All the Good and Bad Things About Christopher Nolan's Interstellar

Wednesday, 05 November 2014 - 4:26PM
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 - 4:26PM
All the Good and Bad Things About Christopher Nolan's Interstellar
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After months of hype and excitement, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar finally hit theaters (capable of playing film) today. But, after early noise suggested that this could be one of the best movies of the year, Interstellar is now shaping up to be one of 2014's most divisive titles. Critics and moviegoers appear to be completely split with some arguing it's a masterpiece with other suggesting it's contrived, over-emotional nonsense. So, what did Interstellar get right and where did it fall short? Here are the opinions of two weary and emotionally drained moviegoers.


The Good - Janey Tracey

Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck on Interstellar 

- The World-Building


The first half of the film was superior to the second half overall, not least as a result of Nolan's sharp portrayal of a world on the verge of utter collapse. The dust was oppressive, the crops burned into yet more dust as a once-lush world rapidly faded into a bleak wasteland. Food is, understandably, the primary concern, so any child who is less than a genius is pushed into farming. Intellectualism is a dirty word, and technology is mistrusted to the point that the Apollo landings have been written off as an anti-Soviet propaganda tactic. The sci-fi elements (again, only in the first half) are unobtrusive, and help to portray a recognizable yet intriguingly alien future.


- Jessica Chastain


Matthew McConaughey continued his career renaissance by turning in a great leading performance, and Michael Caine was great as always, but Jessica Chastain was the real MVP, shining in a role that could have been incredibly one-note. Chastain carried the entire pathos of the film and made her character three-dimensional in spite of the writing, rather than because of it. It also helps that her child counterpart, Mackenzie Foy, was both talented and perfectly cast, which allowed the audience to follow the thread of her overall character arc more easily.




TARS, the robot friend who accompanies the astronauts on their journey, is awesome. There's really no other way to put it. He's by far the most engaging and well-written character in the movie, as well as the only one who gets to crack any jokes. 


- The visuals


No one is exaggerating about the visuals in this film, because they're stunning. The planet covered in water, in particular, is beautifully rendered, and that entire sequence is one of the strongest in the film. The black hole is another high point, which makes you think that Nolan would have been better off scaling back the lofty ambitions and just making a better-than-average space opera.


The Good - Kieran Dickson

 Gargantua the black hole in Interstellar


- It felt like a return to the science fiction movies of yore

With Interstellar, Nolan created a film that came close to rivalling Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey when it comes to sheer ambition. Ultimately it fell just short, but falling short of greatness is still commendable. This is a movie on a grand scale in every sense. Spanning decades and light years, Interstellar takes you on a journey that boggles the mind, tugs on the heart strings overwhelms your senses. This is one of those rare products that will make the price of an IMAX ticket seem like good value for money.  



The robotic monolith companions/helpers in this movie felt like the the 21st century equivalent of Robbie the Robot, in that they could be movie superstars in their own right. TARS and CASE bring more personality to the table than Anne Hathaway and the rest of the supporting cast combined, so it's no surprise that much of the movie's best dialogue revolved around them. I especially loved the banter between McConaughey's Cooper and TARS, but it did seem strange that he appeared more attached to this robot than he ever did to his son, Tom.


- It's A Visual Feast

Christopher Nolan is a master of rich visuals and the seemingly endless teasers and promotional materials gave us fair warning that this was going to be a beautiful movie, but wow, if ever there was a movie to watch on the big screen, this is it. From the dusty, dying Earth to the frozen and watery lands of alien planets, this is one of the best looking movies I have seen in years. The mix of practical effects and CGI was spot on, and the glory of black holes and wormhole travel were offset wonderfully by the drab interiors of The Endurance and an Earth that has shunned all but the most essential technologies.


- Hans Zimmer's Score

A good score is essential to a movie's overall storytelling ability, so it's no surprise that Christopher Nolan sticks to the tried and tested formula of Hans Zimmer for almost all of his movies. But as consistently strong as Zimmer's work is, Interstellar is arguably some of his best work in a long, long time. In fact, I'm struggling to recall a film in which his score has made this much of an impact on a story. Throughout the movie's (lengthy) span, Zimmers organ-laden score is both haunting and uplifting and in certain scenes, especially those involving Matt Damon, it adds a completely different dimension to what is unfolding on screen.


