(A new month of posting begins, somewhat belatedly, with our friend Rohan Morbey, returning to the Jaman blog to drop his guardedly-good review of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. Always happy to cross-post the good (or otherwise) word, appearing in its original form as always over at his site Closing Credits - do follow him on the Twitters!)
A quick note before I begin the review:
Regardless of what I or others may think about Interstellar, you need to see the film in 70mm IMAX to truly experience the film as the director wanted it to be seen. The advent of digital screening may be, to some, an improvement over film projected at 24 FPS due to clarity unseen before, but nothing can match the beautiful grain and slight imperfections of watching a film. The detail is so rich, you cannot mistake it for anything else and, if for no other reason, I recommend you see Interstellar, or any other movie, in 70mm whenever possible. If you need more convincing, read this from IMAX and tell me it’s not worth the extra money:
“When presented on 70mm IMAX, the sequences shot on IMAX are printed full quality in their native format- the highest quality imaging format ever devised, offering almost ten times the resolution of standard formats.”
Often I refer to truly great cinema: those movies which strive to go beyond the expectations of conventional cinema and storytelling and provide audiences with perfect examples of their genre, as having the ability to combine both ambition and ability – the ambition to make something different or new, and the ability to pull it off. Whether that’s large-scale three hour epics like Lawrence of Arabia and Apocalypse Now or smaller films such as Mulholland Drive or Annie Hall, the result is the same regardless of genre, budget, or age. These films do not aim for heights they are unable to reach, nor do they leave you thinking of better examples of similar movies.
Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is a rare example wherein a film maker shows lofty ambition to offer audiences something they may never have seen before, with an innate ability to create images unseen in modern cinema and to push the limits of in-camera technology to unimagined levels. Yet, despite all Nolan’s flawless technical ability Interstellar is a frustratingly flawed film. It wants to be something more accomplished than the screenplay allows it to be, and the impressive visuals can only serve so much before the audience is left needing more.
Watching the film I was often struck by just how polarized the visuals and screenplay were; the film seems to be at odds with itself, as if it were two screenplays written independently and forced to merge. On one side the film sets out to be a visual experience like no other, and although perhaps not always entirely original in what it shows (let’s not discard other great space exploration depictions just because Interstellar is the shiny and new movie), the way it shows what it does is a joy to behold. On the other side the film attempts to deal with deeper themes of love transcending time and space, the science behind wormholes, time travel, and the possible end of Earth’s population. That’s very heavy stuff for any writer or director to contend with, but especially hard when it’s your first time approaching material this multi-layered whilst making a $165 million production at the same time. While one of The Nolans (Christopher and brother Jonathan) is a film maker par excellence, as a team they have yet to collaborate on a screenplay which is solid from beginning to end.
In his very best films - The Prestige, Memento, and the majority of Inception - Nolan allows his natural flair for visual storytelling to override the need for spoon feeding information to his audience. In Interstellar nothing is left to the audience once the space travel comes into play; before this, the film is really quite excellent as it leaves out detail surrounding how Earth came to be how it is when the movie starts and we just accept this is reality. This is great film making, but reversing the logic of your entire premise is not, just for the sake of having a happy ending. The film asks the question ‘would you sacrifice yourself and never see your loved ones again if you could save millions?’ but we expect the film to go through with this, not cop out with the best of both worlds.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind as an influence on Interstellar for the way it humanizes the experience of a world-changing event, yet Interstellar comes nowhere near the payoff of Spielberg’s picture. Instead, the entire sequence on the snow planet that you’ve seen in trailers and posters is a monumental disappointment in its desire to inject action, explosions, danger and twists for no reason beyond third-act thrills. As Gravity showed last year, there is plenty which can go wrong in space without the need for a token antagonist to appear after two hours of believable science fiction peril. Again, the film doesn’t earn it but that’s not to say there aren’t scenes between people which work very well, especially those between the astronauts and the people on Earth. Which is more important; their time in space or people’s time on Earth? This provides the focus for the film’s very best emotional scene.
The cast is excellent throughout. Though Matthew McConaughey provides a superb leading man performance, I genuinely believe switching the roles for Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain would have improved the film. However, the characters are so thin that any actor could be replaced by another of equal standing and the film would work just as well.
I cannot pretend one viewing is enough to fully understand the film, or at least to critique the science behind it. There is a lot going on and the near three hour running time is filled with ideas which either work or do not, depending on your willingness to accept the directions it takes but at least there are ideas and originality on display which we do not get to see very often and for that reason alone Interstellar is a recommendation. Paired with visuals which have to been seen in 70mm IMAX to be fully realized, Interstellar may not rival the very best action of films from 2014 but it’s at the top of the list of the best of the rest. Certainly not good enough considering the brilliance of what we know the director can achieve, but by no means a failure either.