Cinematic Releases: Interstellar

Mr. Nolan returns with his latest effort, Interstellar. Here's our early review.

"I've been wearing a spacesuit
before anyone paid me to do it.
I just liked it."
Interstellar is Nolan's most sincere film to date, taking a sharp turn outward from his typically clinical approach to film making. There is a consistent beating heart pumping through this space epic, showing us a warmth Nolan hasn't embraced up until this point. At nearly three hours I imagine it will be a tough sell for many audiences expecting the next Inception or Dark Knight, which I caution you to divorce yourself from going into this film. The pacing is enough to throw some viewers into a deep snore, but if it weren't for the solid performances, masterful score, and impressive visuals, I might have been anxiously counting the minutes on my watch.

Matthew McConaughey continues to evoke a powerful leading presence here as Cooper which will reel audiences in through his genuine battle between great sorrow and ambition. Nolan pushes Cooper through a puzzling struggle between being a father who has left his family uncertain of his return home, and an explorer whose dreams of the future are at constant odds with his duty to save the human race. This balance of love and duty is a heavy plate the leading astronauts must uphold, attempting to rationalize their choices—whichever side they land on—for the better of the mission.

The inevitable consequences of a few of these choices are brilliantly tied to the theoretical physics much of the story is based on as our leading characters see their acquaintances and loved ones age without them. This makes for a handful of powerful scenes and moments, frequently focusing on Cooper. One particular monologue delivered by Anne Hathaway, however, was the first moment later in the film where it started to boil over with cheese. Finely performed, though it may be, the concept she spews is a tired cliche that dug a pit into the plot that wouldn't be the last.

"Oh, my car keys. Sweet."
I was expecting the eventual conflict of interest between astronauts, which of course happened, but what I wasn't expecting was for it to turn out as silly as it did. You'll watch a couple of bubble-domed space explorers roll around on an alien planet wrestling with each other fueled by a ridiculous, classic antagonist switcheroo. As the conflict is being built up and the half-baked motivations become more apparent, the more I feared a turn for absurdity. One could argue that this trite conflict in the face of the grand scheme of things is a message illustrating the banal squabble of man. Regardless, the manner of its presentation and arc were undercooked and hasty, dragging the scope of the film down with it.

Unfortunately, the awe inspiring grandness on display and the persistent sense of wonder are equally crushed by a revelation that cheapens the entire experience. The previous gripes with Hathaway's monologue and the goofy skirmish between two space dudes can be forgiven. I can't however let this one go. Needless to say, this story is solely a human one, which is stamped and wrapped up too conveniently to leave you with any sense of marvel you had entered the film with. What Nolan builds up is a tale of interstellar space travel and the splendor of exploring the worlds of a distant galaxy—yes, with a human heart beating at its core—but the climax is one that in retrospect robs the film of a great mystery to investigate. Because of this, I doubt the film will stand up to repeat viewings. The conclusion leaves almost nothing for the viewer's mind to chew on except for the worn time paradox discussion so many other sci-fi films have inspired in the past. It's been done to death and offers nothing new to be dissected in forthcoming debates over the film's ending.

The standout attraction of Interstellar despite these detriments is the inevitably Oscar nominated score by Hans Zimmer. This is by far the best scored film I've heard all year. This is another Zimmer masterpiece that swells with eerie arpeggios and nuanced sound design that menacingly transforms into melodies both terrifying and gorgeous. This is a score you can escape into on its own even without the massive visuals behind it, lifting you off the ground from the beauty of Earth and all its life and the cold, horrifying depths of space. It's nothing short of masterful and will hopefully prove to be one of the most highly respected science fiction scores of all time. In fact, I'd even go out on a limb to say that it's the best part of the entire movie and is the best audio experience I've had in a theater in a very long time.

"I've been crying in a Lincoln
before anyone paid me to do it.
I just liked it."
I was fortunate enough to see and hear Nolan's epic in one of only fifty theaters like it in the entire world. The Henry Ford IMAX made for a literally huge event, projected in a rare 70mm print through 16K resolution on a screen six stories high, the audio system of which was finely re-tuned by the IMAX engineers themselves for this very presentation of Interstellar. More than 60 minutes of Interstellar was shot on 70mm, and like Dark Knight, frequently opened up its frame to fill every inch of the towering screen in exquisite detail. I often found myself exploring the threads of straps and subtle scratches on the surface of helmets. It was thoroughly absorbing and I implore you to see Interstellar on the biggest, and best screen you can see it on.

For some, I can imagine, Interstellar will become an instant and beloved favorite. The performances are moving, the scope is gigantic with some cinematography that will drop your jaw for you, the score is exceptional, and at least the concept starts off as a vastly intriguing mystery. Despite the incredible presentation I was lucky enough to get a ticket to, however, it wasn't distracting enough to dismiss Interstellar's shortcomings. The conclusion cheapens the entire film and is nothing if not derivative. Nolan recalls Kubrick's visuals far too much to stand out on his own here even if he offers us something rarely, if ever, seen this generation. It remains a long awaited refreshment regardless of its obvious influences. Our theater was packed to the brim with a rather young audience and I can appreciate that Nolan is inviting a resurgence of interest in youth for 70mm film and mature sci-fi epics that stray a bit from the common inanity of the summer blockbuster. Interstellar is a must-see theater-going event. Do not miss this one, but do not expect an astounding fiction to be fascinated with by its close. It wraps up its mystery in a conveniently lackluster bow in spite of its heartwarming, sonically arresting, gigantically stunning contents.

-JG Barnes