I suppose it was only a matter of time Christopher Nolan would come out with a movie, I’d see that movie, I’d not completely fall in love with it and not want to immediately see it again. I’m the guy who still loves THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in spite of the fact that it’s my least favorite of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I will still claim INCEPTION as one of my absolute favorite movies. I often won’t go to bat that Nolan’s movies are the best that have ever been made, but for my tastes specifically they fall perfectly into place. And then there’s INTERSTELLAR, a movie that should hit that proverbial sweet spot for me- Nolan, science fiction, drama and Anne Hathaway. So what went wrong? Well, before I get ahead of myself let me clarify that I did not hate this movie, but so far in the Nolan canon (granted it will take a few more viewings to say indefinitely), it’s very close to my least favorite.
The film begins in a non-disclosed future where the Earth and its inhabitants are in a real struggle. Farmer’s are Earth’s most valuable profession as the food supply is dangerously thin and the farmer’s struggle to keep crops alive. Violent dust storms roll in and eventually wreak havoc on people’s lungs. School curriculum trashes human exploration and only a certain percentage of kids are even allowed to go to college- the rest are designated farmer status. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is one of those farmers with a scientist’s brain who hates his profession. Cooper’s son is well on his way to taking over the family business while his daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), has her father’s curious nature. Murph clues her father in on a strange gravity anomaly in her room which leads them to coordinates to a facility in the middle of nowhere that turns out to be the defunct remains of NASA. The folks there have secretly been carrying out space explorations in search of a planet that can facilitate human life. Naturally Cooper has history with NASA and is then recruited to pilot a crew to the many planets other explorers have been staking out.
And there you have the first 45 minutes or so of the movie. The remaining two hours are an up and down mixture of super intense and intriguing space exploration, horribly scripted dialogue and awkward reveals- many of which try to tug on your heartstrings and fail to do so effectively. The two major set pieces take place on two separate potential planets with vastly different environments and are both awesome in there own right. The first which was featured heavily in moments of the trailers involves a beautiful watery landscape with some impressive waves massive in scale. The time on this planet for me didn’t last nearly long enough- the whole movie could have taken place here and I’d have been enthralled for the entire run time. The second is introduced with a small visual of a frozen cloud which immediately tells all you need to know about that planet for the following plot developments to be pretty transparent.
The time between the two major set pieces is about as emotional as the film ever got for me- aside from some brief moments in the finale. It’s about that time that the first and most effective reveal sets in. The second and third reveal on the subsequent planet are both extremely underwhelming- one of which is simply a lackluster reveal of a famous actor that I’m sure most people (at least those who don’t study casting bits and IMDb religiously) will not be expecting. As previously mentioned the second reveal was not all that shocking for two reasons: (1) there was still about an hour or so left to go and (2) the visual cue right as they entered the planet. The space exploration in and of itself might be enough to justify seeing the movie, but be aware that in my opinion this is easily the worst script Nolan has ever brought to life.
Now, about that script; I absolutely will not even for a second debate the accuracy of the science in any particular scene. I am not a scientist, I never was a scientist, and I will never be a scientist so it’s a waste of time for me to nitpick anything on that level- in fact the science of it all is fascinating to me from an entertainment perspective. All that being said, the dialogue at several points is embarrassingly bad. Having Jessica Chastain not once but twice shout “Eureka!” not once, but twice while throwing papers into the air is laughable in the worst possible way. Not to mention that the finale involves McConaughey on several occasions says “Don’t you get it?” Setting aside how visually spectacular the major set piece in the finale is, the ultimate explanation of it all is simply “because…love.” I get it, love is a powerful thing and all, but McConaughey literally uses “because, love” as an explanation for how he’s about to do something.
For all the problems I have with the script, the actors (with the exception of Chastain’s “eureka” moment) really elevate it as much as they can. There is an abundance of moments where characters are explaining and over-explaining what’s about to happen, what’s happening or what just happened. In moves movies it’s sometimes offensive when it seems the filmmakers don’t have faith in the audience’s ability to figure things out, with INTERSTELLAR, sometimes it’s necessary. Granted, I don’t think preceding every explanation with “Don’t you get it?” is the right way to go. I often envisioned a lot of confused jocks laughing through the last two hours whispering, “Freakin’ nerds,” under their breath.
Visually though, INTERSTELLAR is second to almost none. There have been a lot of visually impressive movies this year to be sure, but the scope of the images in Nolan’s movie are nothing short of incredible. Combine some of the more intense moments with the visual beauty of the scene and the sound mixing and there are some of the most pure cinematic moments ever put to screen. Rather it’s the visceral thrill of a massive tidal wave sweeping up a ship, a super intense docking sequence, or the sound of millions of tiny brightly colored shards clicking up against the outside of a ship- there are a plethora of moments that make INTERSTELLAR worth the price of admission.
Is the script bad, yes, yes it is- but aside from dealing with some pretty bad dialogue and a few lazy plot developments INTERSTELLAR is a visual delight. Even with a cringeworthy-at-times script there are enough intellectual moments to appeal to Nolan’s fans and audiences who like a hefty side of science with their cinema (regardless of its accuracy). McConaughey continues to add to his growing list of solid performances even if his ponderous side becomes a little grating in this after nearly three hours- picture a three hour version of his recent Lincoln car commercial ads. In the end even with some of Nolan’s worst tendencies on display his best still shine even though it’s through a haze of sloppy emotions and dialogue. It will take a few more go viewings to decide for sure, but for now INTERSTELLAR on or near the bottom of Nolan’s filmography for me. Which might not be saying much considering I haven’t hated anything he has put out.