To some he is the foremost director of blockbusters with brains, and to others he is a pseudo-science charlatan. And as the Christmas blockbuster season begins, prepare for the movie forums to reignite as Christopher Nolan releases his latest, ‘Interstellar’.
A warning from the offset: this is not the film that is going to change your opinion of Nolan. To steal from the movie’s premise, ‘Interstellar’ is not the wormhole that will lead you to a happier planet of Nolan appreciation, a planet where you just don’t mind that the entire mystery of ‘The Prestige’ is solved by the use of *spoiler* identical twins, A.K.A. THE SECOND LAZIEST STOCK FILM RESOLUTION AFTER ‘IT WAS ALL A DREAM’.
For Nolanites, all of your favourites are present and correct. The visuals are stunning throughout (with one exception I’ll return to), especially the later sequences where the film crew are able to move from the rigid science of most of the film to more fantastical images in multiple dimensions, and more ‘Inception’-esque folded worlds for the fanboys.
The acting is solid throughout, with Michael Caine playing basically the same flawed mentor-professor type character he’s played in every Nolan film (and Cuaron’s ‘Children of Men’ come to think of it…). Matthew McConaughey continues his acting renaissance, delivering performance after performance that will almost make you forget that he played the love interest of Jennifer Lopez in ‘The Wedding Planner’. Almost. Here, he delivers a vein of selfishness and guilt that makes a perfect counterpoint to the bland heroics that make up your average movie spaceman.
And for Nolan naysayers, ‘Interstellar’ has enough to fuel thousands of bile-filled message board posts. The final fifteen minutes, which I loved, many will find ridiculous and overly-reliant on one hell of a deus ex machina. Some have also pointed out that there is no reason for four fully-trained astronauts to have to explain wormholes to each other in such a patronising way.
Also, I have one further reservation. For me, a high-concept science fiction film succeeds or fails on what I call the ‘Curse of Kubrick’; that is, how it separates itself from the tractor beam of sci-fi’s true masterwork, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. ‘Gravity’, although a great film in a lot of ways failed this test with its clunky references to rebirth and the ascent of man which came across as the slimy fish which has barely made its way out of the ocean to 2001’s fully grown homo sapiens. ‘Interstellar’, in comparison, for the most part succeeds by addressing this inevitable comparison head-on, having its witty sidekick robot joke that it would throw McConaughey out of an airlock.
However, it fails spectacularly in its vision of going through a wormhole. In ‘2001’ this is achieved through one of the finest sequences in film history, a bombardment of light and colour that isn’t even ruined by its being interspersed with Keir Dullea essentially gurning in his space helmet. In its attempts to not copy this legendary example, Nolan instead gives us a kind of space bubble for the crew to travel through. This I’m told is the more scientifically accurate interpretation of wormhole travel, but with great accuracy comes really cheap looking effects it seems, with this space sphere looking like an early PhotoShop project made the night before the editing deadline at 3am. A great shame in a film so otherwise breathtaking in its aesthetics
Reservations aside, this is a good, even at times great, film. The way it uses hard science to generate emotion is the sign of a truly deft touch, with genuinely difficult questions raised about the nature of sacrifice and survival wrapped up in some great design work that really puts the ‘space’ into ‘spaced out’. And not an identical twin in sight…
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