The world is on the brink of disaster as extreme climate change has left much of the planet a dust bowl, with civilisation pretty much collapsed and many convinced that humanity only has a short time left to live. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is scratching out a living on a farm, but discovers that not far away is a facility that’s hopes to find a future for mankind.
A wormhole has been discovered near Saturn, which leads to another galaxy where there may be habitable worlds. Years before scientists were sent to each of those planets, and now it’s time to send another ship to discover what happened to them and whether one of the worlds could be humanity’s new home. With his ace piloting skills Cooper is selected to go on the mission – much to the anger of his young daughter Murph – alongside scientist Brand (Anne Hathaway) and two other crew members.
Cooper is desperate to get through the wormhole and back home as soon as possible so that he can get back to his kids. However on the other side is a black hole that plays havoc with spacetime, meaning that in certain places an hour for the astronauts may be seven years back on earth. However Cooper knows how important their mission is, even if it increasingly seems doomed to failure – and even if it does succeed, the time dilation may mean that everyone the astronauts knew will be dead before they can report their findings.
Back on Earth Murph has grown up (and is now Jessica Chastain) and is working on the project to save mankind by sending them to another world, while still harbouring anger that her father left her decades before (even though it’s only been months for him).
Nobody can criticise Christopher Nolan for his ambition, although I have to admit I’m not in the camp who unequivocally thinks everything he touches is a masterpiece of the cinematic form. While I liked it a lot, overall Interstellar didn’t change my mind. It’s a great piece of big-budget entertainment that is interesting, exciting (after a slightly ponderous first 40 minutes) and full of incredible visuals. However rather like Inception, I don’t think it’s as smart of many others do.
Sure it deal with physics and spacetime, and it does have a few interesting things to say, but I couldn’t help feeling they weren’t as interesting as the movie seems to think they are. Indeed it has The Matrix conceit of taking rather old concepts and dressing them up in new clothes, and then presenting them as if they’re brand new and something the world has never seen before. And before you say that all the science in Interstellar is true, that was just the marketing line, as while it stays much, much closer to real physics than most sci-fi, it still takes an awful lot of liberties.
It’s slightly ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ tendency is particularly noticeable due to how much the plot borrows from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact (both Carl Sagan’s novel and Robert Zemeckis’ movie). Indeed if you look at it objectively, the endings of Contact and Interstellar are surprisingly similar, but while audiences hated the former and it became a bit of a joke, they’ve lapped up Nolan’s version, even if in many ways it’s less profound and smart. Indeed one of the absolute key moments makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
And while I’m perhaps unfairly heaping on the criticism, if you strip Nolan’s trademark seriousness and ability to make his movies seem incredibly realistic, there is a lot of absolute nonsense in Interstellar. In fact there are moments which even Michael Bay would probably strip out of a script feeling they lacked credibility. However as he’s done before, Nolan drips everything in a pseudo-profundity that I can’t help feeling is a bit of a trick and stops being genuinely thinking about what they’re actually seeing.
I do feel like I’m being unfair though because I did enjoy it, but I equally felt frustrated in the same way as I did when people were raving that The Dark Knight Rises is a realistic superhero movie – no, it’s not, in fact objectively it’s a stunningly dumb superhero movie plot-wise, but it manages to cover that up by appearing deeper and more grounded than it really is. Again though, I really did enjoy Nolan’s Batman movies, I just didn’t enjoy other people’s reactions to them as I felt like they were slightly being taken for a ride.
But hey, they liked it, I liked it and the same is true for Interstellar. There’s also no doubt that Nolan has tried to address with his latest movie one of the main criticisms that have been levelled at his earlier films, which is they have lots of ideas but within that their humanity gets slightly lost. Here he attempts to completely ground the movie in ideas of human nature and love (even if with the latter he engages in the sort of cod spirituality that will have some people’s eyes rolling, especially as he tries to marry it to scientific ideas in ways that don’t really make any sense). He also brings in a sense of humour, something which many have remarked his earlier movies were sorely lacking, although it’s kind of fascinating that he and co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan give nearly all the jokes to a machine that even by its own admission is only pretending to be human.
I have to think this is deliberate, especially as there’s a lengthy part of the movie with strong 2001 echoes, but which subverts whether its science/machines or humanity that’s most likely to cause the problems.
I don’t want you to get the impression that I think Interstellar is a rubbish movie, as I really don’t. It got me hooked and it does present quite a few interesting ideas. It also tells its story extremely well and McConaughey gives a great performance in the lead role. Where it absolutely excels is in its action and its visuals. It’s a genuinely beautiful movie with special effects that are utterly seamless and some brilliantly conceived and executed action sequences.
As with all Nolan’s films from The Dark Knight onwards, you get the bonus on Blu-ray that rather than showing the whole movie in 2.35:1 aspect ratio as it was in most cinemas, those shots that were filmed with IMAX cameras expand out to fill the entire widescreen TV frame. It’s interesting what shots they chose to use these cameras for, as it wasn’t just for big action scenes but also for some quieter moments where it wants to present absolute clarity and a genuine sense of depth while not being 3D.
And it is noticeable how much clarity IMAX adds, which may seem surprising when you’re watching it on a comparatively small TV (compared to a cinema screen, that is), but in 1080p HD it’s certainly noticeable that the quality of both the colour and definition of IMAX is superior to either 35mm or digital film.
To complete the package is a bonus disc with loads of extremely good special features, which take you deep into the making of the movie, from how they used a lot of practical special effects rather than just relying on CG to create realistic space travel (which to be honest would have seemed more worth boasting about had Gravity not shown us you can be just as realistic inside a computer), as well as how they used the strange landscapes of Iceland to create two of the alien worlds. There’s also a good 50-minute documentary looking at some of the scientific concepts it deals with. It adds up to around three hours of extremely well put together features that are certainly worth watching for movie fans.
Overall Verdict: Despite its best efforts, Interstellar hasn’t converted me to the cult of Christopher Nolan. It is a very good movie and extremely entertaining, but it’s not as smart and ground-breaking as many would like to suggest. It did underline to me though how unfair people have been to Robert Zemeckis’ Contact, as the things that people hates about that movie could equally be levelled at Interstellar, while to my mind the ideas that Zemeckis’ film looked at were actually more interestingly dealt with.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac