Interstellar

Movie Information

The Story: The only hope for a dying Earth is the discovery of an inhabitable planet that may — or may not — lie on the other side of a wormhole. The Lowdown: A deeply flawed film that tries to be something more than it can manage, but it’s still an entertaining work of considerable intelligence.
Score:

Genre: Science Fiction
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Michael Caine
Rated: PG-13

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Whatever else comes from Interstellar — a film I mostly enjoyed — it ought to erase the notion that Christopher Nolan is some kind of truly deep visionary filmmaker. With Interstellar, Nolan has attempted to make his own 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — I guess he wasn’t satisfied with referencing it in Inception (2010) — but he trips over his pop culture mindset by not trusting or pushing his audience. At best, what he comes up with is a kind of 2001 for the Literal-Minded — where everything is explained (even if the explanations are simplistic or dumbed down). Nolan isn’t content with showing us what happens; he insists on telling us what it is. The sense of wonder in Kubrick’s film is gone. Where Kubrick’s “star ride” simply offered us an evocative title — “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” — and let us figure out what we were seeing, Nolan wants to be sure we “get it,” and in so doing, completely loses the mythic, visionary, poetic quality of 2001 he was striving for. You want poetry? Nolan slaps Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” onto Interstellar — and then repeats it at alarmingly regular intervals. It is a complete misunderstanding of what makes 2001 a truly mythic creation and a great film.

 

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And yet … Interstellar is not a bad film — just one hemmed in by Nolan’s PG-13 pop comfort zone. (Goodness knows, I’d rather see it again than Nolan’s plodding, self-serious Batman trilogy.) Oh, yes, it misses 2001 — it even misses the mythical quality of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007). But those are remarkable works that few science fiction films get anywhere near, so that’s not a disgrace in itself. I don’t even think Interstellar’s 169-minute running time works against it. (As my cocritic Justin Souther remarked, “I’ve seen 90-minute films that seemed longer.”) Nolan has at least made an intelligent, involving movie that is certainly worth seeing. It’s not like we have a surfeit of those.

 

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In a way, Nolan has less made his own Kubrick movie than he has made a kind of Nolanesque Kubrick-Terrence-Malick mash-up. (With interview footage that might be cribbed from Warren Beatty’s 1981 Reds.) That’s not altogether surprising, since the Nolan-produced Man of Steel (2013) had evocations of Malick. Nolan’s earthbound scenes — of which there may be more than are needed — play and look like Malick. His depiction of the world turned into an increasingly hostile giant dust bowl is somewhere between Dorothea Lange Depression-era photographs and Days of Heaven (1978) — while sticking to Nolan’s own (melo)dramatic sensibilities. This is not a bad thing. The atmosphere of these earthly scenes is effectively oppressive — so much so that the omnipresent dust is a palpable, choking thing.

 

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The plot — that Earth is dying and mankind’s only hope lies in finding another habitable planet — sounds modern enough in its obvious parallels to climate change, but only the threat has changed. This is Sci-fi 101, but it’s workable. So is the idea of finding such a world by going through a wormhole — complete with simple explanation, of course. Even what happens is unfailingly interesting — if often derivative. What matters is whether or not all this is entertaining — and, from my perspective, it is immensely so. Within these confines, Nolan crafts more than a few suspenseful scenes. Even the film’s appallingly literal attempt at a star ride — complete with a lot of blather about three-dimensional representations of the fifth dimension — manages to convey the sense of enormity of what is taking place. (I’d prefer not to say too much about this.)

 

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What is perhaps more effective — and interesting — about Interstellar is that it is the most deeply emotional film Nolan has ever made. Oh, sure, some of the film’s emotionalism is pretty corny stuff (in a film where our last remaining crop is corn, no less), but it never feels false. Even as poor old Dylan Thomas gets worked over for the umpteenth time, I fully believed that Nolan was buying into his own story — and there’s a lot to be said for that. I could go through the film and pick at what doesn’t really work — like its ambulatory, monolithic computer — but on balance more works here than doesn’t. It just doesn’t add up to the greatness Nolan seems to have wanted, which may be more a personal failure than a dramatic one. Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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27 thoughts on “Interstellar

  1. luluthebeast

    I wish they would have used a different poem. I kept flashing on Rodney Dangerfield when they started it up again.

  2. Me

    Dylan Thomas should get a writing credit, it felt like they quoted that poem every 30 minutes.

  3. Sally Sefton

    The soundtrack was almost more than I could bear. It was intrusive at every turn. Though he mostly enjoyed the film, my husband nearly left the theater because of it. It reminded me of some work by Phillip Glass. I usually get motion sick when I hear his music. I felt the same queasiness with this score

    • Ken Hanke

      Theater 10 at The Carolina must be the only theater in existence where the soundtrack isn’t an issue. I can’t say I was reminded of Glass. Some of it came off as a half-baked attempt to sound like Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” One of its more persistent themes kept threatening to turn into Debussy’s “La Mer,” but always stopping short.

