by Nur Hussein, staff writer
Interstellar is Christopher Nolan’s latest film, in which he tackles space travel, dystopian futures, and the fate of humankind. It stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon and Michael Caine (whose appearance in any given Nolan film is almost a running gag at this point). It is set in the near-ish future, when the Earth is struck by a disaster that threatens its food supply: a blight that is slowly wiping out all crops on the planet. Without crops, famine will kill us all. Humanity’s only hope for survival is to head to the stars and perhaps, find another home. At the forefront of the story is McConaughey’s character, Cooper, a former engineer and NASA-pilot-turned-farmer who is recruited for the deep space mission. Throughout the story, we are treated to sci-fi ideas brought to life in creative ways on screen, such as wormhole space travel, the effects of relativity, and some far-out black hole shenanigans.
Nolan’s film is ambitious. The buzz surrounding the movie had it pegged as “serious” science-fiction. It’s also an original sci-fi film, not adapted from any existing properties, nor is it a sequel or reboot. So, first off, I applaud Nolan for having the vision to make such a film in a climate where sci-fi is frequently manifested as mindless CGI-fests based on some existing property. It’s also commendable to try and put more science into cinematic science fiction. Perhaps if this film is financially successful, studios will be interesting in financing more “serious” sci-fi dramas. Original stories and more science in science fiction? Those are always welcome.
Interstellar is also a beautiful film, and the space scenes were glorious to behold, especially the black hole that was rendered based on meticulous notes and real data from noted physicist Kip Thorne, who served as consultant and executive producer. During the production of the movie, the computer simulations that were used to render the black hole based on Thorne’s notes unexpectedly led to a new discovery about the real-world phenomena known as accretion disks and gravitational lensing, which will be published as scientific papers.
All that said, how well does Interstellar pull off its ambition to address weighty themes like human survival and the real challenges of space colonization? I would say “unevenly.” When seeing a film like this, one can’t help but think about 2001: A Space Odyssey, the gold standard in space sci-fi movies. In fact, there are very deliberate nods to 2001, from the premise to some of the space sequences, and there’s even an AI that jokes about throwing one of the astronauts out an airlock. I was also reminded of Contact (which also co-starred McConaughey). However, unlike 2001 or Contact, Interstellar relies a little too much on what I like to call “movie science,’ which are science-ish things that work on-screen because it looks cool or is convenient for the plot, but makes no sense in any scientific or technical capacity. This is a shame because of the film’s close association with Thorne, although he probably couldn’t do much about it; practicality from a storytelling point of view demands certain concessions, even of sci-fi.
With that in mind, how well does the movie work as a movie? It was entertaining. The core cast of characters do give solid performances, and there are genuine moments of heartfelt emotion. The film does a great job of exploring how such a deep space mission would affect interpersonal relationships between friends and family, both from the separation from Earth aspect and the crew interaction. However, between those moments, there are also some pretty ridiculous lines that feels jarringly cheesy. Also, with a run time of 169 minutes, it feels plodding at times. Ultimately, it is not as insightful or profound as it could have been, which feels like a missed opportunity. There are some moments which take you right out of the movie, thanks to the occasionally cheesy moments. The wormhole is explained by means of folding a piece of paper and poking a hole through it with a pen, which is basically every science magazine infographic on wormholes brought to life as a little demonstration. This part amused me.
The film’s climax is where I felt the scientific plausibility was stretched even thinner than when I watched Guardians of the Galaxy (and that movie had a space raccoon). The gravitational forces plus the heat from the accretion disk would destroy anything trying to approach the black hole. It would be stupid and suicidal to even contemplate doing this, yet the film’s protagonists of scientists seem to think it’s a good plan.
Should you go see it? Yes, especially if you’re a fan of Nolan. It is still a beautifully-done film. Despite the numerous flaws, I was still caught up in the movie’s premise most of the time. There are little touches such as soundless space, which gives the same nice, eerie effect as in other “hard sci-fi” space movies. The CG black hole is a fantastic work of art and is probably worth the price of admission (especially if you’re going to go IMAX). And even though there is some occasional cheese, the emotional response from the film is often sincere, especially the father-daughter scenes between Cooper and Murphy. I give Interstellar three and a half out of five stars.
Nur is a tinkerer of programmable things, an apprentice in an ancient order of technomages. He enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and Lego in his spare time. His favourite authors are Asimov and Tolkien. He also loves Celtic and American folk music. You can follow him on twitter: @nurhussein