dust storms that sweep across the land, further disrupting lives and livelihoods. Matthew McConaughey plays ‘Cooper’, a former test pilot and engineer who, after suffering a near-fatal crash, has taken on farming, which in this world is seen as a very high calling (which it is anyway). He lives on a struggling corn farm with his father ‘Donald’ (John Lithgow) and kids, 10 year old ‘Murphy’ and 15 year old ‘Tom’. After investigating a strange gravitational anomaly discovered by ‘Murph’, he is led to a secret underground facility populated by the remaining staff of NASA, led by a ‘Professor Brand’ (Michael Caine). ‘Brand’, conveniently familiar with ‘Cooper’s past, proposes that he join the Mission In Progress as Lead Pilot, in order to try and save humanity from starvation and eventual global suffocation. After much emotional deliberation, ‘Coop’ reluctantly agrees to go. Seems that 50 or so years earlier, a small wormhole was discovered just outside the rings of Saturn. ‘Cooper’ and his team, including ‘Brand’s scientist daughter (Anne Hathaway) are tasked with journeying through the wormhole to investigate the results of 3 previous survey teams that left years before, in hopes of finding a new, habitable planet fit for potential colonization. While ‘Cooper’ is away, we also follow the lives of his now grown children as they struggle to forge an existence in the rapidly failing world.
‘Interstellar’ will NEVER be accused of a lack of ambition. Christopher Nolan (‘The Dark Knight’ Trilogy), along with his writer brother Jonathan, has concocted a timely story that asks some pretty big questions about our treatment of our planet, and our place in the universe, and has done so using a VERY pretty visual backdrop.
Right off the bat, I have to say that ‘Interstellar’ is a gorgeous-looking film. I’ve heard others rave about it as an IMAX experience, which I can certainly understand, even though I had to settle with a standard Movie Screen-size showing. Nolan has obviously used the influence of other grand-scale sci-fi epics like ‘2001’ (1969) and ‘Contact’ (1997) to construct a film in which Space feels vast and spectacular. MANY shots simply show ‘scale’ and ‘grandeur’, be it a speck of a spaceship dwarfed by Saturn’s majestic rings (set to the eerie sounds of a rainforest!), or the threatening beauty of a nearby black hole. Likewise for the planets that the crew explore, with one featuring hundreds of miles of frozen clouds while another consists of a 3 foot deep ocean (at least where they landed) that is battered by colossal mile-high waves that roll dangerously across the surface with nothing to oppose them; pushed along by the unrelenting pull of the nearby ‘black hole’. The human characters and their seemingly futile mission are very effectively put into perspective in these environments. I have no complaints at all when it comes to the portrayal of outer space in this flick, and can easily recommend it on that basis alone. The cinematography for the ‘Back On Earth’ segments were very nicely done as well, showcasing an effectively ‘lived in’ production design.
Nolan and Co. did an impressive job in the ‘world building’ of the setting. Everything is coated in a layer of dust, people keep masks and goggles nearby and there is talk of blights and crop failures. One element that I found cool was the pains that the world was going to, to keep ‘normal’ life going, even in the face of this insurmountable and quietly growing threat.
One of the first scenes we have with ‘Cooper’ has him going to a parent/teacher meeting about his two kids. It’s a pretty normal event for a parent and, at first, it’s treated like what you would expect. But as the meeting progresses (badly, I might add), I found myself noticing things like the fingerprints in the film of dust on the table they were using, or the murky, yellow and brown gusts blowing past the window outside. It kept the state of the ‘world’ in the forefront, even when it was in the background.
The acting was also impressive, despite the fact that I found almost all the characters to be a little more one-dimensional than the scope of the film should’ve allowed (a common problem with Nolan films). McConaughey was, as usual, solid. He brought his down-to-earth lazy Texan charm to the character and maintained a more than serviceable range when it came to his emotions, especially in his interactions with his kids. Anne Hathaway fared better last time she worked with Nolan, on ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (2012). The character of ‘Selena Kyle / Catwoman’ had more ‘meat’ than the character she plays here. I didn’t find myself connecting with her emotionally…and I think we were supposed to. Jessica Chastain (‘Zero Dark Thirty’) was decent as the adult-aged ‘Murph’ but spent too much time in ‘I’m pissed at Dad for leaving’ mode. Casey Affleck (‘Gone Baby Gone’) had potential, but was wasted with not enough screen time. And some of the screen time he did have had him reduced to ‘Possibly Violent Antagonist with no Reason’ status, which I didn’t understand. We also get (*SPOILER*) Matt Damon (‘The Bourne Series’) turning up for a glorified cameo as the leader of one of the expeditions being sought. He was serviceable (I say this liking Damon as an Actor), but the character was handled poorly and the motivation for some anti-social behavior from him later in the film confused me. There’s also Topher Grace (‘Predators’) and Wes Bentley (‘American Beauty’) as scientists trying to tackle opposite ends of the problem. They do what they need to do here, but really…the film could’ve trucked on without either of them.
The Music Score was very good, at times reminding me of some of Phillip Glass’ music or, if a cinematic reference is needed, portions of the soundtrack for ‘Akira’ (1988) came to mind. It bolstered the grandiosity of the visuals, only overwhelming them a couple of times with some over-the-top orchestral swelling. A couple moments of restraint in the musical manipulation of the audience would’ve gone a long way. But, for the most part, the score was perfectly suited for the film.
If I have to complain about anything, there is a small list that I can pull from. Aside from some one dimensional characterizations, I think that the film got too big for it’s britches in the 3rd Act. It took a strange time/space bending motif, similar in flavor to the end of ‘2001’ (dazzling light-show, past/present/future selves etc) and tried to tie the story up with it. Which would’ve been fine if the film had chosen a more ambiguous path for the flick to conclude on. There is a spot where CREDITS ROLL would’ve been a perfect tie-up for the story, but….nope. It keeps on going, trucking away to an ending that pretty much wraps things up nicely, or as nicely as the story would allow.
Some of the logic in certain plot elements also had me scratching my head a little. Small ‘conveniences’ that don’t make much sense but somehow help push the flick along. But as soon as I would start cocking an eyebrow at the film, it would give me some cool ideas or sweet visuals to chew on. Speaking of visuals, there are a couple of robot characters whose designs didn’t exactly blow me over. They seemed too blocky and awkward for what they seemed designed to do. They were also given human character traits in their programming, meaning that they could be humorous comic relief, if the scene called for it, which I had a little trouble with. It also didn’t help that they had them speak in perfect-sounding, accented English, with not a trace of ‘digital’ in their voices.
All in all, my complaints certainly don’t overshadow the cosmic grandeur of what Christopher and Jonathan Nolan set out to accomplish with this movie. Like all Nolan films, there are flaws…but like all Nolan films, the flaws are easily brushed aside due to a considerable amount of cinematic awesomeness on display. This flick is no different. It’s an ambitious cautionary tale that forces us to look at ‘What Could Be’ and ‘What Could Be Out THERE’. The characters are fairly solid, the scope is large, the effects and cinematography are amazing and there’s some emotion coursing through the veins of the story. ‘Interstellar’ is a solid bet on The Big Screen and I recommend you check it out there while you can. IMAX would probably be terrific, but a Standard movie screen in a quiet, darkened theatre, with some buttery popcorn and something cold to drink (not too much though…this flick is a LONG one!) would be a Good Time at The Movies!

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