      • Edwin Arnaudin

        I think the score only helps the film. It’s one of the first Hans Zimmer scores where I actively look forward to hearing it again.

        • Ken Hanke

          Though Clapton knows after being in the theater next to it last night, it has to be the loudest movie going.

  4. T.rex

    As I huge Nolan fan it’s hard to say that this movie is ok and not great. Worth seeing on the biggest screen you can but it’s his worst film since Insomnia but that could be my fault because I walk into his movies expecting the second coming (like I got with Prestige and Inception and yes, the greatest comic hero movies ever) The biggest problem here is constant expository dialogue, something critics of Nolan have always addressed but I was happy enough to let slide until now. There were so many times I just wanted to enjoy the visuals without being told what was happening. The “bookcase scene” was the worst offender. Don’t tell me things, show me things. Ken is right, there is more good here than bad but I was wanting so much more. Nolan is at a point now that he can do anything he wants but this had the feeling of a studio going “hey, what’s going on? Can Cooper or the robots tell us?” A misstep for Nolan but I’d be happy to see it again and will still have high expectations for his next movie “Two-Face Lives”. (Pleeeeeeeeeze Mr Nolan?!!)

    • Ken Hanke

      Of course, I’m not a huge Nolan fan — and you know I think his Batman movies are fairly awful — but I think you’re blaming the studio for something that is pure Nolan. Not only does it seem part and parcel of his literal-mindedness, but he was already in a position to do whatever he wanted when he made this. There is no reason to suspect studio interference.

      • T.rex

        You might be right but there were drafts of this script long before the Nolans got involved. This was almost a Spielberg picture.

        • Ken Hanke

          But did they use any of those drafts? The writing credits suggest not. Plus, there were articles just before the film came out making it clear that Nolan is one of the very few directors working today who is not interfered with by the studio. Has Nolan said anything about being made to do anything?

          • T.rex

            Touché. Like I said , I walked out disappointed. It all sums up as a homage to 2001. Nothing wrong with that.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Dark Knight films awful. You are funny sir.

    Just my opinion. I would settle for calling them pompous, overbearing, and overrated, though.

    • T.rex

      I went back to some of those reviews. Four stars is a pretty good recommendation. Ha ha.
      Back on topic….. I must admit I’m surprised you liked this film, I’d thought you’d hate Interstellar.

      • Ken Hanke

        All of those four star reviews also express serious reservations. It is a grave mistake to rely on the star ratings on reviews. And if I was to review them today, they would not be four star reviews.

  6. DrSerizawa

    I liked the prominent “Firestone” tire placement. However I very much enjoyed this movie. The science was handled as intelligently as one could expect for a mass audience film. I liked the way it transcended the stark depressing materialism that is all too common these days without getting over-maudlin. The singularity part at the end was a bit over much, but no movie is perfect. The 2 plus hours went by very quickly. Can’t ask much more from a movie. Blowing Matt Damon out of an airlock is a bonus. (Just kidding)

  7. Me

    I didn’t notice the Firestone placement, was there a lot of shots of tires I missed?

    • DrSerizawa

      There was one scene with the Firestone label on a tire very prominently in the foreground. I thought it amusing at the time.

  8. Stephladder

    I thoroughly enjoyed the film – along with my daughter and a few ‘kid’ friends of ours (30 somethings – I call them ‘kids’ ;-) I’m a fan of quantum theory, ‘nature of reality’, etc. , Brian Greene style, so this film was right up my alley. I had a problem with some stuff that seemed obvious and down right stupid: they blast off in a 3 stage rocket at the beginning, but somehow are able to reach orbit (even from a heavier gravitational planet) in that little compact shuttle thingie. Also, how did ‘future’ humans know that they had to ‘go back’ and recruit Cooper to communicate the final equations to his daughter… how did ‘future’ humans even survive to realize the need in the first place? – you get the picture. However, it’s a sc-fi movie, so some ‘suspension’ is required… I still liked the movie and appreciated Nolan’s attempt. The big screen and sound was impressive! IMHO. -sm

    • DrSerizawa

      Since quantum theory is only a little removed from Theology there’s a lot of wiggle room for paradoxes and such.

  9. Dionysis

    I missed this at the theater, but just picked up the DVD for $5, so I’ll check it out tonight. As a long-time science fiction fan, I’m not too picky as long as it is entertaining; aliens or time-travel are always welcome.

    One of the best sci-fi flicks I’ve seen in a while was the (I guess independent) film ‘Europa Report’ from a couple of years ago.

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