Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: Interstellar


Interstellar marks the 8th feature film in the career of 44-year-old director Christopher Nolan. Following a remarkable run of back-to-back-to-back amazing films (The Dark Knight, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises), Nolan had a lot to live up to in his first outer space movie. Thankfully we can usually rely on the genius of Nolan and he totally delivered another incredible motion picture with Interstellar, a thrilling epic tale of pioneering and space exploration.

Matthew McConaughey (on a life-heater right now after winning his first Oscar and staring in True Detective) plays Cooper, a farmer in Colorado who along with the rest of the world is dealing with a food shortage crisis. Crops are dying and dust storms are becoming a common occurrence.  Cooper is a widowed father of two and through a chance encounter becomes involved with a team of scientists set on discovering a remote planet that can sustain life.  Michael Caine plays the leader of the braintrust, Professor Brand, who enlists his daughter (a rather low-key Anne Hathaway) and two other astronauts to join Cooper on the space exploration expedition. Cooper has a history of training with NASA so he's a natural fit as the pilot of the mission. After the team launches into outer space, the next two-thirds of the movie are a roller coaster ride in discovery and adventure.

Now there are a few key plot pieces I'd like to comment on but they can definitely be constituted as spoilers. So to keep those who haven't seen the film in the dark I will link to another post to comment on it. If you haven't seen the film come back later, if you have seen it, go ahead and click here.

Nolan does a great job of moving the narrative along. At 2 hours and 40 minutes the movie doesn't feel as long as it is. All of the space exploration scenes are beautifully shot and Hans Zimmer's powerful score ratchets up the tension. Scenes on the surface of the planets are stark and vibrant (a real location in Iceland was used for the bulk of the filming). The robot assistants in the film (T.A.R.S. and C.A.S.E)  end up being resourceful additions to the team of astronauts. Their simple rectangular design and fluid movements is rather unique as far as robots usually look in a sci fi film. Basically everything looks and sounds great in this movie and you just can't help but feel like you're along for the ride joining this group of pioneers.

Nolan explores themes of relative time shift that lets the astronauts age at a much slower rate than the rest of the people back on Earth. We see Cooper's son and daughter (Tim and Murph) age over time during the mission through video messages sent to the spacecraft as well as cut scenes back at home in Colorado. Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck play the older versions of the children we see at the beginning of the film. All of the acting is very good throughout the film but it's McConaughey who delivers the heart and soul of the movie. He is just a very likable actor at the prime of his craft and you end up rooting for him to succeed throughout the film. I was particularly pleased with the ending of the film which ties a few loose threads up and puts a fitting conclusion to the epic adventure.

This film is big and bold and needs to be seen on the IMAX screen.  I was fortunate enough to see it at the Air and Space Museum in DC, a fitting location for a movie that celebrates the pioneering spirit of space exploration. This is the best movie I've seen since Gravity (another space epic) and gets my first 5 out of 5 JR rating for 2014. Christopher Nolan cements himself as the best director working in Hollywood. Thankfully he's still relatively young and I feel we have a lot more to look forward to with his upcoming films.


Interstellar Bonus - SPOILERS

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

DO NOT READ

UNTIL YOU SEE THE MOVIE


OK, you've been sufficiently warned. MATT DAMON is in Interstellar!! He ends up playing one of the 12 astronauts (Dr. Mann) who went on the initial Lazarus mission to explore unknown planets. The crew of the Endurance land on the planet that Dr. Mann has scouted out and wake him from his cryo-sleep.  When Damon is introduced, the whole theater gasped a bit. It's really remarkable that the Interstellar marketing team kept Damon's involvement a secret. The fact that he's such a douchebag in the film is a brilliant stunt casting move.

Other elements I liked about the use of time in the film are the black hole scene towards the end of the film and the scene just after the first planet exploration sequence. When Cooper end up in the black hole we see how he is responsible for all of the unusual "ghost-like" events in the farmhouse at the beginning of the film. I like how his discovery of time manipulation leads to his eventual rescue and the emotional reunion between himself and his elderly daughter (Ellen Burstyn in a quick appearance). After Brand (Hathaway) and Cooper arrive back on the Endurance after spending a couple of hours on the first planet, their other crew member (David Gyasi as Romilly) has aged about 20 years, spending all that time alone. It's remarkable to think of time passing so differently for some people and not others. The passage of time really does end up being the emotional core of Interstellar.

Finally, I wanted to touch on Nolan's great idea of having NASA be a rogue underground agency that continues to explore space outside of the public limelight. It seemed plausible that NASA would continue on without full government funding with people in charge who are passionate about space travel. I'm sure other reviewers will find some elements of the plot a little forced and kind of hokey, but I really did enjoy the entire story of Interstellar and was willing to go along with Nolan 100% on this space adventure.