Sunday, 9 November 2014

Film: 'Interstellar'

A major disappointment and an expensive one.

Because of all the hype and commotion regarding this release I had high hopes that it would be a rare and wondrous experience, so I took the advice to see it on the largest screen available, travelling twenty miles to Chichester to a newly opened Imax screen. (The last time I'd been in an Imax cinema was 1989, 'La Geode' in Paris). Yesterday, the combined cost of admission price plus train fare was four times what I usually pay for a regular cinema ticket, even with Senior Citizen concessions on both ingredients.

Comparisons are being made of 'Interstellar' with my own all-time favourite film, '2001 - A Space Odyssey'. In the event there was no comparison at all. It wasn't even within sight.
There's no doubt that technology has advanced far further than where it was placed a quarter century ago, let alone the 46 years since the release of '2001' - and many of the scenes in this new film really are completely astonishing, though there are no long, sustained sequences in extra-spacecraft space as there are in the other. But even by using state-of-the-art computer effects not available for the earlier film, despite all 2001's laboriously-produced effects in modelling and ultra-long exposures to capture intricate detail, it's still Kubrick's film which yet outdoes everything produced since.
But I don't want to base my evaluation of this 'Interstellar' on unfavourable comparisons with an older film when it was in no way director Christopher Nolan's intention to compete - though there are strong homage-like evocations of the 1968 film, not least in a recurring, highly effective blast on the soundtrack.

In 'Interstellar', Matthew McConaughey is the strangely scientifically-ill-informed leader of a crew of four astronauts (plus an ambulant, emotion-expressing computer) seeking out a new and habitable world in another galaxy (courtesy of a mysteriously placed 'wormhole' in the vicinity of Saturn, enabling them to cover unimaginably immense inter-galactic distances in little time) so that humankind, faced with the imminent threat of starvation on Earth, as a consequence of climate change, can continue its existence by propagation on another planet. It's a one-way ticket, as McConaughey well knows, but, putting a brave face on it, he attempts to convince those left behind that he'll be back. (Tearful farewells? - certainly not shared with one key family member, much to his grievous disappointment.)
Another of the crew is Anne Hathaway, with her own issues coming to the fore during the protracted journey cooped up with the others, where the tragic loss of a crew member seems to be regarded as no more than an unfortunate, though minor, irritant on the way.
Nolan regular Michael Caine is in the unlikely role of McConaughey's father, and Jessica Chastain is in the cast too.
There's also the unforeseen (by me) appearance of a major star in a quite significant part when the film is well advanced.

One has to avoid giving too much away as the higgledy-piggledy 'plot', such as it is, is littered with give-away potential spoilers and I wouldn't like to ruin the enjoyment of the many others who consider this film something of an achievement. (Currently on IMDb 59% of contributors have scored it with a perfect '10', while just 3% with a 5 or less.)

Now at last I come to what for me was the principal let-down of the film, and one I was not expecting - the film is heavily loaded with sentiment. And when I say loaded I mean positively weighed down by it till I found it close to being unbearable. Some people can take it, I cannot. All I'll say further is that it arises not from the likely demise of the human race, rather from it being familial. This reaches a climax in the final half hour when McConaughey.......(Oops! Better shut up).

I can take all the scientific jargon, and theorising that Y may happen when X happens. The time-warping in super-speed space travel has been well established for a very long while now, so that presented no problem to me, however alarming the effects. Black holes, event horizons, singularities, theoretical wormholes?....all fine and dandy
What I did especially like about this film was that it's only the third film I've ever seen which has had the guts to grasp the fact and demonstrate that without atmosphere there's no sound. Additionally, it was refreshing to have acknowledged on screen that the enormous majority of planets will have gravity forces which do not equate to that of Earth (though it's difficult to show that convincingly on film) - or, indeed, where one day can be the length of several earth-days (or actually much shorter than 24 hours - witness our own Jupiter and, by contrast, Venus, where a day is actually  longer than a Venusian year).
I also liked that there was no time spent showing preparations for the flight and training of the crew for the venture, thus saving us a lot of valuable time and boredom. 

I found the Hans Zimmer music score was trying so hard to be gently insinuating rather than in-your-face that it became all the more noticeable for trying to do just that. In spite of its low-key approach I felt it was over-persistent.

Acting was, on the whole, played very earnestly but, being so intense almost throughout and where all humour had been outlawed, I found it got tiring for a close-on three hour film.

The philosophical angles, of which there were a number of references amidst the stodgy emotions presented, were never adequately explored, only hinted at.

The film's ending, I found hopelessly unsatisfactory. Suspending one's disbelief didn't help. I felt more like shouting "Oh, for goodness' sake, pull the other one!"
Contrast that with the close of '2001' - enigmatic, certainly; provocative, absolutely; daring and imaginative, yes - but, (thanks largely to Arthur C.Clarke's ideas relayed through Kubrick), all portrayed with eye-popping majesty, positing part-answers to questions which have crystallised through centuries, though in a way which generates yet many more questions - and in a manner which has resounded down the decades since that film first appeared. 'Interstellar's conclusion, on the other hand, was simply weak and forgettable. 

