Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interstellar Movie Review!

It's really cold out today!

It has been a very long time since I've been on this blog of mine. No – I have not completed my segway to wordpress, I've been busy and personal projects like that took a backseat, except for the occasional Epic Trailer and the watching of films like today's review of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. And with that, lets get to it.

In A Nutshell:
Well, by now you're all wondering if it's an amazing movie and if it's even worth seeing in the theaters. From the rather slim box office take for a movie of this size and scope - you're not the only one asking those questions. They are two very different questions that need to be answered, so I'm going cheat and answer the second one first. Yes. It is a movie that must be seen in the theater. Plain. And. Simple. Even if you don't think you'll like it. GO TO A THEATER and see it. Even then, you need to find a large format screen like IMAX or XD. I saw it on a standard, local theater screen and I have to admit that I was feeling a bit short-changed on the splendor of the visuals. With that, let me say before I get into the nuts and bolts of this review that I have every intention of seeing this film again if I can on an IMAX screen or it's relative equivalent.

The Story:
Now the story - what is it all about? The A to Z plot is Earth is on the brink of extinction as food crops fall to a blight that has left corn as the only viable staple to feed what's left of the planet's population. In order to guarantee a future for mankind, NASA and the government have secretly conspired to send manned missions to the furthest reaches of space via a wormhole in space-time to another galaxy with potentially habitable worlds. One such mission is lead by Matthew "Well ah-right ah-right ah-right" McConaughey, Anne "Catwoman" Hathaway, Wes "Remember I was in American Beauty" Bently and a black guy. I don't mean to be racially insensitive for flippant about that last part, but sadly for actor David Gyasi who was friggen AMAZING in Cloud Atlas, that is basically what he is reduced to in this movie.

Together our intrepid explorers zip into the worm hole and come out on the other side with three possible planets to explore and and figure out if they can transport Earth's dwindling population there. All the while McConaughey's kids grow older and must deal with their father's absence, raise their own families, and figure out their own path to survival if perhaps with the help of an unexplained, mysterious force.

The Good, The Bad, & The Everything Else:
That is a pretty easy and simple to follow story for what amounts to be a very cumbersome film. I think the easiest and most appropriate way to describe this movie is with a cinematic mathematical equation: Take the explanation of Quantum Physics from John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness + the ability to travel through a wormhole/black hole from Paul W.S. Anderson's Event Horizon + time travel ability from Leonard Nimoy's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home + the third act plot contrivance from Danny Boyle's Sunshine and ÷ (Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey + Robert Zemeckis' Contact) = Christopher Nolan's Interstellar.  

Did you get all that?
To clarify, this movie is basically Prince of Darkness + Event Horizon + Star Trek IV + Sunshine ÷ (2001 + Contact) = Interstellar.

If you've seen those movies and are familiar with their plots and story mechanics, then you're pretty damn close to Interstellar. I know I am way over simplifying this film, but I also have to be honest when I tell you those movies, in particular Prince of Darkness and Event Horizon did a far more succinct job at explaining quantum physics and the theoretical aspects of long distance space travel. I was so unintentionally hyper-aware of those other movies and how much more efficiently they explained the minutia that it definitely hurt my experience with this movie. But I also don't think that's exactly my fault for being a film fanatic either. That falls on the filmmakers for feeling they needed to explain everything that was happening at all times. This hurts the movie even more when something happens that is pure theory or made up for convenience that it's given the short end of the exposition stick. This happens to a point where the film's climax can feel more than a bit silly or even melodramatic.

"Whoa now!" I can hear you folks out there saying, probably wondering after that little bit why I would still recommend this movie to anyone. Valid question. In my opinion, it is quite simply one of the most ambitious films made in a great long while. The visuals, the story, the themes and message; it is an undertaking that should be commended and congratulated. But with all of the accolades needs to come some grounded criticisms.

First, this incredible cast lead by McConaughey is severally short-changed. So much time is spent explaining the this and that of what's clearly happening on screen that we never get to actually know them personally except for some very short bursts that don't last enough to resonate. In fact the only character other than McConaughey's that truly resonates lands on someone I won't mention because it's a twist in the plot. But when you see the movie you'll know whom I'm talking about and forgive my vagaries. Then you have Jessica Chastain and Cassey Affleck's characters, who really don't need to be there at all. In fact the movie's story may be smoother and work better without them.

Second is exposition. This is a long movie that only feels longer because there is so much time spent(or wasted depending on your POV) on what feels like a physics lesson for the audience. Perhaps this is the greatest problem. All at the same time, this film underestimates and overestimates the intelligence of its audience. On one hand - we're a whole lot smarter and know more about theoretical physics or at least have a rudimentary understanding than ever before. For better or worse we have shows like The Big Bang Theory to thank for promoting the theories and helping them resonate at least somewhere in the consciousness of the general population. But on the other hand, there is so much that we don't know that when something is clearly being made up or even if it is grounded in legit science it isn't thoroughly explained enough to be believable; it is glaringly obvious and weighs the entire film down. At a nearly 3 hour runtime, it feels longer than it should for a movie I would normally want to spend as much time with enjoying.

Apart from those areas, there is a great deal to admire and even love about this film. It is visual beauty at its finest. Particularly wonderful was the usage of practical effects to execute these complex visuals. When you hear that this movie cost $160million, you can see where that money was spent in the best ways. It also has so much to see in every frame that it warrants repeat viewings. If anything, I hope these repeat viewings will help improve my experience and overall opinion of the film.

Another thing I love, and this is largely because I am a score-hound, Hans Zimmer's pipe organ score is incredible and simply beautiful. It is thrilling, dramatic, and tonally it fits perfectly with every single scene of the movie. It is an auditory orgasm and I can't wait to own the CD, rip it to my iPhone and endlessly listen to it over and over again. So if you're a lover of incredible movie music - this is a feast!

It is also a movie that makes you think. Not abstractly about "what does it all mean," but about much more tangible things like our roles in this world. In each of us is a capability to leave a lasting mark on the future. Whether we make a scientific achievement, raise crops, or have a family - all of these are ideas worth thinking about and taking into consideration while viewing this film. Time and our role in the limited segment of time we are given is a reoccurring theme in Christopher Nolan's films and Interstellar is his magnum opus.

In summation, the best way I can describe this movie is as an experience and one that you must have for yourself. Neither my opinion or those of others should make up your mind as to whether or not you should see it. You absolutely should see it and IN THE THEATER. I can not stress that point enough. While I have my qualms about the film - it is one I will revisit again and again. It's a challenge. Is it on the same level as something like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey? No, not quite. It stretches towards the stars but doesn't reach the same cinematic heights. But that's okay too. Like 2001, it is a movie that makes you think about a lot of things; in this case the meaning of time, love, responsibility, our future and legacy while making you dream for a world beyond our own. So on that level it is a terrific cinematic achievement, and one that should be experienced by all. Go to a theater and see it for yourself. That is the best review I can give.

In the end: 3.5 of 5 stars - while it doesn't quite reach the heights it strives for, it at least tries to be something more than most movies even attempt to be, and that is something that deserves to be seen.