Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Interstellar" (2014)

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Ann Hathaway and Michael Caine
Written by Jonathan Nolan
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Rated PG-13 - Peril, language
Running Time: 149 Minutes

In the future, the human race is dying. Earth is now barely capable of supporting human life as a mysterious blight destroys food crops worldwide. Humanity has retreated within itself, broken and despondent and waiting to die. One day, former NASA pilot turned farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) discovers a strange gravitational anomaly in his daughter's bedroom and his investigation leads him to the remnants of NASA working secretly out of the old NORAD facility.

There, he finds his old mentor, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) has devised a bold plan to save humanity: A wormhole has been discovered near Saturn that leads to another galaxy, and there are possibly habitable planets nearby. Brand convinces Cooper to pilot the mission, which will also include Brand's daughter Amelia (Ann Hathaway), astronauts Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley), and two robots TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart).

But in order to explore what lies on the other side of the universe, Cooper must leave behind his two children, Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy), who may never forgive him for doing so.

I do so love the films of Christopher Nolan, flawed though they may often be. "The Dark Knight" is a film that gives me chills every time I watch it, and "Inception" has some of my favorite action sequences of all time. When the trailers started showing up for Nolan's "Interstellar," I was immediately hooked with anticipation.

I was worried that those trailers were giving away too much, but it's actually remarkable how much was held back. Part of this is because "Interstellar" is a massive film, running nearly 3 hours with a large cast of characters and spanning years. Part of this is also because there are a few too many subplots happening that ultimately mean that "Interstellar" is a thrilling, gorgeous mess.

I still feel like keeping the surprises of "Interstellar" intact because I liked the film, and I'd even gladly watch it again. And I think other people should watch it, too, and it's not my place to spoil things for those who might want to. But suffice it to say, it's all those pieces which are not in the previews and trailers that end up making such a mess of "Interstellar." At times it feels as though perhaps Nolan wasn't confident enough in his initial premise that he throws in all these complications, complications which ultimately the film spends a lot of energy to resolve. And while the film's third act is thrilling and does tie up a lot of those threads... it really has to put the audience through the paces to do so. Some trimming would really have helped make "Interstellar" a tighter, more engrossing experience.

All that said, for much of its runtime, "Interstellar" is enthralling. Obvious comparisons to "2001: A Space Odyssey" have been made, so I'll spare you that as well. The film takes its time developing its characters and the world they inhabit. It's quite some time before Cooper and the others head off into space on their grand adventure, yet this part of the film never drags. In particular, young Mackenzie Foy as Cooper's daughter Murph and her chemistry with McConaughey are a real highlight of the first act.

John Lithgow also appears as Cooper's world-weary father-in-law Donald. Their scenes work well, too, perhaps even better than the brief interactions between Cooper and Brand, played by Michael Caine.

The film's special effects are incredible. All the space sequences are as great as you'd expect, but the planetary settings are just as good. But what I really need to note are the film's two robotic characters, TARS and CASE. These things are really awesome. At first, they look kind of awkward, but as the film slowly reveals their design and capabilities to the audience, the more impressive they get. "Interstellar" is a technical marvel, no doubt.

I think the pieces of a great film are littered about "Interstellar." Much of it works, and much of it works quite well. The pieces all fit together, but it feels like some of those pieces are extraneous. There are a lot of great ideas here, but it feels a lot like the writers throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what sticks... and then going with all those ideas anyway.