14/11/2014

Interstellar



In cinemas now. starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon / Written by Jonathan & Christopher Nolan/ Directed by Christopher Nolan
There’s more than one anomaly in Christopher Nolan’s ambitious space epic and it’s not the black hole that sits at the centre of the plot. Rather it’s the sheer scale of the idea and the way in which the director/ co-writer approaches it. There is a good- potentially great- film sitting in the nigh on three hour movie that’s been released but rather like the film’s blackboards full of calculations it needs a lot more work. As it stands an oddly paced stew of interpretative science, parental angst and science fiction madness overwhelms whatever it is that Interstellar is trying to say.
They were suprised to find the black hole was part of the London Underground


Former test pilot Cooper (no forename it seems) lives on a corn growing farm, one of the few jobs left in a world drained of resources. Avoiding the words `climate change` (The Guardian suggests such a description would offend American audiences) the drought and blight is a clear analogy of where we could be heading. However a secret NASA outpost is developing a last ditch plan to take humanity into the stars and within five minutes of turning up on their doorstep Cooper is roped into flying a spaceship they’ve handily just finished building. As Nolan’s films always develop over their entire running time it is churlish to get to this point and shout; “Yes, but how is this NASA project funded when there’s no money?” or “Would they really trust someone to be able to fly the spacecraft when he’s never actually been into space before?” or “Is there really only one person who can calculate how to send everyone else if a suitable planet is found?”. You let these things go because you imagine they are unimportant in the overall flow of the narrative. Little do you know as you embark on a voyage that sometimes seems as long as the two years duration depicted that these kind of questions will pile up mostly unanswered for the rest of the film.
It’s a shame because the first 45 minutes or so is excellent. Matthew McConaughey totally convinces in the role of Cooper his everyman outlook a perfect fit and there are some naturalistic family scenes, involving the always good John Lithgow as his father and Mackenzie Foy as intelligent but clingy daughter Murph. The narrative suggests – as did initial trailers- a tribute to the spirit of exploration that fired the world in the 1960s. A promising thread is established that schools have excised the Apollo missions and the Moon landings from their curriculum to focus on issues closer to the lives of ordinary people. It might have been better had the film pursued this route and remained earthbound throughout.  Imagine the intelligent drama that could be created from Cooper‘s quest to bring the exploratory zeal back to a depressed nation.

"Dad, what's this film about?" "Er...."

Instead the mission sets off through a black hole which is realised rather well however bad the science may be (or not, how would most of us know?). We’re soon immersed in a world of cryogenics, higher mathematics, thrusters and boosters. If it wasn’t for the light touches to the script which home in on McConaughey’s ablility to say anything convincingly and a sarcastic robot this would be quite dull. Of the other crew members only Anne Hathaway’s Brand seems to have any character though she is never as convincing as McConaughey. Back on Earth Jessica Chastain plays the older Murph well enough to make you believe she is the same person and there’s a strong turn from Michael Caine as NASA boffin Professor Brand.

While the space and black hole visuals impress on the IMAX screen for which they are designed homages to 2001and Gravity amongst others mean it is little we haven’t seen before.  Matters pick up when we land on the first of the alien planets leading to one of the film’s best scenes in which an approaching wave creates bags of tension. There are a few of these punctuating the second half, notably a shock moment that outdoes Gravity. The emotions of the crew are explored via videos from their family who are growing older while the crew don’t age, one scene involving McConaughey again is particularly poignant yet the script offers no real insight into how the explorers interact with each other. The human emotions present on a black and white screen are replaced by technical stuff once that screen is off.
Goodness knows how much time has passed by now; the characters are not sure and neither are the audience- but just when you think the film ought to be turning a corner towards resolution along comes Matt Damon as the deranged sole survivor of a previous mission. Damon carries off the role well enough but the question pile up I mentioned earlier becomes critical here as his Dr Mann is unveiled as the villain of the piece. While the sequence in which he tries to kill Cooper is actually another hugely exciting segment the whole Mann storyline is full of flaws. Afterwards logic is left behind entirely during a sequence in which Cooper improbably manages to pull everything together for an attempt to get home. The explanation is lost in what is throughout the film a poor sound mix sometimes overcome by the music, but it probably doesn’t make sense anyway.
We do eventually reach the end but a drawn out scenario that conjures up the director’s own Inception spends a long time telling the viewer what they will have already worked out. You’re ready to scream along with Cooper just so things can come to an end.
Interstellar is not a film to see if you’re after any insight into the issues it raises because whenever cornered the narrative relies on techno waffle or unbelievable human feats. Apparently the science is untenable but more importantly the story cannot convince despite some stand out cinematic moments. On the other hand if you want to just go with a rollercoaster ride with some hugely exciting nerve shredding sequences then you’ll probably enjoy it.   `Flawed epic` seems to be the most common description applied to this film and I’ll settle for that too.


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