Sunday, December 28, 2014

FILM REVIEW: Interstellar

As I have said before, Christopher Nolan is my favorite director. Once I found out that Nolan was releasing a new film, Interstellar, starring Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Sir Michael Caine and Matt Damon in 2014 I started following the pre-release hype pretty heavily. Oscar nominees John Lithgow and  Jessica Chastain have key parts in the film as well.

In fact I was able to see the film a few days before its official premiere, at a preview screening at Arclight Cinemas in Pasadena which was on 35mm film. The reviews of the film were generally mixed (73% from critics on, but box-office, especially internationally, was quite robust with a domestic gross of $173 million and a worldwide gross of well over $600 million.

Overall, I liked Nolan's latest film, but I did not think it was at the same level of his film Inception (2010), which I think is a masterpiece. I saw Interstellar six weeks ago, but for some reason I have been blocked on writing this review (as well as for the other movies I have seen this fall). My initial reason for waiting was that I had hoped to see the film again (probably in standard digital projection or one of the five other formats the film is released in) to confirm the initial impressions I had garnered from seeing the version of Interstellar on actual film.

Regardless of what format you see it in, one thing that one takes away from the cinematic experience that Nolan has created with Interstellar is an appreciation for its impressive visual canvas. The film is simply stunning to look at and has shots that I will remember for years. Interestingly, it somehow manages to simultaneously have something of a retro and futuristic look to it.

The story revolves around a widowed former test pilot named Cooper (McConaughey) who is raising two kids with the help of his father (Lithgow) in a near-future Earth increasingly impacted by climate change which is causing crippling food shortages that have led to an increasingly dismal outlook for the viability of our world. NASA and a professor named Brand (Caine) have a secret plan to use a recently discovered worm hole near Saturn to explore different galaxies to find another planet our species can colonize in order to survive. But they need an experienced pilot to lead the mission because NASA has limited resources and this is basically our only chance. And thanks to relativity it is very likely that time will pass much more slowly for the team that goes while years pass back on Earth. So basically Cooper has to decide whether it is worth trying to save the entire human race if it means he will never see his beloved brilliant daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) ever again. We find out that another daughter will likely not see her father again because Professor Brand's daughter Dr. Brand (Hathaway) is going on the mission as the head astrophysicist.

It is telling that Interstellar was initially a project that Steven Spielberg was to direct because the film definitely has a Spielbergian emotional quality to it which I think is its primary weakness. Clearly the stresses that can be applied to the bond between father and daughter are on display, as well as the stresses on the team who know that they may be humanity's best hope to survive. One of the key themes of the film is about difficult choices and another is obligation. There are scenes and dialogue which are cringeworthy (Hathaway's character at one point says "Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space.") For most hard-core science fiction enthusiasts like myself such touchy-feely sentiments are anathema, especially as they are appearing in a film which celebrates the power of science to solve humanity's problems and depicts the wonder and beauty of the physical Universe in multiple ways. The film also does a good job of depicting interstellar space flight in a way that is believable.

So, overall, I agree with most reviewers that Nolan's Interstellar is an ambitious, gorgeous film which is a bit too emotionally heavy-handed to be considered an unqualified success but is definitely worth seeing, especially in the theaters.

Title: Interstellar.
Director: Christopher Nolan.
Running Time: 2 hours, 49 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language.
Release Date: November 7, 2014.
Viewing Date: November 5, 2014.

Writing: A.
Acting: A-.
Visuals: A+.
Impact: A.

Overall Grade: A (4.0/4.0)

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