Three Movies In One!

Interstellar ***1/2 (out of five)


Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s space opera for a post-Spielberg generation is a gargantuan spectacular, an über-film that wants to be too many things at once to get all of them right. The results are uneven, veering from astronomically enjoyable to sloppily sentimental. Ultimately, the spectacle is far more satisfying than the story.

What the film gets very, very right are its impeccable other-planet based action sequences, of which there are surprisingly many, given the film’s marketing, which suggests more 2001 and less Gravity. The film does pay obvious and intended reference to Kubrick’s great work – the silence of watching huge machines slowly moving through space, and, later, a blatant and respectful homage to 2001’s famous “Space Child” – but that’s where the similarities end. Interstellar is an action / family / sci-fi movie with a lot of plot, a lot of dialogue, a lot of specific set-pieces, and a very traditional story structure in the classic Spielberg mould. 2001 was none of these things, having barely any action, plot, dialogue or any sense of traditional structure. 2001 was an extremely expensive experimental movie, whereas Interstellar is an extremely expensive adventure yarn.

Unfortunately, that yarn, which, when it’s ripping, is a ripping yarn indeed, is undermined by a story so determined to make us feel all goosebumpy, while also being equally determined to present a “true” imagining of executive producer and consultant Kip Thorne’s theories of space-time travel utilising “wormholes” and black holes, that it ends up as three movies, and blows the film out to an astonishing 169 minutes, which is the film’s greatest flaw. There’s too much of it, and its great parts butt up obviously against its mediocre sections.

Of those three movies, the action movie is brilliant, the “hard” science fiction story is good, but the family (goosebumpy) fable is wildly undisciplined (unlike much of the other stuff). The “hard” science fiction geeks will hate the family stuff, the handkerchief crowd will zone out for the geeky sci-fi, and the action fans, at least, will know when to go to the bathroom. And you will need to go to the bathroom.

Director Christopher Nolan is clearly swinging for a masterpiece here, and the results are bloated and indulgent. Brother Jonathan Nolan originally developed the script for Spielberg and you can tell: it screams “Spielberg movie”. Spielberg similarly once made a script intended for Kubrick, AI: Artificial Intelligence. He made that film very well, but Kubrick’s version would have been less schmaltzy. I have to imagine Spielberg’s version of Interstellar would have been either less schmaltzy, or less “hard sci-fi” geeky, or less action-y, because he would have had the discipline to not cram all three into the same movie. But Spielberg’s won his Oscar. Christopher Nolan feels like he’s trying way too hard to get his.

The design and cinematography are spell-binding (though not as breath-taking as those elements were in Gravity, which seems, bizarrely, like a “perfect little film” compared to this). There’s an awesome robot who’s a little bit R2D2 and a little bit HAL; great spacecraft; great other planets; and an intriguing take on a future Earth. Hans Zimmer’s score, like the one he did for the Nolans’ Inception, is monumental, horror-movie infused, at times over-the-top, but always suited to the film’s style. The sound mix has problems, though: a surprising amount of the film’s spoken lines are muffled and unintelligible, which, when they’re dealing with heavy quantum physics, is especially frustrating.

Matthew McConaughey brings leading-man charisma and great technical skill to his role as a farmer dad who has to go to space to save humankind; his character Cooper’s essential choice – being with his family versus saving the world – is a theme hammered to death by the script but dealt with on an acting level with boldness and grace. Anne Hathaway makes his co-pilot surprisingly credible and sympathetic considering the major pitfalls of the role; Bill Irwin voices the robot perfectly and young Mackenzie Foy is excellent as Cooper’s beloved daughter. The rest of the cast fare less well, though a lot could be due to the dialogue they’re often lumbered with. Michael Caine, in particular, has to shovel a huge amount of really terrible expositionary mumbo-jumbo, and doesn’t come cleanly out of it. At least – thank god – he wasn’t asked to offer up his “American” accent.

Gorgeous, infuriating, exciting, confusing, stirring, boring – it’s the film that’s got it all! It’s sure to be around at awards time – certainly in some technical categories, certainly not in any screenwriting ones – and it’s totally worth your twenty bucks. Whether it’s worth three hours of your time will be up to you.

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