15 November 2014

Interstellar Review

All throughout the year, Interstellar has been my most anticipated film. Nolan is my favourite director working today and has made many of my favourite films, mainly The Dark Knight, The Prestige and Inception, so of course I was hyped for this film. Warner Bros clearly had a lot of trust in Nolan as they gave a multi-million dollar budget to Nolan and the rights to 2 franchises to Paramount (Friday the 13th and South Park) to a completely original film with no opportunity for sequels and no marketing options, which also raised my excitement for this film. Then I read a few reviews, that were pretty negative and I started to get a little bit worried, then I saw Interstellar. Whilst it didn't quite meet my incredibly high expectations, this is still a brilliant film, continuing Nolan's streak of having not made a bad film (in my opinion).The plot concerns a near future Earth which is pretty much dying. Since most of the crops have been killed, corn is the only crop on the planet, with pursuits like science and engineering being discouraged in order to ensure as many people become farmers as possible, an example of this being that schools are teaching that the moon landings were faked. In this world, we find Cooper and his two children. Cooper was a former engineer and test pilot for NASA who has had to become a farmer, using his engineering skills on farming equipment. After a series of events, he finds the remnants of NASA who have discovered a wormhole to allow travel between galaxies and they ask Cooper to be the pilot. Cooper decides to accept the mission, having to leave his family behind, with this having a particularly bad effect on his daughter, who has inherited Cooper's love of science. And there is where my description of the plot will stop for fear of spoiling the film. There are many elements of the plot that the marketing hasn't mentioned, so I won't either. Throughout the film, there's this constant sense of hope that humanity will find a way to survive, and this hope makes this probably Nolan's most optimistic film, ignoring the common theme of his films, the power of the comforting lie, for the most part. This main sense of hope, along with the heart of the film, comes through the relationship between Cooper and his daughter, Murph. The main bulk of the plot revolves around the relationship between Cooper and Murph, and Cooper's attempts to return to Murph by any means, hopefully with another world for humanity to inhabit. This does bring in a few elements of Contact into the film, along with a bit of AI at the end, in terms of tone, which I think really worked for the film. This also brings in the central idea of the film of love as a force as powerful as time and gravity and, whilst this message can get a bit heavy handed at times, it does work throughout the film. There has been criticism of Nolan in the past that his films aren't really emotional, something which I would argue against, but this is clearly Nolan's most emotional film, with emotions being the key driving force. Whilst I feel Nolan is a bit heavy handed at times, it works for the overall tone of the film. There's also a lot of really interesting stuff about human nature and how we will react when forced into a survival situation, a theme present throughout the film, with it really being key near the end. Another element that needs to be mentioned is the physics of the film, with the physics of black holes being a key factor. This is mainly in relation to time and gravity, notably on one planet where every hour spent on the surface equates to seven years on Earth. Now I won't pretend that I know physics and Nolan does his best to explain the physics of the film, which can lead to some of the power of certain scenes being lost. There is a clear attempt for the film to be as accurate as possible in terms of physics, even using Kip Thorne's calculations around wormholes and black holes to better visualise them on screen by giving them to the effects team but I know that there are some elements of the physics that the film does get wrong. The first time I saw it, I went with the University of Birmingham Film Society (it was an interesting experience to see the committee trying to collect and hand out 75 tickets without disrupting the other patrons) and there were some physicists in the group, who complained about the physics after the film finished. It does feel that if the film focuses so much on the physics and gets a few elements wrong, then it is a detriment. Personally, I didn't have any issue with it, but fair warning to any physicists reading this.

On an acting level Interstellar is great. Matthew McConaughey continues his brilliant streak as Cooper. He's got this relatable, down to earth vibe that really fits the character, he works really well with the rest of the cast, in particular Anne Hathaway and Mackenzie Foy, he really sells the technobabble scenes and a lot of the most powerful, emotional moments of the film come through his performance. A highlight being halfway through the film where he has no dialogue and sells every single emotion Cooper is feeling. Anne Hathaway also does a good job as Brand, showing how out of her depth the character is and presenting the main motif of the film really well. Wes Bentley and David Gyasi also do great work as the other astronaughts, showing really developed characters, despite having less screen time. Out of all the characters on the mission, my favourite is TARS, the robotic member of the crew, voiced by Bill Irwin. The animation for TARS is brilliant, using every possibility for the design and Irwin's voice and the writing give TARS a lot of character, with TARS having a lot of the best lines in the film. There's also great work done in smaller roles by John Lithgow and Michael Caine, both showing how the older generation is dealing with the world dying around them, although talking any more about Caine will spoil the film. I also really enjoyed Mackenzie Foy as Murph, she shows how intelligent and inquisitive the character is early on in the film and she nails the scene when Murph has to say goodbye to Cooper, creating another one of the best emotional moments of the film. Jessica Chastain is also great, although I won't say any more about her since it will spoil the film. If there are weak links in the cast it's Casey Affleck and Topher Grace. Grace doesn't really get to do much in the film and it feels like anyone else could have played his character. Affleck meanwhile has a completely inconsistent character whose actions vary from scene to scene, with them not feeling natural, only serving the needs of the story, meaning that he doesn't really have a character, more of a plot device.

The technical aspects of the film are what make it an experience. I saw this film a week ago on digital projection but I decided to wait before I did this review until I saw it in 70mm IMAX, and that is definitely the way to go. Whilst digital projection is excellent, and I don't think the film will lose anything when it's released on DVD (which is a problem that befell Gravity), 70mm has this distinct quality that makes the visual experience of the film incredible. It's the best visual quality of the film. The quality of the visuals is aided by incredible special effects, with a few elements of these being very reminiscent of 2001, the typically brilliant direction by Nolan and incredibly cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema, who I think is a better DP for Nolan than Wally Pfister (a statement which is sure to get me killed by other Nolan fans), as good as Pfister is, I don't think he'd have done as good a job in regards to the space scenes as Hoytema. The music meanwhile, whilst being a bit overwhelming at times, really fits the tone of the film, with the heavy use of the organ in particular helping to show the grand scale of the film. Special mention for effects has to go to the wormhole near Saturn, with many shots of it worthy of being in an art gallery they're so beautiful, and the black holes in the other universe. In fact, the effects for the black hole were so good, partly due to equations about the behaviour of light in a black hole being put into the effects software, that academic papers are being written about black holes based on the effects.

Overall, whilst I don't think it's Nolan's best film, I still think Interstellar is an incredible film. There are a lot of really interesting ideas brought up, the emotional scenes work really well, the acting is excellent and it's directed and shot beautifully. I think Brad Jones (The Cinema Snob) said it best in his review: there are two types of people who watch Interstellar, those who see the faults with the film and let them build up, ruining the film for them, and those who will be given a list of 101 things wrong with the film and still enjoy it, letting the emotional nature of the film carry them towards some incredible moments. If you haven't already guessed, I'm firmly in the latter camp, I think this is one of the best sci-fi films to have been released recently.

My Rating: 5/5

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