Sci-fi is a tough genre to dip your toe into. It brings with it a rich history of well-trodden storytelling tricks and techniques. Even when our most visionary directors try their hands at it, it can have mixed results. Typically you end up with beautiful visuals surrounding stories that are either confused or rehashed ("The Fountain", "Solaris", "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence"), but occasionally you end up with something iconic and groundbreaking ("2001: A Space Odyssey", "Blade Runner", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"). Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar", a sci-fi epic about nothing less than the survival of the human race, flirts with the latter category but doesn't quite stick the landing.
"Interstellar" is everything you might expect from Mr. Nolan. It's dense, beautiful, elegant, ambitious - filled with poetic setups and payoffs. It's also flawed, relying on leaps in logic and the kind of deus ex machina twists that any sci-fi fan will see coming for light years.
The film takes place at an unspecified time in the future, when humanity is running out of food. Blight and dust storms have plagued our farmland, causing corn to be the only remaining viable crop. We learn few specifics about how humanity is faring except that there are no armies, no NASA, no MRI machines and, apparently, no professional baseball. The other details are left frustratingly sparse. We see the American heartland and, eventually, futuristic spacecraft, but nothing in between. That could be Mr. Nolan's point - drawing parallels between space travel and the American pioneers - but it makes for a less than complete vision of the future.
Cooper is a widower with a teen son, a precocious (of course) daughter, and a farm to tend to, but what he was born to do is fly. So when a mysterious force draws Cooper to an underground team of scientists planning a last ditch mission to thwart humanity's fate (the only group to be doing so, apparently), Cooper signs on to help.
Without spoiling the details, suffice to say that a wormhole has appeared near Saturn which will give humanity access to possible alternate home worlds - if we can get there and find one. Cooper is chosen to lead the mission, along with two astronauts - played by Anne Hathaway, both miscast and underused, and David Gyasi, doing what he can with the role - and a robot called TARS that gets points for originality if not necessarily functionality.
At three hours, "Interstellar" is a long movie. Though he skips over details that might flesh out his vision of the future, Mr. Nolan takes his time setting up his few characters and showing the heroics of their mission. The spacefaring sequences - particularly around the wormhole - are visually stunning, sure to be held up as a technical benchmark.
The film also handles relativity better than any sci-fi film in memory. For once, you understand the price to be paid for interstellar travel. Of course, that's a real storytelling challenge since your main characters will age at different rates and some may not survive the others. It leads to a bravura sequence involving years of missed messages that - thanks to Mr. McConaughey's performance - could put this film into Oscar categories beyond the surefire technical wins.
Time, quite stubbornly, only moves forward. As a result, making a film that will satisfy modern audiences - especially after enduring three hours - requires some cheating. And so in the third act, the script, by Mr. Nolan and his brother Jonathan, relies on some pretty heavy suspension of disbelief in order to reach a cathartic conclusion. It's all the more jarring after the proud verisimilitude that preceded it.
But we can forgive that - as well as the almost fetishistic use of Dylan Thomas - for a film that has taken us on such a wild ride - truly going where few have gone before. The haunting score by Hans Zimmer (the John Williams to Nolan's Spielberg), which echoes both "The Fountain" and "Koyaanisqatsi", may stick with you as long as the visuals and will, hopefully, overshadow the gravitational pull of those plot holes.
Note: the IMAX format certainly renders the visuals in the film even more impressive. Though, since the entire film is not in IMAX, the switching between IMAX and standard formats - especially within individual scenes - can be distracting at times.
|Summary||Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic is a beautiful, ambitious, ultimately flawed film about nothing less than the survival of the human race.|