"Interstellar" is earning mostly good reviews. But it has its critics, from astrophysicists to mainstream movie viewers. In the following review, which is an edited version of the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, I explain which side I come down on:
From that first time we look up at the stars, most of us are filled with wonder. And with that wonder come the inevitable questions: How big is space? Is there anyone else out there? What does this all mean? Is the moon really made of cheese?
Just kidding on that last one. Mostly. Though as with that question, along with the others, we all find our own answers. Or at least ways to rationalize our ignorance. Those are our only real options.
Not everyone accepts that spirit of helplessness, of course. The religious among us adhere to faith. Astrophysicists employ science to formulate theories about the very formation of the universe – or, some would say, universes. Artists such as filmmakers use – in many cases abuse – various aspects of both religion and science to imagine scenarios that attempt to probe into such inherent queries.
Take the greatest science-fiction film ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Though “2001” used the special effects overseen by Douglas Trumbull to create an amazing representation of space travel – especially for 1968 – the real strength of Kubrick’s masterpiece rests in its refusal to do anything more than pose questions. What is the significance of the monolith? Where does astronaut Dave Bowman go at the film’s end? What exactly is a “bush baby”? If you search the Internet, you can find answers – or at least working hypotheses – regarding each. But Kubrick’s movie? It remains stolidly silent. And this is one key to the film’s greatness.
Contrast “2001” with Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated sci-fi film “Interstellar.” Divulging too much of the film’s plot will spoil things, so suffice it to say that “Interltellar” is set, in the not-too-distant future, on an Earth that has become a death-trap for humanity. Overpopulation has caused such a strain on the planet’s resources that the end of life appears imminent. Through a series of circumstances that end up being far less coincidental than originally portrayed, a farmer-slash-astronaut named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is convinced to pilot an expedition through a wormhole to another galaxy where new habitable worlds potentially exist.
Nolan’s film, which was co-written by him and his screenwriter brother Jonathan and runs a lengthy two hours and 49 minutes, plays with time and space to, at once, tell the story of Cooper’s expedition, portray what happens on Earth and, ultimately, reveal the alternate and literally uncountable ways the two settings intersect. And it does this in a manner that, in visual terms at least, makes for a scintillating view – from the shots of immense dust clouds threatening farmlands to the image of a wormhole sitting near Saturn.
Unlike Kubrick, though, the Nolans time and again resort to quick fixes for complex plot problems. Different rates of aging a problem? Just blame it on relativity. At loose ends for a romantic subplot when the main male-female connection involves a father and daughter? Just settle for the most obvious-if-implausible resolution. Incapable (or unwilling) to leave the audience grasping for answers involving creation? Just point to some unknowable power.
On top of that, the Nolans work hard to explain more than is necessary. As in one extended McConaughey monologue that has him hanging out in some sort of a galactic library. They also have some of their characters act against their very training and vote to make the right decisions based on the wrong reasons (which is countered when someone else does exactly the opposite). And they simply ignore the fact that the very powers they imagine could have resolved the whole Earth-is-threatened problem from the get-go.
Every single one of these inconsistencies took me right out of “Interstellar.” And like Toto revealing the secret behind Prof. Marvel’s would-be Wizard of Oz, they lessened more than they amplified the mystery.
This won’t bother every viewer. But for me? I’m more intrigued by massive monoliths – and whether they’re made of cheese.