Christopher Nolan has proven himself as one of the contenders for the title of “Next Stanley Kubrick“. In his Interstellar, he pays tribute to many a great work of science fiction, but puts particular emphasis on the references to 2001: A Space Odyssey; there is not only a visual resemblance, but a similar and equally powerful journey through space and time as we don’t know them.
Set on a withering planet Earth, where the soil is dying and sandstorms happen more frequently than rain, the film mainly follows Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a widowed astronaut who makes his living on one of Earth’s many farms. His troubled daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) claims that a ghost is sending her messages from elsewhere – I won’t spoil how she figures – which eventually ends with her convincing her father to follow a set of coordinates that end him up at a nearby NASA base. Here he encounters Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a stunningly brilliant researcher who claims to have found a way of saving man kind. Near Saturn, someone or something has opened up a wormhole to another galaxy and Brand speculates that this is some form of alien race offering help. Why? Who knows?
Brand wants Coop to travel towards and through the wormhole alongside a grade A team of astronauts, Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and his daughter Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway). Much to the dismay of Murph, Coop agrees to it, but cannot possibly estimate when he’ll return, given that some of the potentially habitable planets explored during a previous mission are located near a black hole, causing time to move much slower than on Earth. Leaving his daughter on bad terms, Coop ventures into space with the other astronauts, through the wormhole and beyond, all while watching his daughter grow into Jessica Chastain and dark secrets are unraveled about the nature of the mission, and the one before it.
A wide variety of supporting actors include Ellen Burstyn in a role I won’t reveal; John Lithgow as Coop’s father-in-law, Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart as two unusually witty, block-shaped robots; Topher Grace as a colleague of Murph’s; Casey Affleck as Murph’s brother all grown up, plus a surprise cameo you’ll only see coming if you’ve read the Wikipedia article on the film. I regret doing just that.
The film is a gorgeous one in terms of visuals and wonderfully intricate one in terms of plot, but also offers an extra charm in its apparent love towards the works of Arthur C. Clarke. There is a space station that bears an unmistakable resemblance to the cylindrical world in Rendezvous With Rama, and the similarities with 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially the film, range from the visuals shown in the climax to the monolith-like design of the robots.
On that note: the design of the robots, while truly awesome and original, struck me as impractical, but they managed to be interesting and, as far as robots go, unusually funny side characters, enough so that the questionable design quickly ceased to bother me. Now, as for the flesh-based lifeforms in the movie, not everyone was played by a great actor. Matthew McConaughey did an unusually great job, Anna Hathaway likewise, and Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain are of course wonderful. But then we have the girl who plays young Murph, who is better than most child actors but not great enough to be wholeheartedly convincing. But she’ll get there, I think, and I guess a bumpy start is to be expected from someone who rose to fame via, ahem, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.
Furthermore, Interstellar is a movie that, much like Oblivion from last year, succeeds in feeling fresh and original in its science fiction ideas in spite of borrowing from so many classics. It takes a special skill to pull off an homage as delicately as that, averting the risk of coming off as uncreative, and by jove, Nolan has it.
Although it’s the acting, the intricate sci-fi concepts, and the escalatingly enticing story that make the movie work, it’s the look of the film that makes it rival last year’s Gravity. As has been noted by others, Nolan puts great effort into his shots and is also smart enough to take every chance he gets to use a practical effect over a digital one, which usually looks more convincing and attractive. Even so, it’s almost hard to tell which effects are practical and which are digital and the way in which Nolan blends both might have something to do with.
I also admired his resistance towards employing sound in the space scenes and other clichés that would have weighed down the film’s power, not to mention its realism. It wasn’t flawless enough in its authenticity to be indistinguishable from a documentary, but it was still pretty impressive. Maybe that’s what the two chatty idiots two rows in front of me were so reluctant to shut up about.
But my screening wasn’t ruined. I had a good time and beheld uniquely gorgeous imagery made even better by the fantastic Hans Zimmer score and the terrific sound design that would occasionally make the seats in the theatre vibrate, as it should.
Interstellar is a well-crafted film with tremendous effort put into the power of its performances, the authenticity of its space scenes, the beauty of its visuals, the trembling force of its sound design, the emotion in its score, the intricacy of its story, the advantage it takes of its lengthy runtime, the mind-boggling creativity of the way it uses time as a concept, and of course, the charm of its references to older sci-fi. I wasn’t sure whether to award it a full 5/5 at first, mostly due to one half-weak performance and occasionally deniable logic, but ultimately decided that I’ve loved other films with these errors in them, and I loved this one quite a bit so there you go.