The earth is getting dusty,
And our crops are less than trusty,
And our history is rusty,
And all life is soon to end.
Farmer Coop is in frustration
Till suspicious gravitation
Sends him to a NASA station
To encounter an old friend.
Dr. Brand suggests spacefaring
On a certain wormhole bearing
Will reward the pilots’ daring
With a new potential Earth.
Leaving son and loving daughter,
Coop departs to be the spotter
On new worlds of ice and water,
Where time carries greater worth.
Though he carries on with yearning,
Many dangers are concerning.
Complex choices stem from learning
He may not end up returning.

I was impressed by the Dark Knight trilogy, thoroughly impressed by The Prestige, and blown away by Inception, so I had high hopes for director Christopher Nolan’s latest creative extravaganza Interstellar. While it was praised for its scientific accuracy, creative innovation, and Oscar-winning visuals, it obviously draws from several other precedents of science fiction cinema, such as Contact (a mysterious “them” sends messages to Earth, which prompt a wormhole-related mission with Matthew McConaughey involved), Sunshine (a mission to save Earth runs into an ill-fated earlier mission), and of course 2001: A Space Odyssey, from which Interstellar derives those long, slightly boring scenes of space and space docking and a not-quite-as-confusing journey into transcendence. Plus, those walking wall AIs resemble (perhaps intentionally) the monolith from 2001.

As the film sets up a believably down-to-earth apocalypse and a touching father-daughter dynamic between former astronaut-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his brainy daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), it lays a compelling groundwork. Then when it leaves the devastated planet behind to travel through a wormhole near Saturn, it rises in its sci-fi virtuosity, even if certain scenes are a bit drawn out. It really hits its stride when the crew (McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, and David Gyasi) explore stunning new worlds with heartbreaking costs. All this adds up to a plausible visionary experience that was more or less what I was expecting, and then….

[Spoiler alert for the next paragraph] I’d like to add one more cinematic comparison: Disney’s 1979 let-down The Black Hole, another film with a compelling storyline, a likable robot, innovative special effects, and a climactic journey into a black hole. As in that film, all of the plausibility is lost once the black hole is entered, and the unlikeliness of subsequent events is written away with the weak argument that no one knows what would happen in a black hole, so artistic license is free to do any old thing. In the case of Interstellar, I can swallow what Coop finds and even his shaky assumptions about who brought him there, but the film’s most glaring hole is how grown-up Murph (Jessica Chastain) inexplicably figures out the meager messages given her to save mankind. The truth apparently just dawns on her, and the day is saved thanks to Coop ex machina. While the emotional climax that follows is fittingly poignant, it is cut too short (Coop doesn’t even try to meet his grandchildren) and also calls into question the necessity of finding a replacement world in the first place.

Okay, spoilers done. I was really expecting to love this movie, and in some ways, I do. It has the Nolan touch that combines well-drawn characters with difficult dramatic situations, inspiring themes of love and pioneering, and a moving, if repetitive, Hans Zimmer score. It even gets the science right in the space sequences, which are true to life in not relaying any sound, even explosions. I do wish that the monolith robots TARS and CASE had had more screen time since they offered the only comic relief and were the most unique special effect.

Yet for all its visual wonder and strong characters, the implausibility of the climax saps some of the emotion that it attempts to convey. It simply bends the mind a bit too far. I can still admire the film, but my VC was entirely turned off by the fantastical lurch toward a not-quite-satisfying-enough conclusion, though she’s not a Nolan fan anyway. While the care and craftsmanship behind the production are obvious, Interstellar is not Nolan’s best. It deserves a place of honor among his middle efforts, but Inception is still tops for me.

Oh, and here’s an Honest Trailer from Youtube that had my VC howling with agreement (and laughter): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZMzf-SDWP8

Best line: (Coop, calibrating the settings on TARS) “Humour — 75%.”
(TARS) “75%. Self-destruct sequence in T minus 10, 9, 8…”
(Coop) “Let’s make it 65%.”
(TARS) “Knock, knock.”
(Coop) “Want me to make it 55?”
Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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