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Interstellar – film review

November 7, 2014

INTERSTELLAR

A turgid overblown pretentious mess.

Reviewed on Thursday 6th November 2014

Interstellar-2014-Movie

Directed by Christopher Nolan. Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, John Lithgow and Michael Caine. Running time: 169 mins.

It isn’t very often we are treated to serious hard science-based space exploration movies on the big screen. Prior to the little-seen Europa Report in 2012 (which went straight to video), there was Danny Boyle’s Sunshine in 2007 and prior to this there was 2010: The Year We Make Contact in 1984. I wouldn’t necessarily include last year’s Gravity, (or Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 for that matter) – as these are more straight forward survival pictures – than speculative depictions of space exploration. (Nor would I include 2012’s Prometheus – as it could hardly be called hard science and, anyway, the less said about that abomination the better). So when a new film   of this particular type is released, there is cause for excitement. Unfortunately, five minutes into Interstellar – my excitement was quickly quashed by the sheer ineptitude and awfulness of this film – and that was only the first five minutes.

Jonathan Nolan reportedly spent four years crafting the initial draft of the screenplay; before his brother took over and rewrote the remaining two thirds – jettisoning much   of what Jonathan had researched and written. And it is the script itself which contributes a large part to the structural issues I have with this film. While the scientific concept of time dilation is an intriguing premise; the idea that time speeds up the closer one gets to a black hole (thus one hour in space equals seven years     on Earth) – the depiction of it here; cross-cutting back and forth between concurrent events in space and events on Earth is so awkward and clumsy (and on the nose) that it becomes less a film about the excitement and wonder of human endeavor and exploration and more just another run-of-the-mill, conventionally-plotted and ineptly-handled race-against-the-clock scenario we’ve all seen a thousand times before (not to mention a virtual replay, structurally, of the overwrought second half of Nolan’s own Inception).

Aside from Nolan’s direction being uninvolving and lacking in nuance or subtlety,     he clearly shows here that he is way out of his depth when it comes to this particular genre. His direction is haphazrd and unfocused from the outset – with a muddled first act which doesn’t bode at all well for the remainder of the film – and in fact, it gets worse. I was hoping the film would settle down after this shaky start and get back     on track once we get into space – but no. This film has got to be the worst example of bad pacing of any film seen this year. And the scenes involving space travel are unnecessarily jarring – when they should be majestic. But worst of all – there is simply no sense of grace or wonder.

There are also moments which the director has clearly cribbed from other films.     There is a scene in the second half where the wife of McConaughey’s grown-up son admonishes their young child at the dinner table, which is virtually identical to a similar moment in Peter Hyams’ 2010 – where Haywood Floyd’s wife does the same with she and Floyd’s young son (the actors’ mannerisms are exactly the same). And the awkward shoe-horning of faux interview clips of old-timers recalling devastating dust storms in the first act (clips whose relevance only becomes clear much too late at the end of the film) – are a direct steal from similar interview clips of real-life men discussing issues of loneliness; which are harmoniously incorporated and more thematically meaningful and used to better effect in William Eubank’s excellent     indie sci-fi film Love. This technique works perfectly well in Eubank’s film – but     with Interstellar – it just appears jarring and unnecessary; adding to the general choppiness of the opening twenty minutes. Other films Nolan shamelessly cribs     from include: The Black Hole, Sunshine, Gravity, Red Planet and yes even Event Horizon (even going so far as to re-enact the folded paper and pen analogy from that film; when demonstrating how travelling through a wormhole might actually work). And while the third act of Nolan’s film clearly aspires to ape James Cameron’s The Abyss in some respects – the ultimate resolution merely comes off as half-assed and ludicrous. But to elaborate any further on these countless similarities would be getting into spoilers – so I’ll just leave it at that.

The seasoned cast (including several Nolan regulars) do their best with the clunky dialogue and endless platitude-spouting, but aside from the always dependable Michael Caine; none of them really come off as particularly sympathetic or relatable in any way.

The production design is unconvincing and mundane. And it features what is perhaps the most ludicrous robot design ever commited to film. The depiction of the robot (a walking metal slab with computer monitors for a face) is also problematic in that, because it is given a natural-sounding human voice (indistinguishable from the human actors), it becomes virtually impossible to tell when it is speaking in any given scene; creating unnecessary confusion. This confusion could easily have been alleviated by giving the robot an electronically-treated voice (even a subtle difference would have sufficed) and it’s a mystery as to why they didn’t do this. And not to get too nit-picky, but why put people in stasis in tanks of liquid – while fully clothed?

The visual effects by Double Negative are servicable – but nothing we haven’t already seen. And Nolan’s annoying over-editing means we never get a good look at them anyway. Adding to the visual mediocrity of this film; with the absence of Nolan’s resident cinematographer Wally Pfister (who had gone on to helm his own directorial debut Transcendence) – it becomes apparent almost immediately that Pfister’s lensing was a major part of what made Nolan’s previous films so visually arresting.

The usually dependable Hans Zimmer has here produced the worst score in recent memory. His overbearing use of pipe organ recalls the horrible score Ennio Morricone produced for the equally dire Mission To Mars back in 2000. Granted,     Hans Zimmer’s score IS way too loud in the mix – but the real issue here is it’s just horrible, intrusive and overblown. It’s almost as if Nolan lacked confidence that there was enough drama inherent in the muddled direction of his set-pieces and so tried to ‘fix it in post’ by overcompensating with the score – only making matters worse.

