Spoilers ahead. Massive ones.
IC: Moreso than any other film this year, blockbuster or otherwise, I feel like I’ve experienced a real epic with Interstellar. Not only in terms of scope and visuals, but the number of things it gave me to chew over in thinking about how it works as a film. The ambition is palpable, and the film feels like it’s grasping at hundreds of straws. It takes gumption to try and stand firmly in multiple camps of science fiction (hard scientific space exploration ala classic Star Trek and metaphysical ala 2001) and I think this is the center of the movie’s strengths and problems. I don’t think it grabs all the straws it wants to, but not for lack of thought or trying. After Christopher Nolan’s last effort, The Dark Knight Rises, which I think is a half-baked, bad film, it’s good to see him reaching high again. A lot of individual moments are great, some almost even transcendent, but the film as a whole is messy.
AK: I was incredibly impressed by how this movie manages to balance everything. It is a wide-scoped space epic that spans time and intergalactic travel, and somehow is still able to show the micro details and interpersonal relationships between characters without completely ruining the feel of either scope. It is a very beautiful movie: from the characters, the story, the visuals, and music. This movie is the first non-documentary to really spark my wonder for the universe and inspired for humanity’s (hopefully) future niche in exploring the cosmos. I walked out of the theater emotionally affected and knowing that I would buy the soundtrack, see it in theaters again, and re-watch it excessively on DVD.
CO: First off this was a good movie. And in some parts it came damn close to a truly great movie, that’s maybe why it’s so frustrating when there are significant drops in quality for other parts. Still, I really like Chris Nolan’s ambition as a filmmaker; he never talks down to his audience. I would love to see more movies like this. That said, there are some points that really annoyed me, the biggest examples of which were Brand’s love monologue and Matt Damon being the worst astronaut ever.
KJ: I am very of tired of science movies, space movies in particular, being held back by what they feel is the limit of the audiences understanding of science. It’s truly disappointing that even though they went to great lengths to accurately depict space and physics, to the point where they actually consulted with physicists to ensure accuracy, they still changed science to be more plot-convenient than actual science. I understand they tried to simplify it down for keeping the idea of "race against the clock and battling the forces of nature" intact, but the fact that they toned down the time dilation AND completely misinterpreted orbital physics was just appalling. There are plenty of movie/science geeks out there who would just love to go a movie someday that has all their science ducks in a row, so to speak.
AK: The story and plot had their slow moments, but most of those felt like a necessary pacing: we need to see the exposition in the beginning explaining the 2030s ‘dust bowl’ and crop failure, to see how dire everything is for the character investment, and certain scenes required a level of tension that comes from longer scenes. The second and third acts pick up and take you on a ride to places and situations we really don’t often see in movies, even in the sci-fi spectrum. At the heart of it, this movie is a family-minded film, seeing the various interactions and relationships of the characters, but it is also an introspection into humanity as a whole.
KJ: From the get-go, you can immediately tell that this was Nolan’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a grand epic that is going to come out in full force and never stop. While I have heard many mixed reviews of the story, overall I liked it. There were definitely some parts that struggled to keep my full attention, and parts related to the space/science that seemed to be imprecise half-truths at best. Nolan really likes to play with storyline climaxes, and this film was no exception, but this time it felt slightly disjointed and I wish he would have devoted longer periods of time to develop the separate storylines so the climaxes of each were more streamlined. I was on board with it when he was still on Earth, but once he left, it felt too heavy on the space story and very sparse back on Earth. More of a balance would have been nice because the way it was, the Earth storyline seemed to be an afterthought to the space mission plot. I was also slightly disappointed that it turned into a time-travel paradox plot rather than a,“Hey look we saved humanity” ending. I think that is the worst mistake/cliché that a film, epic or not, can make.
