Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Two years. That’s the length of time Matthew McConaughey and his team of astronauts are told it will take to get from Earth to Saturn. It’s also about how long this movie feels. It seems appropriate that the vessel built to facilitate their journey is named Endurance, because sitting through Interstellar’s 169 minute run time is a feat of just that.
Christopher Nolan’s space epic is set in a future where our world will soon be unable to sustain human life. In a nutshell, the plot involves a manned mission through a wormhole that has mysteriously materialised near Saturn to find an Earth like planet to which our race can relocate.
Nolan is no stranger to producing movies that skim the three hour mark and has done so successfully in the past, but that is not the case here. Interstellar suffers from inconsistent pacing and poor editing. There are some exciting and thought provoking moments once we leave Earth, exploring concepts such as relativity and interdimensional travel. Unfortunately though, the interesting parts are much too few and far between.
Nolan has padded out the run time of his movie with prolonged stretches of surprisingly poor characterisation which undermine anything of value that Interstellar has to offer. And that really is a shame because there are instances that spark contemplation of our perception of the universe and how we can be limited by three dimensional thinking, they’re just not presented to a sufficiently interesting or dramatic backdrop.
Where this movie really loses the run of itself though is in its third and final hour. As the story builds towards its ultimate climax, it makes the baffling decision to dispel the sense of realism it spends so long desperately attempting to establish. In its final act, Interstellar really makes the leap from science fiction to science fantasy in a move that feels extremely unwarranted.
Nolan betrays all of his film’s initial verisimilitude in favour of a more archetypal and clichéd Hollywood ending that is borderline fairytale. It leaves the final act feeling very at odds with what came before it, which only adds to the inconsistency of the pace.
Maybe all of this would be fine if we were given good characters with which to experience it, but unfortunately that is not the case. That isn’t to say that the acting is bad here. Rather, the fault lies with how the characters are written and not with the actors portraying them.
Matthew McConaughey gives the best performance of the piece as mission pilot, Cooper. Even though they’re separated for much of the movie, Interstellar’s central relationship is undoubtedly that of Cooper and his daughter, Murphy. As an adult, Murphy is portrayed by Jessica Chastain, but she is overshadowed in the role by child actress Mackenzie Foy’s impressive performance as the character’s younger incarnation.
The problem is though that somehow the relationship between Cooper and Murphy doesn’t manage to carry the emotional resonance that it should. For the most part, I found that Interstellar suffered from showing its characters’ emotions, but failing to make me feel their emotions. This left the movie feeling very flat as a whole.
As far as acting is concerned, Anne Hathaway does no wrong in the role of mission biologist, Amelia Brand. However, Brand continuously reminds Cooper that the mission is more important than his desire to see his family again, only for it to be eventually revealed that her own motives are seemingly more rooted in personal emotion than science. This hypocrisy completely undermines Brand’s character as a scientist and comes across as an unnecessarily awkward plot point in an already bloated narrative.
The rest of Interstellar’s cast are largely wasted and just there to move the plot along rather than to contribute to it in any meaningful way. Michael Caine’s Professor Brand exists to do little more than deliver exposition. The fact that he is Amelia’s father is irrelevant to the plot and a needless attempt at creating further character connections.
Casey Affleck is given nothing to do as Cooper’s son, Tom. As the movie progresses, Cooper seems to forget he even has a son, leaving one to question why the character actually exists in the first place. John Lithgow and Topher Grace are just kind of there as Cooper’s father-in-law and Murphy’s co-worker, respectively. It probably speaks volumes about the characters in this movie that the most entertaining of them is a faceless, walking, talking slab of metal voiced by Bill Irwin called TARS.
One thing I can’t fault Interstellar on is its visuals. The special effects on show here are undeniably stunning. Whether it’s the scenery of our own solar system, surfing otherworldly tidal waves, trekking across frozen clouds or skimming black holes, no expense is spared in the CGI department. Unfortunately it’s not enough to make this the cinematic masterpiece that it set out to be.
In many ways, I think Interstellar might have been better served as a TV mini-series. It tries to cover too much ground for one movie and attempts to cram in so many themes and tropes that it’s left feeling disjointed and exhaustive. The tone shifts so many times that it seems as if Nolan can’t decide whether he’s making a reality based sci-fi movie, a character drama, a scientific documentary, a sci-fantasy story, a morality tale or, indeed, all of the above. Whatever the case, none of these elements are blended together very well.
With an under-utilised cast and poor characterisation, the only major things Interstellar has going for it are impressive visuals and some contemplative moments in the middle on the nature of the universe. However, if that’s all you want, there are shows on Discovery and its sister channels that investigate such concepts in much greater and more interesting detail.
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