While this isn’t the worst film of the year, it is definitely the most disappointing. It’s this year’s Prometheus – only it makes that debacle look like Citizen Kane.

1 star out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed in V-Max at the Event Cinemas Marion, Adelaide, November 6th 2014.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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15 Comments
  1. OMG.

    Tickets booked for Tuesday…

    • gregory moss permalink

      I look forward to hearing your take on it! I’ve already been accused by Nolan fanboys of having an axe to grind – which I don’t (as my glowing review of THE PRESTIGE will attest). A bad movie is a bad movie – no matter who was at the helm.

      • Well while I enjoyed PRESTIGE & INCEPTION, and much of the DARK KNIGHT movies, I’ve always felt a coldness in Nolan’s films, a sense of distance similar to Kubrick’s style. Its frustrating as I feel it keeps even his best films shy of true greatness. I’ve been looking forward to INTERSTELLAR (its the only film I will have seen at the cinema this entire year) and most reviews have been positive from the scores I’ve seen (I’ve avoided actually reading the content, just glanced at the banners and summaries, until seeing your entry). I’m actually more curious than ever now. I’ll get something posted on my blog late Tuesday or Wednesday, let you know my thoughts.

      • gregory moss permalink

        Great! – I’ll be sure to check in. 🙂

  2. Did we watch the same movie? 😉

    • gregory moss permalink

      Haha!

      Hi Graham – great to have you comment as always! Yeah, I realize I’m probably in the minority here. But I came out of this feeling the same way I did when I came out of Elysium – incredibly annoyed and irritated that such a potentially great film with intriguing and important ideas had been executed so poorly and without any sense of subtlety or finesse. I guess if Jonathan Nolan’s original draft had been the one which was shot, using a different director – I would be feeling the polar opposite of how I feel now. Some people think I’m being deliberately contrairian – which I’m not (as I wasn’t even aware of the general consensus going in) – I’m just being honest. Perhaps if I had gone in expecting the worst – I’d have a different opinion? 🙂

      • Well you’ve certainly lowered my expectations, so we’ll just have to see if I have lowered them enough… How does it go- hope for the best, fear for the worst?

      • gregory moss permalink

        Absolutely! I always try to maintain a healthy balance of expectation going in to any movie and never go in expecting to dislike something for the sake of disliking it. 🙂

      • Honesty is the best policy, Greg! I loved the movie. Sure, I have some reservations, but it socked me between the eyes – and in the heart – in ways I just hadn’t expected. My “total media blackout” prior to seeing it helped, no doubt. Oh, and the robots? Best movie droids for years!

      • gregory moss permalink

        Absolutely honesty is the best policy! And it’s great we can all have differing opinions – without thinking we should try to sway other people’s personal take on something. It always saddens me to see people elsewhere on the web taking personal offence to opposing opinions; especially when it comes to movies. After all – they’re only movies! I mean, it sure would be a boring old world if everyone agreed on everything.

        And while I can fully appreciate Nolan’s desire not to anthropomorphize his robots, perhaps what was needed here was someone like Ron Cobb to make their engineering a little more convincing? Just my two cents worth of course! 🙂

        And for anyone who would like to read Graham’s differing view on INTERSTELLAR, his excellent review can be found here:

        http://graham-edwards.com/2014/11/09/interstellar-film-review/

  3. Xenolicker permalink

    At least “Prometheus” is in 3D. I guess this is an “old-fashioned” science fiction movie then…?

    • gregory moss permalink

      Whether it’s old-fashioned or not isn’t the issue. It’s just not very good. But I am interested to read Jonathan Nolan’s original draft. So if I do find it – I’ll post a link.

  4. gregory moss permalink

    For anyone who’s interested – here’s Jonathan Nolan’s original draft screenplay (based on a story co-written with Kip Thorne and Lynda Obst) …

    http://leonardlangfordlexicon.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/INTERSTELLAR-Jonathan-Nolan.pdf

  5. I have to agree with you that this is an awful film. Despite the bad reviews I was looking forward to watching it on video last night but I must say it was excruciatingly slow and not at all what I expected. It took an inordinate amount of time to get up into space (what I was waiting for) and when they finally got the adventure going the actual space craft and new worlds were very disappointing (and yes I agree with you about the robots, how ridiculous for a design). I was looking forward to some spectacular graphics and amazing new worlds but I was disappointed at every turn. Can I just say why didn’t they have the technology to analyse these newly found planets before taking the risk of wasting fuel and time travelling there. Surely with their scientific knowledge and technology aboard their space craft they could have analysed things better.
    I found this movie incredibly frustrating and the encounter with the black hole at the end was well lets say imaginative but absolutely unbelievable and therefore drivel. I am extremely glad I didn’t pay for a movie ticket for this one.
    Why on earth didn’t they edit out at least half an hour of this movie, especially at the beginning? Matthew did his best despite his thin, drawn appearance and overly tanned complexion, he played the gritty determined role quite well. But I really don’t think Anne Hathaway was a good choice to play opposite Matthew, they don’t seem to fit on the screen together let alone have a wormhole crossing tragic love rescue situation.
    As you can tell, this film made me not only frustrated but angry – needlessly drawn out and ridiculous without much beauty or wonder! 😦

    • gregory moss permalink

      Hi Anne Marie – thanks for commenting! I’m glad I’m not the only one who found this film to be lacking. It really did leave a bad taste in my mouth – as did the recent Chappie – but I won’t go into that. 🙂

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