'Interstellar' Review: To the Stars and Back...
Interstellar wants to be a ponderous and weighty film. It succeeds in some regards, especially visually; however, it fails to reach the lofty vision Christopher Nolan seems to have intended. The setting is some ambiguous time in the near future, and Earth's food supply is dwindling. To survive, humanity must discover new habitable planets to colonize or perish. That is the conceit of Interstellar, a conceit that shouldn't be new to any fan of apocalyptic science fiction..
The film has an interesting dichotomy of small to universal in scope. Focusing on Cooper's family on a small farm in America, the first half of the film is a mostly familial affair, trying to engage the audience in the relationships within the family and the inevitability of humanity's imminent extinction due to lack of resources. There isn't significant time devoted to establishing the present state of affairs. It just is the status quo. Cooper is a farmer, but due to some oddly defined natural phenomena he finds himself the key to humanity's salvation. Stop me if you've heard that one before.
Once the space exploration mission takes place, the film kicks into high gear. How far would you be willing to go to ensure the survival of your race, even if it means sacrificing yourself for nothing? That questions is repeatedly asked, and each character faces it with different results. The performances by all the actors range from adequate to great, but there are some serious characterization woes that some characters suffer from. Cooper's daughter, Murph, holds an inane multi-decade grudge against her father that serves to seemingly irritate the viewer rather than creating a sense of empathy.
The wonders of space are beautifully shot, and each setting the characters visit is an absolute joy to view. The space travel itself invokes some memories of last year's outer space hit, Gravity, in the way it wants to portray realism (many outside the shuttle shots with no sound and slow moving thrusters); however, this film is attempting to show something much larger. The science of the film is believable enough, at least by someone who knows nothing about physics. Nolan consulted renowned theoretical physicist Kip Thorne on not only the plot of the film but also the science behind the movie to make sure it was accurate. You have your wormholes, black holes, and mystery planets, with each setting more breathtaking than the last.
Unfortunately, the last third of the film suffers from many breaks in logic and some utterly dumbfounding decision making by certain characters. These decisions serve as an attempt to up the stakes and create conflict. The melodrama that pulls the film into sappy territory rather than trying to answer the ambitious questions that Nolan is asking becomes another issue as well. The tangibility of love is a theme in the film serves as a plot device during the climax in which nothing that takes place makes any sense, despite the film's established set of rules regarding the universe.
You go along for the ride, and it's mostly enjoyable. Despite the good performances, some lazy writing and characters' questionable decision making prevents Interstellar from achieving the status of science fiction classic it so clearly wants to be.
Final Say: Watch It
(Full disclosure: I saw this film on 35 mm, which was released early to some select theaters. Other than taking 20 additional minutes to set up and some graininess to the film, I barely could tell a difference. If that's how Christopher Nolan intends audiences to view it, I won't argue; however, the difference from digital appears superficial at best.)