IC: There’s a lot going on, and I really feel like some of it could have been cut. The exposition and character building stuff on Earth at the beginning actually works just fine in my opinion and does a solid job building and selling the Cooper/Murph relationship, which is key to the climax. I really loved the tiny little world building bits and how fleshed out of a place Earth felt like. It’s in that final act that the movie starts to feel bloated. There are two different segments that feel like climaxes by themselves, and the last one is a real doozy that turns things on its head. Disappointingly, I was able to call that twist by the time the first hint was dropped early on. Even more disappointingly, it puts such a spin on what was leading up to it that I was actually wondering after the film was done which twists and turns that came before really mattered, and that’s never a good sign. In individual scenes though, the movie does a great job building stakes and building its own ground rules so you get a real sense of those stakes. Again, a lot of the small moments are wonderful, the big problem is that they don’t all add up.
When I first saw the articulated machines in the trailer, the dopey-looking jenga-bot ambling along a rocky terrain, I thought “That looks really impractical.” I sure was wrong.
After the initial disbelief that the articulated machines were going to be characters with personality, I soon was hooked on their style of humor. The slow reveal of the machines various abilities and their quirky personalities was a joy to watch. True, there is the problem of “Why the hell didn’t you do that earlier!?” but it is also awesome to see these trope-breaking machines prove themselves as competent and even necessary crew members. They might not have been graceful, but they were efficient.
IC: This was one of the movie’s weaker points. Only Cooper really resonated with me as a multi-dimensional human being worth getting invested in, and I think a lot of that legwork is carried by Matthew McConaughey's performance. I totally bought into him as a plucky adventurer, a loving father, and a scientist all at once. I loved his earnestness and gung-ho eager attitude, and I really wished that the other characters felt like they had even half as much warm blood flowing through them. Most everyone else felt fishy cold, or worse, like an exposition machine. Even Anne Hathaway’s Brand, who gets a couple of grasps at a history and emotional arc feels undercooked and more of a function of the plot than a human being. This especially extends to Matt Damon and Casey Affleck’s characters, whose turns to villainy are completely abrupt and inorganic, like the movie just needed to conjure up characters to punch so we could get some tension. Between the last thirds of Interstellar and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, I’m wondering if this is going to become a pathological weakness in modern day space exploration films.
Also, who the hell was Topher Grace’s character and where did he come from?
CO: I was actually thinking of Sunshine when Matt Damon went evil, good to hear someone else was thinking that. The characters were a mixed bag for me, Cooper had me more than invested enough that I was trying not to tear up as he watched all the videos he missed during his time on the planet. Great stuff. I liked that he and Brand only had the vague whispers of a romantic angle, it helped paint them as professionals. What didn’t help that image though, was Brand actually suggesting they should ignore science and go to the planet where the guy she loves is waiting, because love is powerful I guess? That monologue was the single worst moment of the movie for me, it sounded like an alien who doesn't understand humans wrote it. She’s a freaking NASA astronaut, I think she can separate her crush on a dude from the mission. I did like the added bonus of Michael Cain not being as infallible as he normally is in a Chris Nolan film though, that was interesting. In fact, just about everyone after the timeskip on earth was noticeably less happy and more stressed, that was great.
KJ: Nolan is getting better at having well-rounded female characters, as opposed to the stark contrast between women who are doe-eyed innocents or the selfish traitor types.While Anne Hathaway’s character came dangerously close to the first representation with her love speech (which turned out to be an important point anyway), in the end I think Jessica Chastain’s character rounded her out. While there were two female leads, both of whom were scientists, the overall ratio of women in STEM roles who were involved with the missions were only 3 women to 6 men; so representation is getting better, but still has a bit of a way to go. I really enjoyed the fact that the robots were effective and reliable forms of future-technology, and they never betray anyone (willingly at least), which was definitely a refreshing plot change.
As for the performances, I thought they were all great, and I was never jarred or taken out of the story because of weird line-delivery or stoic acting, which I’ve noticed in other Nolan films, even from great actors. That being said, I felt the writing was lacking in the sense that the only characters to really progress or be identifiable throughout the story were Cooper and Murphy. The rest just seemed thrown in to take up space, literally.
