Friday, December 12, 2014

Interstellar review

There's been a tendency in popular entertainment to not explain things in story telling. Look at the TV series Lost, or the video game Destiny. While screenwriters are taught to show not tell, there are times that one must have some exposition or else the audience will spend most of their time trying to figure out what is going on rather than getting the major message of the story. This lack of exposition affects writer-director Christopher Nolan's film, Interstellar.

Interstellar takes place in a dystopian future where mankind is struggling to survive due to large dust storms. And if you want to know what is causing this environmental disaster, well you can forget about it. Writers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan aren't going to tell you. Widower Cooper (Mathew McConaughey) is a farmer and former astronaut struggling to raise corn and his family. His daughter Murphy starts to get strange coded messages from her bedroom which she says are ghosts. One of the messages are coordinates to a nearby secret NASA base.

Cooper and Murphy drive to the base. They are arrested and brought before Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia. (Anne Hathaway) Professor Brand tells them that NASA knows the world is dying but they have discovered a wormhole created by some intelligent beings. Deducing that the aliens put the wormhole to save man, NASA sends three astronauts separately through it. NASA is getting signals from them and that they have landed on three planets surrounding a black hole. Brand enlists Cooper to join his daughter to find the astronauts and explore the worlds to see which ones would support mankind in their exodus from earth. Failing that, there's another plan where the scientists would start humanity all over with fertilized eggs.

To enjoy Interstellar, you're going to have to accept its plot devices on faith. For some reason, Nolan decides not to tell you what is causing earth's drought. While the logical culprit is global warming, I wonder if the writers wanted to avoid the cause for political reasons. Can't piss off the Kock brothers, can we? Then there is the physics involved in the movie. Cooper and Amelia go to one of the planets and according to them they will age at a significantly slower rate than the rest of earth due to the black hole. I'm talking hours for years. It's gut wrenching to see Cooper get videos from his children now grown up when he's only been on the planet's surface for a few hours. There are additional twists such as Amelia's relationship with one of the lost astronauts that causes the film to feel disjointed. Without exposition, the plot twists make the story telling artificial, i.e. it's melodramatic for no reason.

While watching Interstellar, I spent too much time trying to figure out one, what was going on with the earth. And then trying to figure out the time issues regarding the physics. This could have been problematic if Interstellar wasn't so well made. The stakes to humanity are so severe that it kept the drama moving. The screenplay is intelligent and relies on serious science. Once Cooper and Brand land on an alien world, I was captivated as to what they would find. The film kept me glued to the seat with intrigue. There are some nice nods to other science fiction movies specifically 2001: A Space Odyssey. When you see the rectangular shape of TARS, the robot in the movie, one can't help think of HAL from 2001 and the alien monolith. I did feel the design of TARS was a little impractical but maybe the nod to 2001 was the point.

As for the acting, you can't go wrong with this cast. McConaughey loves his daughter and there's pain when he leaves her. Caine and Hathaway's scientists are brainy, and sincere. Jessica Chastain plays a grown up Murphy. She's wonderful as the hurt daughter who's dedicated finding a solution to earth's problems with Brand.

Interstellar continues the pattern of Christopher Nolan's filmmaking. He doesn't dumb down anything for the masses. Despite its flaws, the film is thought provoking and exciting. The grade is A.

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