Review: Interstellar (2014)

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Went and saw this last night, it was definitely on my list of new releases to see on the big screen, butFury won out first (Review: Fury (Brad Pitt) the Tank movie 2014) and I think I made the right choice despite very good reviews across the board.

I’m not quite sure how to feel about this movie, so let’s cut to the building blocks.

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Lead man is Matthew McConaughey (Cooper) well-known to all of us but not really a big star (U-571etc). This is perhaps his biggest break since Sahara 2005 when he was also the lead.  A restrained, square-jaw, McC is undisputedly manly but does he have the gravitas to carry-it-off? Just I think, as an interstellar pilot.  He’s a reprise of Keir Dullea (Dr. David Bowman) of the 1968 classic 2001:Space Odyssey and this film is essentially an oblique rework. It even has HAL 9000s in the form of “Case” and “Tars” coolOdyssey monolith-esque walking talking robot jenga blocks.

Lead woman is Anne Hathaway and ever since her AMAZING piece in Les Miserables is just legend! We also have Michael Caine, John Lithgow (Third Rock from the Sun, appropriately), Ellen Burstyn (The Five People You Meet in Heaven,appropriately) and Matt Damon makes an unexpected mid-way appearance.  Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane of Hunger Games, and the creepy kid in American Beauty) is a crew member. Produced and directed by the UK Nolan brothers; Chris Nolan made his big break with Batman Begins, same year as Sahara.

The synopsis is a team of explorers travel through a wormhole near Saturn, put there by“them” in an attempt to lead us to a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity. “We were never meant to stay here, but to leave.” Things are bad on earth. There is a subplot of the Great Depression Dust Bowl, and the movie even has vox pop video records of actual people talking about that experience but appropriated to the current.

And we get lots of fields of corn, ala Signs (Gibson) and Field of Dreams (Cosner). What is it with corn fields (is it the crop circles)? There’s even a great chasing through the corn fields as per North By North West.  So, several classical movie allusions hidden in here.

Here’s the trailer…

There is a very cool unexpected tsunami scene. I liked too, that since things ‘collapsed,’ drones from India have continued flying for decades powered by solar panels, and occasionally come down.  Cooper ‘grabs’ them using his laptop and harvests their solar units to run his combine harvesters (frustrated farmer-astronaut).  There is also a great piece during the Parent-Teacher interview, when “Murph” the daughter is scolded and gets into a fight for believing the Apollo Moon missions were not a faked conspiracy to bankrupt the Russians into space exploration and expense, now Educational dogma. Space Jock daddy ain’t havin’ that (Unbelievers! …Ah well, back to farm).

The movie tantalizingly does not set us in an era; there’s no opener “Earth: 2034.” Gramps Lithgow recalls the late 20th century, people still drive pickups, there were wars over food. Crops have progressive blights and are failing. “We still have corn, but that too will die.”Most people are farmers.  The earth population is much reduced. NASA has secretly survived, hidden away.  So, perhaps mid 21st century ( 2050?) but it does not pinpoint it for us.  Because this movie slides Time all over the place.

Great special effects, spacescapes, craft, cryogenic freezing, robots, but this movie is a philosophical piece inside the capsules and on icy planets with great views, and so has more humanity and monologues of interest than Gravity had, which was visually spectacular but just lacked the human element. This movie has a good blend of both and the second half is better than the first.

We get lectured about time continuums and poltergeists, gravity as a communication tool transcending time for Beings in a fifth dimension, and all that pseudoscientific gumph. Michael Caine has a lifetime full of blackboards covered in real maths; science and maths as the Hope of humanity. Except mid-mission Anne Hathaway introduces Love.  Maybe love is what should decide what choices we make, isn’t that core to humanity, maybe that’s what things are really all about? Ya’ think? Gee, all that time I waisted on that PhD.

And of course McC (Cooper) is sighing and crying the whole time about his abandoned family back home in the dust, starving, and “Murph” his daughter who daddy promised to come back to. A grudge held across time and space and a whole lifetime. That’s gotta suck.

The movie holds together, with a great climax into a time conundrum reminiscent of the psychedelic Space Odyssey finale, but better explained.

But I’m not sure how I feel about it. I loved the Dr Who time gymnastics (they have to make decisions that will cost them back on earth (if they ever get back)…”every hour we spent here is seven back on earth.”  So they work fast, to get back to family before they die or are as old as they are now.

Some poignant TV video logs to eachother over time, pics of babies coming and going, people aging, as the crew just stay the same, and a tear jerker at the end between Cooper and Murph (no spoiler).

But there were too many implausible bits that jarred.  The crew bar one descend to ahopeful planet leaving the black guy behind to scramble data over the relative longer time and try and learn something about gravity to help the NASA team back on earth. When the crew finally make it back to the ship, well black guy has been there alone for 23 years.  Same with Matt Damon, who has lived an eternity alone on a space rock; and at the end, Anne Hathaway, playing house all by herself for eons.  It just doesn’t wash. People go mad that alone.  What do they do for decades, play Solitaire?

After 23 years Cooper just brushes past the black crew member and doesn’t even say hello. Callous as a comet core. Racism and ageism in space?

And the ending is unresolved, a bit like Space Odyssey.  It felt rushed. Gee, we’ve run out of time in a time movie. The sub plot around the son is simply abandoned, we see him no more. Why all the earlier development and angst? Murph dismisses Cooper, “I’ve got my children around me now.”  Hello?  A lifetime apart, not knowing if he was alive, you’d want a chat and cup of tea, maybe a Mackers, yeah?  Nup. “You belong up there, in the stars..GO!” Man alone in the sunsets stuff.  Saving family by leaving.

Some overly loud sudden crescendos of classical music (I suppose to mirror Odyssey’sfamous sound track of the Blue Danube?).

Overall I enjoyed this. The characters are excellent and the dust threat on earth interesting.  The NASA conspiracy is believable, but once we get out there in time continuums and bouncing off black holes, and breathing pure ammonia, well, the science and attempt to be ‘believable’ lost me. But, a good addition to the sci fi stable this season.  I preferred the story and action of Tom Cruise’s latest outings Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow; and Prometheus; and Gravity.

7/10 stars plus a black hole from me.

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