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47. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Interstellar

July 5, 2018

Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley
Runtime: 169 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 2014

 

★★★★☆

 

There is a credit that can be given to Christopher Nolan that many will feel the need to dismiss as being a part a frenzied fandom; that here is a director who is utilising the entire scope and technical spectrum of cinema to a full extent. A visionary filmmaker who is crafting gargantuan pictures of stoic force and potential out of Hollywood Blockbusters, while managing to tackle some of the biggest issues of our world and society in an interesting way. Interstellar is a film of some immense density in regards to its subject matter, in some ways that some may not fully realise after a single viewing. While it does dwell on the vastness of the great unknown, the focus on human endeavour isn’t just limited to a factual sentiment, but elevates to an emotional and ardent state of character definition that the Nolan brothers haven’t yet been able to achieve.

 

Due to world ending implications in the future (left mostly, intentionally ambiguous) involving a roaming Dust Bowl that is choking the life out of Planet Earth, the last remnants of NASA launch a final expedition into a wormhole that has mysteriously appeared in their hour of need. Aboard humanity’s last spacecraft former pilot Cooper (McConaughey), scientists Brand (Hathaway), Doyle (Bentley) and Romilly (Gyasi) face a race against time to find a new world for our race to call home. Unfortunately for Cooper though, leaving home means leaving behind his children, in particular, his impassioned daughter Murphy (Foy). The elemental forces of time, space and gravity that are placed between them threaten to tear both of them even further apart, and this is where the film takes one of its strongest and most memorable strides into greatness. At its heart, this is a tale of paternal love, a love that spans an entire lifetime.

 

As hokum as that initial statement may sound to those uninitiated, this really is one of the most naturally fitting themes of the film. Love is spoken of at points as being a “quantifiable force” in the universe that can transverse all obstacles, and that is beyond our understanding. Though this may only work in a metaphorical sense, it’s a strong and poignant one that resonates and drives character motivation in the most believable and touching ways. Nolan has been widely recognised for his films having little emotional charge beyond compliance with the plot – sentiment not being greatly suited to The Dark Knight Trilogy. To give some background though, the screenplay originally pitched and written by his brother Jonathan was initially intended for Spielberg, and from that, you can already tell that heartfelt sentiment is embedded into the cracks of this film from the very beginning.

 

Cooper is the everyman called upon to save the world but at the risk of alienating and losing his children in the process. Chris has tried his utmost to keep the relationship between father and daughter at the forefront of the narrative, something that actually bleeds over into other characters. This spotlighted heart is a testament to the newfound idealism that Chris has finally cracked. Much like Cooper’s soothing explanation of Murphy’s Law to the young Murph, this is a film that thrives on optimism in both the characters’ and the audience’s spirits.

 

The film's tremendous belief in the nature of human ambition and sublimity runs deep in every strand. While every character fulfils an archetypal role, they are the beacons of example for the good of mankind. As Brand states, “This crew represents the best of humanity”, and that evil is something that we chose to take with us. Without going into spoiler territory, Nolan employs a running theme that has been present in many of his films; that even the best of us can become corrupted when placed under the most extreme and isolated of circumstances, and it fits in place perfectly here.

 

Beyond the sentiment though, the film’s most admirable quality is in its devotion to scientific basis and reasoning within the physical universe. The film has been consulted by theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who oversaw and ensured that most of the details that are either spoken of or witness regarding physics are the most accurate that could be achieved without totally estranging the audience. Every visual and universal detail has been painstakingly researched and it really does show. The representation of spacecrafts, wormholes, black holes and in particular gravity is in a way that no other blockbuster has done before. The Theory of Relativity has never looked or felt more dauntingly feasible, and the film's treatment of gravity’s disruption of space-time is one of the narrative structures greatest ace cards.

 

The issue that comes with such great detail is that the screenplay struggles at times to cope with such strenuous amounts of information, and entire scenes can pass by of just smart people, sitting or standing in a spaceship talking about the plot for a while. The consistent “trailer talk” quality of people talking about how important things are sticks around, and after the third rendition of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’, you might begin to feel a bit tried for patience. While grating on a first watch due to such a large influx of background information, it wears after a time and begins to feel far more intone with the films slow and concentrated pace.

 

The length of the film may feel daunting at first but it is suited wonderfully to a film this broad of scale, and is never a slog or bore enough to keep you unengaged with the action. Like Inception, the thunderous roaming quality of the film's prowess and gaze is enough to keep you strapped in and invested at all times. Much like M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (another Spielberg-esque companion), destiny and narrative composure are what keeps the story alive. While the third act may veer into a more conventional territory than its preceding structure, the ending goes into such a beautiful (but totally bonkers) place that it’s hard not to just feel swept up by it all.

 

Interstellar is also an unbelievably good looking motion picture. Shot on 35mm and 70mm IMAX film, this is an experience that is best suited to the cinema on the largest screen that you can find. Utilising as many practical effects as possible, Nolan has conceived of a living world and environment that can feel both epic and small whenever suited. The fantastic visual effects aid the illusion of the already exotic Icelandic landscape as a foreign world, and the entire film is shot beautifully by Hoyte van Hoytema.

 

The interesting approach to filming a multitude of the space sequences from fixed camera positions on the exterior of the spacecraft adds to the hyperrealist approach to space travel that is being exhibited. On top of all of this is Hans Zimmer’s most unique score in years; a tremendous, loud and swelling composition of single notes and grand organs that borders somewhere between the Strauss of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Philip Glass.

 

All of this is grounded by powerhouse performances from everyone involved. McConaughey and Hathaway are both terrific, bringing incredible depth and passion to their set roles – and another performance from a hidden cast member that thoroughly convinces, even if their character falls slightly out of tune with the rest of the film. While the cast on Earth are equally excellent as they wait out their return in desperation.

 

The only loose strands really fall on Topher Grace, a character who appears towards the films third act who mainly serves as witness to unfolding events without real impact, and Casey Affleck who has less to do than would be expected of his character. The inclusion of two robots as part of the crew, TARS and CASE (two practical creations), are visually remarkable, but it becomes obvious early on that they are there to “do the comedy”, exposing the mechanical thought process of Nolan when constructing characters - especially given the explicit inclusion of them having a “humour setting".

 

Interstellar may not be a perfect film, but it is in many ways a truly great one. Ambition is the keyword to be applied here. The film establishes a world and setting that aspires to speak for the best of humanity, to touch higher and reach further than ever before. That Nolan continues to make films of unique structure and character initiative is what continues to keep people coming back over and over again. That they are also visually and aurally spectacular is an accomplishment all its own on top of that, and it is not down to a fandom that many have blindly deduced. This is not Nolan’s masterpiece, but it is an undeniably entertaining, exciting, often breathtaking Science Fiction blockbuster that keeps up the hope in challenging, large-scale filmmaking.

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