Release date: 7 November 2014
Running time: 169 minutes
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley
The master of the critically lauded modern blockbuster, Christopher Nolan seemingly shuns much of Hollywood, and yet has been its golden child for the best part of a decade. He is currently one of the only directors who can sell blockbuster films based solely on his own reputation, a mantle previously held by M Night Shyamalan, and ten years before that Spielberg. Interstellar clearly owes much to both of his predecessors, although in many aspects not necessarily for the better.
Set in a vaguely definable future, Earth has become harsh and inhospitable. The only fight left is one for survival, and with food scarce almost everyone in this dry, dusty world is a farmer. Amongst their number is Cooper (McConaughey), a reluctant corn farmer and ex-engineer whose talents have essentially been outlawed along with most other technological pursuits. When he and his daughter Murph stumble upon a top secret NASA project, he enlists as a pilot in a mission which will take him to the unknown reaches of space. Plan A sees them finding a new planet to settle and returning to Earth as heroes. Plan B, however, is a one-way ticket.
Not surprisingly, Interstellar is at its best when Nolan plays to his strengths. He can deliver extraordinary spectacle, and on an IMAX screen especially there are some aesthetically breathtaking sequences. Much like last year’s Gravity, the vast blackness of space is captured with a frightening beauty, however the bigger scale and more languid pace allows for golden galaxies, black holes and the silent majesty of planets. Not since Kubrick’s 2001 has the physical concept of space been explored with such an awareness and imagination.
The human element is also the strongest of any Nolan feature; there is a tangible melancholy and a heartbreaking central conceit which allows for a unique dissection of relationships. The hand of Spielberg can certainly be felt here, particularly with its early Americana-inflected opening and themes of absent parents. This is helped by some strong performances, particularly McConaughey and Chastain who shine in the more emotive scenes.
Where Interstellar comes undone is in Nolan’s infuriating tendency to overwrite. While this may have been just about tolerable with the likes of Inception, here it is dense and often impenetrable. There’s entire scenes of characters talking at each other about baffling scientific concepts, explaining the narrative as if a running commentary. To its further detriment, the sound mixing is completely overwhelming, to the point where dialogue is lost within the deluge of noise, inhibiting our ability to follow much of anything.
It is admirable that Nolan chooses to tackle complicated astrophysics in a huge blockbuster, however in trying to cover everything from astro and gravitational physics, to string theory and existentialism, he wants to have his cake and eat it. Kubrick may have been a clear influence here, but he has learned little of his ability to tell a story primarily through image.
The dominant feeling is one of frustration rather than disappointment, as when it shines it positively burns though the screen. Its saving grace is that it may alienate some of the Nolan faithful, but in doing so actually attract some of his critics. Some constructive divisiveness is what Nolan needs right now as a filmmaker, especially from his own yes-men fans. Despite all this, one thing remains a very distinct possibility; no matter how frustrated you get, you’ll likely want to see it again. Such is the nature of a Christopher Nolan film, he can infuriate you but you’re always curious for more.