The Bad - Janey Tracey

Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey


- The Cheese


People are calling this Nolan's most sentimental film, and I can get on board with sentiment, but Interstellar often went past sentiment and into cheesy territory. Again, poor Anne Hathaway did her best with lines like, "But that lie! That monstrous lie!" and "Love is the only thing we can perceive that transcends all dimensions of time and space." (Because we're mixing science and emotions, because that's really deep, guys. See what he did there?) This film is supposed to be about "what it means to be human," which is an interesting question and makes the movie sound really interesting, but unfortunately, it fails to come up with an interesting answer to the question. "Love" might very well be a legitimate answer to that question for many, but it's not nearly complex or compelling enough to warrant a three-hour epic that clearly wants to be a highbrow film. 


- Anne Hathaway


Poor Anne Hathaway got the raw end of the deal, as she had absolutely nothing to work with. Her character was at best uninteresting and at worst irritating, giving her nothing to do but deliver the most cringe-worthy lines and look like she was on the verge of tears for the entirety of the film. Her character was the actor's version of a black hole, a void from which no talent can escape. 


- Racial and cultural diversity


There were issues of gender as well; Nolan is nothing if not skilled at writing one-dimensional, marginalized female roles, but the lack of cultural diversity is more egregious from a realism standpoint. There is one black character who the audience is not really made to care about, and then is (spoiler!) unceremoniously killed off and never mentioned again. Otherwise all the main characters are white, and all of them are supposed to be American, except for Michael Caine. What is happening in other countries while American astronauts are trying to save humanity? Wouldn't NASA, which has been forced underground, welcome resources and assistance from other countries? Wouldn't Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine's characters, at least, enlist the genius of experts from anywhere besides America and Britain when trying to solve an impossible equation that would save all of humanity?


- The Schizophrenic Tone


Over the course of almost three hours, you will watch about ten different films, which work or don't work to varying degrees. For the first hour or so, you have an apocalyptic movie mixed with some family drama. The family drama is fairly familiar, but the acting somewhat makes up for it, and the apocalyptic story works well. Then comes the space opera, which still works fine aside from the aforementioned cheesy dialogue. Then it goes completely off the rails, and suddenly you're watching a semi-conspiracy thriller with Matt Damon as a serial killer-like villain, and then after that detour, it goes straight into ridiculously hard sci-fi that doesn't fit with the gritty realism of the world built at the beginning of the film. By the end, all you can think is, "What did I just watch?" because the movie as a whole doesn't cohere at all. Then there's the whole "love is the key to the universe" moment. First, you have Matthew McConaughey brooding that innovation, academic, and intellectualism are no longer appreciated, that we're a "caretaker" civilization rather than explorers or innovators, but then you have Anne Hathaway didactically telling the audience that we've been spending too much time trying to explain everything with "theory," and that actually love is the answer. It just doesn't fit.



The Bad - Kieran Dickson

Three of Interstellar's Pioneering Astronauts


- The Science (or lack of)


A lot has been made of this movie's commitment to good science fiction, but it turns out that a lot of this was just hot air. The first half of the movie strives to ground itself in realistic scientific principles, but by the time you reach the 2 hour mark you're all of a sudden expected to suspend belief as a string of nonsensical reasonings are wheeled out to haul the movie to its climax. I'm all for having fun with sci-fi, that is after all, one of the things that makes this genre great, but even I have to draw the line at  scientists suggesting that love could be a fifth dimension. 


- The dialogue


You knew as soon as you heard Dylan Thomas in the trailer that Christopher Nolan was going down the emotional route with this one, but at times Interstellar hit Dawson's Creek levels of emotional melodrama. Much of this could be put down to some disappointing acting performances, but it really felt like the script was an afterthought to the visuals. And that's a huge shame, because if Nolan was able to tone down the emotional soundbites, I'm almost certain that words like masterpiece and greatness would not seem out of place being attached to this movie.


- It tried too hard to be an 'epic'


I'm not against long movies, but only if the story is capable of filling its run-time. Interstellar clocks in at a hefty 169 minutes, but it could have been far shorter. The first 2 hours slipped by beautifully, but as soon as we started dealing with the fifth dimension and reconciliation of Coop and Murph, the movie started to feel disjointed and forced. Clearly Nolan and co. had a strong vision for what they wanted to do with this portion of the movie, it just wasn't executed in a manner that did the vision justice. 

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