‘Interstellar’ Falls Short of the Stars

It’s no secret that Christopher Nolan is one of the most ambitious directors working in cinema today. For close to 15 years he’s been warping audience’s minds with everything from anterograde amnesia (“Memento”) to the multi-faceted concepts of dreams (“Inception”).

The release of a new Nolan film has become an event in itself, and that comes as no surprise — his highly successful “Dark Knight” trilogy has paved the way for unprecedented hype and clamor before his films are even released.

“Interstellar,” Nolan’s latest cinematic release, held the promise of a modern epic even regardless of the attachment of such a prolific director — space, Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, what could go wrong?

A lot, unfortunately. Not to say the film was awful, but it was bloated in its self-importance and muddled in its message. Frankly, the point of the entire movie is still lost to these reviewers.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

“Interstellar” finds Nolan’s ambitions at an all-time high, where he tackles the deepest realms of the solar system, in addition to the possibility of preserving the survival of humans in dimensions outside of Earth. With all these themes packed together, Nolan aims for the grandest achievement in his filmmaking career, but the intellect of his already high ambitions far exceeds its grasp.

In the near future, the Earth’s conditions have deteriorated to the point that humanity can no longer be sustained for the long term. A worldwide food shortage has developed as well, which has transformed the job market into farming being the dominant profession. A farmer named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA pilot and engineer, comes across a NASA compound headed by Professor Brand (Michael Caine).

Brand ultimately recruits Cooper into joining an astronaut crew to explore a wormhole near planet Saturn, which harbors potential locations for humans to migrate to once the Earth is no longer habitable. However, the mission puts Cooper in the situation of having to leave his kids behind, and also confront the saddening reality of possibly never seeing them again.

Many issues are raised in the film, but never addressed in the manner they deserve. If Nolan was trying to make a point about environmentalism and the preservation of the Earth, it wasn’t seen through. If the point of the Endurance mission is to highlight the power of human persistence and capability, it falls flat midway through.

The development of the story was shaky throughout, with characters and plot points that seemed hastily cobbled together to make some sort of splashy point, which again, never quite hits the nail on the head.

One thing that Christopher Nolan can always be counted on in his films is creating an enchanting visual experience that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before in the past several years.

Happily, the visuals of the film were one of its saving graces. Nolan’s penchant for meticulously beautiful sets and special effects paid off spectacularly in the context of outer space exploration. In particular, the Endurance mission’s landing on the two different planets was eerily gorgeous in its simultaneous familiarity and alien nature.

Most of the solar system effects were achieved through miniature designs, and the details of the space shuttles and solar system are nothing short of pristine. Ultimately you’ll do a huge disservice to yourself not seeing the visuals in the 70mm IMAX format, because you won’t get the full scope of the setting in any other way.

Filling in the shoes of Nolan’s regular cinematographer Wally Pfister is a tough task, but Hoyte van Hoytema pulls it off seamlessly. He beautifully captures the Earth and space settings to stunning degrees, and also makes the expert decision of attaching IMAX cameras to the miniature shuttles, which serve as some of the film’s most memorable visuals.

The score, which is another collaboration with the director and composer Hans Zimmer, was the perfect accompaniment to the thrilling visuals and effects. Zimmer’s use of thundering organs and borderline-screechy string instruments lent the film its ethereal presence, with stress on the perfect moments of tension.

Along with the pleasing aesthetics, the performances in “Interstellar” save it from being a complete loss. The McConaissance continues its reign in “Interstellar,” with Matthew McConaughey’s performance as the doting father and dedicated NASA pilot showcasing the actor’s nuances to perfection. His tender-hearted interactions with his young daughter are intensely personal, which is juxtaposed perfectly during times of extreme stress that require cool precision while piloting the Endurance ship.

Jessica Chastain, perhaps one of the most enjoyable actresses to watch as of late, plays the grown-up Murph wonderfully with a strong independent streak and deep emotional scar thanks to the leave of her father so many years ago.

The surprising standout is 13-year-old Mackenzie Foy, who portrays the young Murph. A spunky young woman who admires her father glowingly, Foy is able to stand her ground amongst seasoned actors like Michael Caine and John Lithgow.

Her chemistry with McConaughey’s Cooper works magnificently, and the father-daughter relationship shown on screen is nothing short of heartfelt and genuine.

As a whole film, “Interstellar” is frustrating because while it has so many good things going for it, the intellect of its ideas stretch into faltering territory, resulting in scenes that are chock-full of either absurdness, over-abundant sentimentality or repetitive expository dialogue. Nonetheless, despite how split the final product of this film is, the visual experience is one to remember for awhile.

 

ONLY RECOMMENDED IF: “Interstellar” meets expectations on its visuals and acting, but is sharply divisive on everything else.