Does it say something about my taste in movies that the two movies I really wanted to see this year were purely because of the director? The first was Godzilla. I was so impressed by Gareth Edwards’ debut Monsters (2010) that I was really excited with what he’d do with Japan’s most famousest monster. The only other film on my definite hit list was Interstellar. I’ve been a fan of Christopher Nolan ever since I first saw Memento (2000) and was desperate to see a film of his out in space; especially since Gravity (2013) blew me away last year. I wasn’t disappointed.
I should point out that there are a couple of spoilers in this review. I generally try not to spoil anything in my writing, but if you’re anything like me, you won’t read anything to do with a film that you want to see and form your own opinion on. So, to infinity and beyond!
With the Earth increasingly unable to feed itself due to an undefined “blight” ruining crops (and presumably a desperate lack of Food Security policy), an underground group of NASA scientists are looking to the stars for an alternative home. That might sound like an IMDB descriptor, but that, in a nutshell, is the setup for everything that follows.
It’s probably hard not to make comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but I’m going to try. The only comparison I will draw is scientific (ish), and that is the lack of any noise (other than music) when we are exterior to the spacecraft. There is no sound of boosters, or thrusters and indeed a spectacular crash later on has all the more impact because it is so sudden and silent. That’s probably where the good science ends; I’m not an astrophysicist though, so my enjoyment wasn't ruined; and after all this is science fiction not fact.
I had no problem following the plot, certainly more straightforward than Inception (2010); this could be because we at least have some concept of space travel, while delving into different levels of the subconscious is a little more obtuse. Having said that, there is a similar theme of temporal distortion running through both films; though here it has the rather accepted name of relativity as a consequence of speed and gravity rather than lower levels of dreams moving slower.
In terms of the film-making, Interstellar looks as good as anything we see on our screens these days, with excellent production value. Almost all movies set in space since Alien and Star Wars have that space-truckin’ lived in look, and the NASA craft here are no different; everything is functional and important, even more so as the agency is essentially an underground movement. Initially surprised that Nolan favourite Wally Pfister wasn’t DOP (I’m guessing he was busy with Transcendence when this was being filmed) I thought Hoyte van Hoytema (Let the Right One In, 2008; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, 2011) does an amazing job of lensing this epic.
Certainly some of the money shots (in terms of punter-pulling as well as cost to put on screen) are some of the exterior shots as the Endurance transits across Saturn or Gargantua, and these do look phenomenal (I’m praying this is still on at the BFI IMAX in London when I’m there next month). Interestingly, Endurance is also the name of the ship that Ernest Shackleton sailed on perhaps his most famous voyage to the Antarctic. Following calamitous ice conditions, Shackleton’s expedition changes to one of rescuing his ship-mates and getting them home; similar to the feat undertaken by the Endurance of the movie as they try to rescue astronauts from their various planets, hoping they can bring them home.
I thought it refreshing that things go wrong because of human error rather than that of a machine. Error, or blind devotion to the mission. In this way Dr Mann is the HAL 9000 (sorry, 2001 reference) of the story in that the mission is everything, crew expendable. It actually turns out that TARS (the robot) is benign/useful/sarcastic and actually happy to sacrifice himself!
Having praised everything so far, I did think it was overlong, and a bit twee that Cooper was in fact behind the books communicating with his daughter; I just felt it tied everything together a bit too neatly (like the perfect rug). Though I did appreciate the attempt to render time as a fourth dimension, and it allowed for some more excellent Escher-like moments.
The cast are fine without being outstanding. McConaughey is good as Cooper and I forgot that I was watching a big star; in contrast I always thought of Anne Hathaway as Anne Hathaway. I actually thought that the 10 year old Murph (Mackenzie Foy) was better than Jessica Chastain, however I thought that Casey Affleck as the older older brother Tom was excellent, but criminally underused. I also had no idea Matt Damon was in this, so his introduction was a real curve-ball for me, especially given his actions. However, I would have liked to have seen more of John Lithgow, whose work I’ve admired ever since Footloose!
The score was excellent but quite un-Hans Zimmer-ish. Initially l was sure it would be long-term Nolan collaborator Zimmer who was composer. But about halfway through I became convinced that the score was composed by Philip Glass. The music sounded so much more like some of his delicate compositions from Kundun (1997) or Watchmen (2009) rather than the traditional big bold themes that Zimmer is so good at. Though of course there is still the occasional BRAHHHMMM!
I think that’s all I want to say, other than my brain didn’t stop running for several hours afterwards; not through incomprehension, just processing it all. I actually thought it was pretty great, though there’s something that prevents me from saying it was amazing. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it was a little more style over substance, although for the most part the substance blasts a lot of other sci-fis out of the solar system. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.