If you’re a student of the cosmos then you’ll know our planet’s cosmic address. It begins with Earth, then the Solar System, then the Milky Way Galaxy. Then you get to see other Milky Ways, and before you know it, Earth has all but vanished, buried among the billions and billions of other planets, stars and solar systems of the Virgo Supercluster. In other words, there’s an awful lot of space out there.
The definition of interstellar is the space within a galaxy not occupied by stars – literally empty space – and that’s where engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughy) is heading in the ambitious and overly-stuffed sci-fi adventure from director Christopher Nolan, Interstellar. A wormhole has opened somewhere near Saturn. NASA wants Cooper and a small team of scientists to explore that area of our solar system and enter the wormhole in the hope that it leads to a future home for mankind; at least, what’s left of it.
Even though the film never gives an exact time, the impression is we’re somewhere in the very near future when Earth’s environment is devastated. Because of continual dust storms and an increasingly inhospitable atmosphere, our food supply is diminishing. The world is full of famine, not to mention too much nitrogen and not enough oxygen. Soon we won’t be able to breathe.
But the wormhole might be our chance. Perhaps it’s a tunnel that links us to another galaxy, and if we’re lucky, maybe there’s another planet in that new galaxy that can support life as we know it. “We’re not meant to save the world,” NASA’s Professor Brand (Michael Caine) explains to Cooper. “We’re meant to leave it.”
Interstellar was written by director Nolan and his brother Jonathan, and while Big Bang theorists will be thrilled with the endless hours of conversational sci-fi speculation that will inevitably follow a screening, the average movie-goer is going to find it, frankly, incomprehensible. It’s as though director Nolan’s incredible success, both commercially and artistically, has earned a blank check from the studios and allowed him to go and indulge in whatever his heart and mind desires without the annoyance of some studio head putting on the brakes. The end result is a spectacular looking film with complex ideas that might span the universe but feels as though it’s going nowhere and takes an insurmountable amount of time – almost three hours – to get there. It’s not exactly Nolan’s Heaven’s Gate, but it’s close.
The film Interstellar most echoes is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, though it doesn’t surpass it. Kubrick’s inspiring sixties masterpiece spanned the dawn of time to futuristic technology and ultimately to the next stage of man’s evolution as he returns from beyond the infinite back to Earth, and all of that was told in just over two hours. Interstellar needs almost three hours to make its point and when it gets there it ultimately feels of little consequence, even if your senses have been on IMAX overload. Looking back at the majority of Nolan’s work, the director appears to have developed an inability to tell any story in less than two hours. He really should try.
Much of what we need to know and understand in Interstellar is often difficult to grasp. It’s not that the script purposely revels in difficult language and ideas beyond the reach of the average movie-goer – TV’s Dr. Who does it all the time – it’s that much of what is spoken is quite literally hard to hear. Important dialog is buried under Hans Zimmer’s ear-splitting score to the point where you see characters move their lips but what they’re saying is anyone’s guess. Maybe on a regular screen in a regular theatre the issue of overpowering sight and sound presentation will be different. What is being said might be easier to follow, but when presented in an IMAX theatre you feel as though your head has been assaulted for almost three hours with little reward when the cacophony ends other than a ringing in the ears. Bigger and louder doesn’t equal better.
The imagery is undeniably spectacular. The mile-high tidal wave on one of the newly discovered planets as it rises up, ready to swallow all is impressive, as is some of the earth bound shots of a truck chasing a drone through the corn fields. Nolan’s technical skills are not to be questioned. But it’s the story and its style of telling that disappoints. The scene where Cooper watches video messages sent by his son and daughter over a twenty year span crammed into just a few minutes is heartfelt. It’s the center of the film and allows for that moment of reflection when you think that maybe Interstellar might finally be heading in the right direction – love is a force of power equal to any other powerful force in the cosmos – but director Nolan intends to cover so much more before the fade out.
Interstellar will resonate with those who believe Nolan can do no wrong, plus the way the film is being hyped, the studios obviously feel they have something special on their hands. The film is certainly ambitious and Nolan should always be admired for using his creative power in attempting something intelligent along with scenes of crowd-pleasing spectacle, but here he doesn’t tell a story well. Kubrick’s Odyssey reached its destination quietly and far more effectively to the point where forty-five years later we’re still inspired by it. Nolan’s Interstellar blusters its way through the stars for almost an hour longer yet leaves you feeling empty with nothing of importance to show by the end. It aims high but unlike Kubrick’s voyage beyond the infinite, Insterstellar continuously suffers from the gravitational force from which it’s trying to escape; it never fully takes off.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 169 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)