Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wormholes, Black holes & Plot holes

Interstellar Review

This universe we live in is big. There’s no denying that there are things beyond all of us, whether physical or mental, that we do not understand. Interstellar attempts to delve into both of these realms, and in some cases, it goes too far for its own good. The lack of my own outer space knowledge aside, this film still seems like a stretch for a director who generally likes to have his films play out as realistic and believable, or at least believable in the context of the film’s own continuity. Yet all of this goes out the window with Christopher Nolan’s latest endeavor. Yes, he planted acres of real corn for this film and I’ve even heard that there is not a single use of a green screen either. This is impressive and immersive to be sure. But these facts plus a 30-foot tall screen with speakers that shake the theatre still don’t help me feel immersed in a film where the plot itself is so farfetched.

The film opens with earth in a struggling state. It doesn’t take too long for things to get corny, and I’m not just talking about the corn on the farm. Resources are scarce and the planet is slowly becoming unsuitable for sustaining life. Gruff-voiced Cooper lives with his father-in-law and is taking care of his son and daughter on a small isolated farmhouse. It is revealed almost immediately that Cooper used to be a pilot but now lives his life as a farmer, attempting to help not only the planet, but especially his two young ones, survive. His daughter Murph is gifted with an uncanny intellect and is clearly the favorite of the two children. In fact, the son truly has no purpose of even being in this movie, failing to serve the plot in any meaningful way whatsoever. Yet Murph isn’t just a smart kid who keeps to her books, she has an adventurous side to her as well, which spurs Cooper on to eventually finding a long-lost connection from his piloting days. Here he is presented with the opportunity to go on a journey through outer space, in search of potentially habitable worlds outside of our milky-way galaxy; a chance to save the world, but much more importantly for him, his own children (but really just Murph).

This first act turned out to be the most intriguing to me. Once Cooper departs from earth, the film takes its time getting to more interesting moments and even takes too much time with them once we are there. The take off/departure sequence was one of my favorites in the film; unique in the way it uses the audio of the famous T-minus countdown as we see Cooper leaving his home and his family behind. Then we get to the theatre-shaking power of IMAX. This may have been the shakiest film I’ve seen in an IMAX, and although it didn't wow me, the IMAX experience at least helped me leave the film without being completely frustrated. It would not have been nearly as good on a common screen. The use of the screen for immersion does shine through in a few big set piece moments, but the true power of IMAX for this film was in the use of sound. If you choose to see it in IMAX, get ready for a lot of rattling subwoofer action, during takeoff and even more so when the crew comes to a particularly harrowing and turbulent spot on their journey in space. Yet for all of the time the film spends in space, it does give plenty of time to the happenings on earth, or more accurately, what Cooper’s daughter Murph is doing while her father is away. Between these two distinct settings, there is a lot going on in the film, as is the case with any Nolan project, so be prepared, this is no casual outing at the movies.

Interstellar explores the theme of sacrificing what matters most to you in order to serve a cause greater than yourself. Yet the execution of the film and everything surrounding that theme simply pull down the emotional impact the film and that thought-provoking theme could’ve had. This is a long journey, clocking in at 2 hours and 49 minutes; yet there is no need for it to be so. Now, I don’t mind a slow burner film. You will hardly find me saying “There wasn’t enough action in this film,” about any movie. But I absolutely do admire pacing, where each moment, whether it be a gigantic battle scene, or a conversation between two people, is given its proper time to shine, no more and no less. In Interstellar we are given a handful of scenes that stray far past the barrier that says ‘no more’. A slightly laughable struggle between two people resulting in an agonizingly annoying speech, a neat concept dragging out so long that I couldn’t wait for it to be over, and a lackluster reveal which overstays its welcome by several minutes are the three biggest examples of scenes that not only lacked the brilliance and intensity we’ve come to expect from a Nolan film, but are shining beacons revealing that this film could’ve been much shorter, and therefore much better. It’s not the length of a film that bothers me, but rather the lack of content that can support such a lengthy excursion. Some films I admire and thoroughly enjoy are longer than 150 minutes. But I was left waiting for several sequences of this film to be over long before they were finished.

This is a Christopher Nolan movie, so you know what that means… get ready to see familiar faces from Gotham City! Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine reprise their roles as Catwoman and Alfred; a roguish partner who is sometimes at odds with the protagonist, and an old man who gives that same protagonist the extra nudge he needs to do something both crazy and extraordinary. While I was completely shocked when I realized that Cilian Murphy AKA Scarecrow didn’t sneak his way into this one, Nolan instead opted for the actor who gave us one of the absolute worst film portrayals of one of the best super villains in history. (I know that could be a couple of different people, so I’ll leave that as a surprise for those who want to see the movie for themselves.) And he may not be the only face you’ll be surprised to see. There’s one other actor here whose appearance was so random and unexpected it made me chuckle, though the film doesn’t intend for many moments to be funny. The one character that does serve up some intentional laughs is TARS, an artificial intelligence who offers some clever musings and a surprising level of humanity for a machine, let alone one with no face.

Interstellar may be too ambitious for its own good, but just because it fails to stick the landing doesn’t mean it is a terrible film. As with any film that carries a lot of hype into its opening weekend, the potential for disappointment is also raised. And while I’d much rather see a flawed, but ambitious film, as opposed to another cash-grabbing and poorly executed sequel or reboot, the downfall here comes because we expect more from a director of this caliber. I know Christopher Nolan didn’t see Gravity… but so many others and myself did; and though these are two completely different films, Gravity still took much of the fuel out of Interstellar’s fire by releasing just a year before it, doing so many things on an unprecedented level and surpassing Interstellar in just about every cinematic way possible. Had this not been the case, Interstellar would have had a greater wow factor. Instead we go along a dragging, confusing journey with characters that don’t resonate enough for us to care about, a monotonous score that forces the same theme in our ears throughout the whole movie, and a few exciting moments to keep us engaged along the way. Had the crew traveled back a longer time ago, and cast their galaxy trajectory just a bit further, further away, this may have been an awakening experience… oh well, maybe next year.

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