Review: “Interstellar” Is Unforgivably Long With No Consistent Tone
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenwriter: Jonathan Nolan (written by) and Christopher Nolan (written by)
Principal Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bently, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Casey Afleck, Michael Caine,and David Gyasi
One of the things that I consider a perk of the digital age is that everyone seems to care a little more about science. The popularity of a show like Cosmos and little websites like iflscience.com make me think that people are interested in science. Now, other people think this isn’t as good. We have people quoting research they don’t quite understand, and while I don’t approve of that I do think that we can only survive as a species as long as people continue to ask questions. I believe that learning and the desire to learn is the very thing that is going to continue to advance the human race. The science behind space travel and how accurate everything was is one of the reasons I was really looking forward to Interstellar. Aside from the fact that Inception is one of my favorite movies and I tend to enjoy Christopher Nolan movies, I liked the idea behind traveling to different planets to try and save the human race. However, like a lot of movies this year, this one has also had a lot of hype and I’ve been let down a lot.
Interstellar reaches for the stars when it comes to ambition, but falls short with an overly long running time, awkward pacing, and sound design that causes the entire picture to become a muddled mess.
It’s the future and environmental degradation has caused the food supply on Earth to dwindle down to nothing. The human race has rejected science, even going so far as to tell children the moon landing was fake, to encourage them to become produce farmers instead of scientists. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former pilot of NASA who finds the last members of the program (what is the program?) through an anomaly in his daughter’s room. Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and her father Professor Brand (Michael Caine) are funding a mission to travel through a wormhole to try and find a new planet for us to live on. Cooper wants to go on the mission, but that would mean leaving his two children Tom and Murph for an undetermined amount of time.
I want to say that the movie that is being sold in trailers is a lie, but the trailers have done a very good job of keeping the story of Interstellar a secret. This movie is a punishing 169 minutes that, at times, seems to drag on forever. The fact that the movie felt long doesn’t speak well of the pacing. I can think of at least thirty minutes that could have been cut out, and every single one of those scenes take place on Earth. For a movie that is about space, a good bulk of the narrative takes place on Earth, either at Cooper’s farm or the facility that is trying to solve the problem of getting people off of Earth when they do find a new planet. The pacing is just terrible because on top of spending far too much time on Earth, the movie is also so proud of the fact that it’s scientifically accurate that it stops the movie for exposition. I understand that it is hard to show, not tell, science but there had to be a less clunky way of showing that the filmmakers did their research and then some, instead of just having the characters explain everything to one another.
It was the forced inclusion of all this science jargon that made the tone of the movie feel very schizophrenic, i.e.the juxtaposition between jumps from someone explaining information as if from a textbook in science class, to someone else talking about how love will guide us. It didn’t mesh for me and made me feel like half the film was a space drama and the other half was watching a television show on the Discovery Channel. It made all of the emotional punches to the guts really fall flat. There were a few moments that were very sad, and the cast sells these moments perfectly. However, the tone of the rest of the movie was so indecisive that they could have had the most moving scene in the history of the world planned, and it still wouldn’t have worked entirely because it was bookended by two more exposition dumps.The movie also has some of the goofiest looking robots I’ve seen in science fiction in a long time.
This isn’t to say that the movie is bad in any way, there are quite a few things I liked, but the stumbles are more than enough for me to declare it unable to hold together as a whole. I enjoyed all of the performances from the entire cast. Matthew McConaughey does a great job of capturing a man of science at odds with his values as a father. He wants to go up there into space, but he also wants to stay behind with his children. His entire arc represents the juxtaposition, the clash of hard science and human emotions, but he does a much better job of presenting it in an understandable way. Anne Hathaway does pretty good work here as a woman willing to do whatever it takes to find a new home for the human race. The other two members of the team, played by Wes Bently and David Gyasi, don’t have that much to do aside from take up space. Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, and Casey Afleck do well in their roles, but to explain why would be various degrees of spoiling. I will say that I wish more of the movie was focused on their characters.
Looking at the movie visually Interstellar is working on a very different level. I enjoy Christopher Nolan’s love of wide shots of scenery so we can truly get the scope of what we are seeing. When they do arrive on the different alien planets, for the short periods of time that they do anyway, Nolan makes sure that we really see them. It’s just too bad that Nolan isn’t making them fly off to see anything interesting. The planets are quite boring on a conceptual level. In video game terms we visit the water level and the ice level. They could have designed planets nothing like we have ever seen; instead we get water and ice. I would say the scenes you see in the trailer show the best parts of the two planets the movie spends any time at. Nolan doesn’t take advantage of the IMAX screen as much as he could have, but seeing it in IMAX is recommended.
The sound design is usually something that I either notice because it is exceptionally good or something went terribly wrong, and in the case of Interstellar it is the latter. McConaughey already has a voice that can be hard to understand, but there were times where the music and background sound overpowered the dialogue. I missed entire lines because everything else was too loud. I always enjoy Hans Zimmer scores, but I also enjoy being able to understand what the actors are saying. I did appreciate that Nolan and company went out of their way to conceal the story in the trailers and promotional material, but that might have something to do with it going completely off the rails at the end. The final ‘twist’ might make sense on a theoretical level, but was so poorly executed that it would have been hilarious if my knees weren’t locking up from the runtime.
Interstellar might have some interesting concepts, but it’s ambitions far exceed what it is able to accomplish. This is, by far, one of the weakest entries into Christopher Nolan’s filmography and is disappointing, mostly because a truly great movie is lurking just beyond the horizon. If you’re already a huge Nolan fan you’ve probably already seen this, but for everyone else I suppose a matinee is worth it. It is another example of adjusting your expectations and not believing all the hype; in the end you’re only going to get let down.