It pains me to be negative about one of today's director's for whom I have huge enthusiasm.
If I were to compile a list of, say, my twenty favourite films of the last twenty years, it's quite likely that two of Christopher Nolan's would appear in that list, specifically 'Memento' and 'Inception'. He may, in fact, be the only director to get two mentions. So it's with great regret to say that, in my opinion and contrary to the majority of cinema-goers, 'Interstellar' is his least satisfactory film to date.

If you like your films spread thickly with gooey sentiment then you will not be troubled, and may well admire this product. However, I myself look forward to his next project being a substantial improvement. Meantime, I award this one a humble...................4/10.


  1. indeed; no thank you on seeing this one.

    1. I really wish I could recommend it, Dr Spo, but it's not to be - though a multitude of others do do just that.

  2. I almost saw this on Saturday but the theater was almost sold out and at ticket prices being so high, I didn't want a bad seat. The IMAX theater had a showing in a half hour, but I passed on it - glad I did.

    I decided on "Birdman" - plenty of seats. One of the best films this year. Keaton surprises - he is amazing! I can't believe that this didn't make the top ten over the weekend. I hope you see this one and like it as much as I did.

    1. My negative opinion of 'Interstellar' has put me in an even tinier minority than usual, Paul, so don't rely too much on my own view. If you're not troubled by all the treacly emotion (out of place in a serious sci-fi film, I think) then the chances are that you will like it more.
      Must admit I was wondering if I hadn't seen it on Imax would my score have been yet lower? I think it may well have been.

      Talk on 'Birdman' has only just started - no trailers yet. I'm pretty sure I want to see it anyway - and your very high recommendation makes it even more of certainty. Thanks for the strong pointer.

  3. you are the 4th person to give a low score for this that I know. My friend who comes to see chick flicks with me saw it with her new boyfriend and said it was dire...? Maybe when it is on DVD

    1. DVD would almost certainly lower the merits that it does have, Sol, as so much of it depends on spectacle. But as for content - well, you know what I think.
      I'm reassured to learn that others don't share the generally high opinion. I was getting rather lonely out here!

  4. Ray,
    A movie would have to be pretty good for me to see it with Matthew "All right, all right, all right" McConaughey starring in it (to me he's an insufferable bore). I'm no fan of Anne Hathaway either (another bore) but I do concede both are excellent actors, in the right roles. I remember well my excitement at seeing "2001". Hard to believe it was 46 years ago (where does the time go?). Again, I'll ask my friend Pat to screen this movie (he doesn't have a TV and he goes to the movies often with his friend Ed). If Pat likes it I may see it, otherwise I'll take your advise and skip wading into an overdose of sentimentality.
    Thanks again for the detailed review. You're a treasure.

    1. I can think of more 'boring' actors than these two you mention, Ron, but they certainly didn't light up this film for me.
      I'm MOST interested to hear Pat's verdict on it. Maybe he'll be one of the clear majority who already deem it to be a 'classic' (for Gawd's sake!)

      I first saw '2001' in the ultra-wide Cinerama mode (in early 1969), which you'll remember. In fact it was to be the only film I'd ever see in such, which became virtually defunct by the early 1970s. I had to travel nearly 50 miles to see it as Cinerama cinemas were rare and expensive to maintain. But it was the film itself that knocked me out more than the means of projection. When it came to my then home town it was being shown in 70mm, which didn't detract from it. Since then I've seen the film more times in the cinema than any other, apart from 'Gone With the Wind'.
      '2001' is having a spruce-up, make-over and limited re-release (for the umpteenth time) at the end of this year. If it comes to the close-by Imax screen I'd gladly pay four times the usual price to see it again in that format.

      I'm chuffed that my blogs on films are of such interest to you. They represent the very basic views of an non-expert on film. But if they keep you and some others entertained then I'm happy.

  5. I appreciate your review. I personally enjoyed "Interstellar" only because the exploration of space has always excited me. It made me think. And for that, I was grateful to see it. And I totally think the ending was all in his head... wraps up perfectly with what the characters were hinting at before.

    1. I agree with you that the ending was entirely the subjective product of his own mental experiences and situation, Brett - and I suppose that would, in a way, excuse its over-sentimalisation. But for me it became stodgy and unfathomable. The end of '2001' itself could hardly have been more 'unfathomable' also, but stodgy it was not.

      My profound lifelong interest in astronomy gives an added edge to my watching science fiction films, but there's a downside about knowing more than the film-makers expect one to know - and that is being extra-aware of errors in depicting the facts of science as currently known. I must say that in that respect this was much better than most such films I've seen. In the case of 'Interstellar' it was the non-science aspects that bothered me more.

      Thanks for visiting here, my friend..