Movie Review - Interstellar
|A planet near a black hole in "Interstellar"|
Matthew McConaughey stars as Cooper, a former NASA pilot and engineer who now works as a corn farmer with his two teen children and elderly father-in-law. As some have pointed out, this setup is eerily similar to M. Night Shyamalan's Signs. The movie is set sometime in the future during a worldwide devastation that's never explained or significantly identified.
The key problems are constant sand or dust storms and the destruction of crops. It's implied that this has resulted in the reduction of the Earth's population because presumably the agricultural system can't provide enough food any more.
One example of why this movie is too long happens as a result of the food shortage premise. In his truck, Cooper and his children chase after a military surveillance drone, a small, unmanned plane. They chase after it cutting through a corn field. First off, this chase is ultimately pointless because it's never brought up again, but, in order to catch the drone, the truck squashes a lot of corn. Given the food problem, it's baffling why Cooper would do this, or, nothing at all would be said of it.
The movie also wastes time with Cooper going to his daughter Murphy's school and arguing with her teachers. The idea is introduced that history books have been changed to reflect a revisionist tale of how the lunar landing was a hoax and the space race was just a conspiracy to bankrupt the Soviets. Similarly to the drone, this idea is never brought up again, and secondly, it establishes Cooper's love of space exploration, which is reiterated later several times, making this initial time unnecessary.
Michael Caine plays Dr. Brand, a NASA scientist who develops two plans to save humanity. Humanity is doomed to go extinct because of the food problem that can't be solved, so Dr. Brand's "Plan A" is to build a large, space station, big-enough to transport the remaining human race to another planet all-at-once. The problem though is that he has no hopes of ever getting it off the ground, literally. His "Plan B" is to take a large series of frozen embryos and seed another planet. The problem there is that it would conceivably require a lot of surrogates for which no one really prepares.
Therefore, both these plans are stupid. The plan in Pixar's Wall-E was more plausible, but if we suspend disbelief and accept the premise, the only problem the film lays out as the journey for Cooper is finding the planet that would essentially become the new Earth. Technology is advanced but not so advanced that interstellar voyages are easily done.
Magically, however, a wormhole appears near the planet Saturn. Dr. Brand and NASA explain that they've tested this wormhole, using probes, and have found it leads to another galaxy or some place far where several planets have been discovered that could maybe sustain human life. A few astronauts have been sent to explore these planets, but these astronauts have not returned, so Cooper is needed to lead one last mission through the wormhole to confirm if any of the planets are safe for humanity.
The first big emotional moment is here, but unfortunately it didn't work. Cooper has to tell his children that he's leaving for this mission and that he's not sure when he's coming back. This highly upsets his daughter Murphy. His son Tom doesn't seem all that affected. It just seemed a little sexist that the girl would be a crying mess and the boy almost doesn't care, especially since the son is more grounded, whereas the daughter has her head more in the clouds.
This leads to another failing of the film. Cooper's children aren't developed well enough. What is learned is that Cooper's mission in space takes years, even decades. Due to the magical powers of a blackhole called Gargantua, Cooper doesn't age out in space, yet his children back on Earth do.
Using Gargantua, Nolan is able to play with time differential like he did for Inception (2010) where time moves at one speed for certain characters, while moving at a faster or slower speed for others. Cooper's children make videos for their father on a regular basis. Because of this, Cooper is able to watch his kids grow up to be older than him. Yet, the sequence in the film where he does this felt lacking.
I almost expected a sequence similar to the opening moments of Pixar's Up where we see two children grow up in short amount of time, become adults and live whole lives right in front of our eyes. I almost expected something similar to the trailer for Richard Linklater's Boyhood where again we quickly see a child growing up. Thanks to McConaughey's performance, Nolan's sequence works, as Cooper clearly misses his son and daughter, but the sequence needed more to connect the audience to what would become the adult versions of Cooper's children.
Jessica Chastain plays Murphy, Cooper's daughter as an adult. Casey Affleck plays Tom, Cooper's son as an adult. The final third of this film cuts back-and-forth between Cooper's space mission and Murphy and Tom on Earth still trying to live their lives. All of Murphy and Tom's scenes though just fell flat and did not get me invested. In terms of how bad things were on Earth or what the state of the world was, if Nolan meant to convey any difference over the time of them growing up, it didn't register for me.
Nolan's writing isn't as bad here as his previous effort The Dark Knight Rises, but it's not significantly better. There is a plot twist, involving a late-introduced, supporting character that truly is puzzling. Matt Damon plays Dr. Mann, a marooned astronaut on one of the potential, new Earths. Mann's actions after the twist make no sense and seem done only to kick start an action sequence.
As contrived as it is, that action sequence is pretty thrilling. The word gravity is uttered several times throughout this film. Yet, however thrilling, that sequence never reaches the level of horror, fear or wonder as the initial action sequence in Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity.
There are some great visual effect shots. The depiction of the wormhole as a sphere, or basically a mirrorball, is beautiful and scary. The design of the robots was fairly clever, but the ending is so ridiculous. I know I've probably seen as equally ridiculous things in The Twilight Zone or Star Trek, but the ending here indulges in an impulse I didn't think Nolan had before, which is the deus ex machina.
His conclusion is that man is God, which is a place to which Rod Serling or Gene Roddenberry never went. Roddenberry's Star Trek: The Next Generation teased the idea but then pulled back immediately. Nolan doesn't pull back. He pushes full steam ahead, which is a shame because he leaves us with an absolutely silly resolution.
Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 49 mins.