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Interstellar Review: Breathtaking Cinematography Hides Black Hole-sized Problems

Interstellar's visual beauty overshadows several key errors.

WARNING: Major Spoilers Ahead
Review by Matt Cummings
In Christopher Nolan's epic space adventure Interstellar, mankind is at the end of its life. Having polluted the Earth beyond its ability to recover, a disease called the Blight has ruined the world's crops one by one until corn is all that's left. For former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), life as a farmer hasn't been without its setbacks, as the death of his wife has left him with teenagers Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and the bright Murph (Mackenzie Foy), who's recently been suspended for arguing that the Apollo moon missions were in fact real. Via a poltergeist-like event in their library - where books seem to fall off the shelves - Cooper is eventually drawn back to his old boss Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who tells him two unshakable facts: the Earth will end with Murph's generation, and Cooper is the only one who can save the human race. Via a newly-discovered wormhole (take your pick as to who put it there), Cooper and his team (including Anne Hathaway) journey to three potential planets, seeking the original astronauts who ventured out years before but who have not been heard from since. Along the way, Cooper and his colleagues will encounter unimaginable danger while humanity itself teeters on the edge of oblivion.

Interstellar is a tough movie to nail down, because its science - including Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, dimensional gravity, and the effect of black holes on humans - is placed right next to the human drama of space exploration. While that sounds a lot like Star Trek, and considering how approachable that series is, think of this more like The Next Generation than TOS. That's not a good thing: wrapped in too much Treknobabble, Interstellar will definitely lose the common moviegoer at some point during its staggering 169-minute runtime. And while a classic like 2001: A Space Odyssey didn't bring such deep science to the table, it largely succeeded because it did such a convincing job of showing us how that science ultimately affected the story. Nolan certainly has command of the science behind the curtain - as the stunning visual effects prove - but the rest is too much to take in, as if our senses can't process the deluge of data we're receiving. With such big topics as time travel and Quantum Mechanics on the table, I felt as though I needed a class on Astrophysics before seeing Interstellar.

The script by Nolan and his Person of Interest brother Jonathon is also missing the humanity. Sure there are plenty of emotional scenes as Cooper and Amelia struggle to save the mission, but it all feels a bit cold and therefore less genuine. There's also several convenient plot devices that seem to place Cooper in the right place at the right time (wait till you see the climax) in order to keep the story from getting lost in space. These WTF moments happen too often, are not explained simply enough, and remind us that good story telling relies on showing - not telling - us how these elements fit into the greater plot.

Interstellar does have its heart in the right place, boldly showing us the effect of man's decision to ruin his home, as well as concepts not covered since the aforementioned 2001; but again, the strong cast isn't used as effectively as they could, including Murph's older iteration played by Jessica Chastain, who harbors deep but overly simplified resentment towards her father instead of searching for a way to communicate with him or actually solve the Earth's problems before they undo mankind.

There's a lot silent exposition, with astronauts pushing buttons and scientists looking stressed, but in the end the most basic questions are never answered: does the Earth in fact perish? What role does their new home play? Why doesn't Cooper use the same wormhole to begin searching for his lost crew? Why should we care about Amelia and her fate in the first place? Nolan never backs down from the movie's bold storytelling, but by the time we're done it feels like we've been at the home of a very nice person who speaks an entirely different language than you. And then there's the brash - sometimes too loud - music by Composer Hans Zimmer's overpowering but beautiful organ music buries us while we're trying to desperately to understand the big theories by scientist and technical adviser Kip Thorne.

Interstellar is a breath-taking visual experience that hides too many story holes and forces the science too much to make this a crossover hit. Moviegoers hoping for a digestible follow-up to Nolan's Batman movies are in for a shock, as both its runtime and message will surely keep potential fence-sitting audiences away. While I certainly applaud the effort, Interstellar doesn't use its considerable assets to redefine the genre, making it for some a potentially tedious experience for some. For me, I'll be seeing again - and recommend IMAX or 3D - not just to pick up on the various theories I missed, but also to decide if it's truly the mish-mash I remembered.

Interstellar is Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language and has a runtime of 169 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

Comments

Interstellar is a visual feast that explores the universe and an intimate drama that explores why love and devotion are qualities that make the human race worth saving.

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