FILM REVIEW; INTERSTELLAR

It’s hard to pinpoint what was at the forefront of my expectations going in to see the almost 3-hour Interstellar. Was it going to be the space thriller that gave Gravity a run for its money? Was the stellar cast going to bring their “A” game and trump everything else? Was the director, Christopher Nolan’s vision going to supersede everything? I guess the hefty running time was enough for all these things to shine through significantly especially Nolan’s stamp, which is quite recognisable to both good and bad effect, in this moving film.

A fan of Nolan, and indeed this film, talked up the idea of actions and reactions in cinema suggesting this film was the reaction to Transformers 4 and I can see why; profundity and depth to the central relationship between a father and daughter, massive budget but massive heart and then we can throw in probably the most inventive and fascinating robots I have seen on screen since maybe Moon. Basically, Nolan has once again proved a big budget and special effects extravaganza can still have a soul, something normal human beings can relate to.

Interstellar introduces us to a dystopia which doesn’t necessarily present mankind in a cynical and dark place, but there is an aura of resignation and defeat floating around. The world has almost run out of food crops with maize the only cultivatable food crop remaining. All other crops have been struck by blight and dust storms ravage the land. Humanity has regressed to and agrarian society and appears to be slowly moving towards extinction. This regression is somewhat typified by Matthew McConaughey’s character, Cooper.

Cooper was a pilot for NASA and an engineer but has been reduced to the rudimentary life of a farmer. He is a dreamer who has been shackled by a world racing beyond the past. He is proud of his scientific roots and longs for it to rub off on his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy). Cooper is given the opportunity to join a team of astronauts traveling to the other end of the galaxy to find a new home for humanity in light of the increasingly hopeless food situation. He then has to leave his family to give humanity a chance.

The film is at its best when the father-daughter relationship is front and center of the film and this leads up to an anguishing farewell scene between father and daughter which is totally riveting and contemplative. The most profound bit was the lift-off sequence, which starts with a countdown over shots of Cooper leaving his family after the most agonizing of goodbyes. It’s the substance of their relationship that aligns this film with other Nolan works like Memento, The Prestige and Inception where we have loved ones trying to connect in the most testing of circumstances. Families are haunted by memories and fears of loved ones gone or detached and bonds here are tested by the idea of time.

The science of the movie is quite impressive too and I felt like it checked out mainly because it lost me at times. The development of the films premise involved some input from a theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne to add to the credibility and the science isn’t just there for the sake of it as Nolan manages to integrate it well into the story to good effect. Cooper and his fellow astronauts perceive time differently in space and that adds to thrills and the stakes. The film adheres to the principle of relativity as they explore different worlds where an hour on an unknown planet in another galaxy could pass as 7 years on earth.

There is the danger of the mission being completed within days but a 100 years too late for humanity. The film also excels on a technical level with fantastic depictions of the isolation and stillness of space along with well-filmed landscapes for the explored habitats and striking imagery provided by Hoyte Van Hoytema, who fills in for regular collaborator, Wally Pfister. The zero gravity sequences are alluring and we even get some outer space action which passes as enthralling.

Interstellar lives, ultimately, by its sentimentality and relies on it for substance. But it, unfortunately, doesn’t necessarily die by it, as much as be wounded by it. The emotion and sentimentality is easy to appreciate as one of the films strong points early on but becomes a shackle as the film rounds off in the final act. It is also hurt by lags at certain points and the need for unnecessary scientific exposition which most people won’t be interested in and besides, the film rubbishes all empirical science in the final sequences.

These flaws are easy to get over with the strong performances and compelling narrative that still injects a healthy amount of emotion, save for the finale, in a film laden with science. The most stirring parts of the film are more contemplative where we watch the characters think on their actions but we don’t get enough of that.

Interstellar is ambitious but doesn’t live up to the highs it sets. Nolan delivers on style, he’s got lots of that, and we witness some effects akin to his film Inception but I just can’t shake the feeling the film was still lacking in some level of depth especially for some of the peripheral but still seemingly important characters but I guess that’s more of a testament to standing we hold Nolan in as a story teller. Interstellar is still a riveting piece of science fiction that will feed all senses in the screening room and test the boundaries of human imagination.

By: Delali Adogla-Bessa/delalibessa@yahoo.com/Ghana

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