IC: I agree that the tension is masterfully built. Scenes of peril on the alien worlds had my knuckles white, especially the wave scene on the water planet. There’s a real sense of scope and wonder that makes a lot of the film astounding to watch, especially the space scenes. With the physics/wormhole stuff though, I think that holding super steady to the hard scientific elements of space travel and reaching for that emotionally transcendent, metaphysical climax felt like the film was trying to have its cake and eat it too. It really put a lot in perspective when I considered that Interstellar was originally written for Steven Spielberg to direct. I can’t help but think his Interstellar would have downplayed the physics stuff and committed more to the emotional beats. Under Nolan the film feels stuck at a weird point in between the two. It’s too clinical to sell a lot of the emotion (the insane amount of exposition during this film’s equivalent of 2001’s Star Gate scene really kills a lot of the wonder) and too sentimental to feel like a cerebral experience. I really think the film would have worked a lot more cohesively if Nolan had committed to one or the other.
AK: This film did a great job of having some deep, abstract and theoretical physics at play, but presenting them at the right level. They didn’t feel too watered down, and from hearing others talk, they weren’t too far out of grasp for the general moveigoer. The wormhole explanation was surprisingly succinct and still mind-blowing, and we finally have really silent space in a Hollywood-level movie! (Please forgive me if Gravity had that; I haven’t seen it yet.)
CO: It was interesting how a lot of the space travel shots were from the camera mounted on the ship, giving it a similar feel to actual NASA footage. However, Nolan’s tendency to cross-cut (which I usually love) hindered certain parts. There’s a point where I think Matt Damon has gone rogue and the movie keeps jumping between the space and earth stories. To me, cutting between different parts of Gotham city makes more sense than totally different stories in separate galaxies.
KJ: The “racing against time, no literally” plot was nothing brand-new, but the addition of semi-accurate and tangible physics helped make it more interesting. I think the overall theme (from my interpretation) was relevant and could easily be compared to events and trends of our time; we are seeing a surge in technology and science, and with it more people are having discussions about science, space, etc. At the same time this is happening, there are still many people within our society who are actively pushing away from science and its importance in advancement, even completely ruling out the idea that space exploration can do any good. This happens in the movie as well, in that these few scientists are working within a society that doesn’t feel they are important, even as the Earth itself is failing and they are running out of options. These scientists end up working for a society that is ignorant of their current work, and has actively devalued their past accomplishments. They are going against society’s value of here-and- now survival and taking it to a grander scale of preserving everyone, because it is the right thing to do, which is another theme that comes up when Anne Hathaway tries to save the data instead of getting back to the ship. I think it captures the human spirit, both good and bad with Brand Senior and Mann’s true characters exposed, and does a good job of evoking questions of how much gravity our choices can have, pun semi-intended, and have a larger context in the vast expanse of space.
AK: For the love of films, please see this movie on a large screen while you can! I know I will rewatch this time and time again on DVD at home, but I highly recommend experiencing it on a large screen as your first time. All of the space scenes are eyes-wateringly beautiful and really communicate the scale of the universe, and how tiny we really are. There was an excellent use of simulated graphics and model-work that coalesced perfectly on the screen. I am a big supporter of Nolan’s insistence for using physical models and practical effects whenever possible.
CO: Nolan brings us something that feels so big it’s almost scary to look at. And despite what I assume are large amounts of CGI, he makes the film feel solid, something CGI saturated movies don’t often do for me.
KJ: There isn’t all that much to say about the visuals other than they were spectacularly awesome and are definitely worth seeing the movie on the big screen for. If you need no other reason to go, go for that. Each and every scene, from those on Earth to outer space, was just breathtaking.
IC: I didn’t see this film in IMAX, which I started to regret when I saw the breathtaking scale of the visuals. I agree Cody, that a lot of those shots were so jaw-droppingly massive in scope that it was almost terrifying. Probably the best effects work we’ll see this year honestly.
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