Review: Interstellar

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4 stars

 

Interstellar follows Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a NASA engineer/space pilot-come farmer who is tasked with spearheading a mission through a wormhole to find a new home for the soon-to-be extinct human race. It is a brilliant in quite a lot of ways, but disappointingly and predictably reeks of Nolan’s recurring directorial foibles. It’s long, but every scene feels necessary, and the film’s length is only a testament to Nolan’s immense authorial power in Hollywood. After managing to follow up Dark Knight’s box office figures with Inception and Dark Knight Rises, Nolan was definitely due to make a film which was a bit more personal, a bit less universally liked by the masses, and a bit more deserving of whatever auteur status he seems to have accumulated.

The story follows Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a NASA engineer/space pilot-come farmer who is tasked with spearheading a mission through a wormhole to find a new home for the soon-to-be extinct human race.

Inception could be seen as a pseudo-intellectual dream drivel a bit uninteresting and a bit annoying. It didn’t annoy me too much during the film, but it was annoying hearing everyone rave about what was essentially a technically gifted but narratively dodgy blockbuster. Again, nothing against a blockbuster, the Batman films are all brilliant achievements, and what makes them better than Inception is their placement within a comic book universe. Nolan is notoriously ham-fisted when it comes to dialogue. Cringe-worthy lines come thick and fast throughout most of his films, but the Batman films get away with it because of their placement in a made up world, the other films…not so much.

Interstellar is no different, and people might struggle with the opening act; not because it was too slow or awkwardly paced, but every sentence seemed overwrought, too much to the point, and too obviously for the benefit of the audience’s understanding of either a particular character trait or the plot point; the conversations didn’t feel real. Gladly, once the action moves into space, the dialogue also climbs out of the dirt.

The whole thing is pretty, not just because of the visual spectacle, but the cinematography is allowed more time and scope for beauty, something Nolan’s utilitarian shooting style often lacks. The new found collaboration with Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has resulted in what is certainly Nolan’s best looking film by a considerable margin. The post apocalyptic Earth has a Terrence Malick-like ethereal beauty, but it’s Nolan’s foray into space that is a particular coup. He manages a triumphant stylistic blend of intimate flowery imagery with visually striking 2001-esque epic scenes, marked by stunning and original feeling visual effects.

Its enviable cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow and (sigh) Michael Caine. Any of these actors can be among the most moving and powerful performers of their era given the right role and the right direction. Whilst there is no shortage of emotion in the story, with the exception of McConaughey’s Cooper and Hathaway’s Brand, none of the characters feel very real or get the chance to develop. Each and every actor struggles to make the cumbersome script into deliverable dialogue and as a result there are limited moments of impact. Interstellar’s eclectic score and dense sound design do wonders to mask the film’s difficulties in translating its script to screen. It employs a more futuristic and electronic sound to its Earth based activity, and (again borrowing from 2001) classical piano music for its space action.

Perhaps Interstellar isn’t much like Aronofsky’s The Fountain or Coppola’s Tetro, but it’s probably as personal and idiosyncratic as Nolan is going to get. It might be the fault of his own magnitude and expected audience numbers, but Nolan again underestimates his audience. Whilst Inception and Interstellar seem to ask enough of their audience in terms of plot complexity, dialogue so plainly expresses the film’s semantic intentions that it becomes condescending. Nolan definitely has a better grasp of the difficult combination of spectacle and emotion than James Cameron or Michael Bay, but his strengths nevertheless clearly lie in the former rather than the latter. Nevertheless, the sheer power in Nolan’s preeminent ability to convey emotion and intensity through set pieces and technically astounding direction makes Interstellar an engaging and exciting cinematic experience.

Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan, is distributed in UK cinemas by Warner Bros., Certificate 12A. 

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