Interstellar (2014) review: A gargantuan, emotional, kitchen sink family drama in space

Film

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Directed by: Christopher Nolan Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan Starring:Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, Michael Caine 

The blurbs say: In Earth’s future, a global crop blight and persistent dust storms are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth’s population to a new home via a wormhole. But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Coop (Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind’s new home.

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The verdict: What is interesting, when rifling through the different descriptions of Interstellar, is that nearly all of them describe a dystopian space adventure, with Matthew McConaughey and crew battling against time and gravity to save humanity. While the sections in space are truly spectacular, and surely have to be the key selling point of the film, those descriptions, to me, are very far wide of the mark. For me, Interstellar was an intense family drama plotted against an ambitious, science-rich, intergalactic backdrop. Little of the emotional drive of the film actually comes from the events that come to pass, but rather is in the ties between the fathers and daughters we encounter. McConaughy’s Coop and his daughter Murph (played as a girl by the excellent Mackenzie Foy) have a complex relationship following the death of her mother. Brand (Caine) and his daughter (Hathaway) also have a relationship with a different emotional resonance, although some of the layers are only revealed quite late on.

While there is a high level of emotional impact and visual spectacle, some aspects of the film simply make no sense. Not in a ‘I don’t understand the science’ way, but in terms of characters motivations and coherence of plot. What’s the deal with Coop and his son Tom? Then what is the deal with Tom later in the movie? Even Coop’s own motivations, despite being given more screen time, seem muddled. He wants to get back to his children, but then he doesn’t… Some elements of character development simply make no sense.

The film itself is almost unremittingly bleak for 80% of screen time. That’s no bad thing, and I am a lover of all things dark. However, when the final 20% of the film takes the turn it does, it all feels a little… [no spoilers].

Despite the flaws it’s an enjoyable ride and there is much to admire.

It looks stunning throughout, with Kip Thorne’s assistance in the visualisation of wormholes and blackholes leading you to feel this might be the closest we get to seeing the further reaches of space. I do mean stunning too. The kind of sitting back with your mouth open, marvelling at the vastness of space kind of stunning.

The soundtrack, with accompanying score by Hans Zimmer,  has been criticised in some quarters, but is a massive part of the why the film works where it perhaps shouldn’t, with initial scenes of a crash and driving through a cornfield being mind-boggling loud, juxtaposed with scenes of total silence. It is brilliantly done.

Far from being Nolan’s greatest, Interstellar is a film that still needs to be seen on a large screen, with the ENORMO-sound system to highlight the experimental score. If it’s big enough and loud enough you might not notice the holes…

7 out of 10

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2 thoughts on “Interstellar (2014) review: A gargantuan, emotional, kitchen sink family drama in space

  1. Pretty much exactly my view, Abbie. Hugely impressive visually, but some of the exposition was a bit laboured. And you can’t slingshot a black hole. I think Kip Thorne was on holiday when they wrote that passage!

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