"Interstellar" is a grand space opus
Like him or not, Christopher Nolan is firmly established as an "event director," as one of those filmmakers who is known by reputation as much as by his film titles. The success of his "Dark Knight" trilogy has granted him the power to direct whatever the man wants, and for his latest outing, the sci-fi fable "Interstellar," Nolan has decided to reach for the stars in an almost symphonic style rare in current blockbusters. The film takes place in a not so distant future where a great food and ecological crisis has scarred the earth. Populations are now smaller and farmers are a prized resource. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a widower farmer raising two children who tries to impart into them a scientific education and laments humanity's loss of the sense to explore.
Soon enough he's recruited by NASA to pilot a secret mission into the farthest reaches of space to help mankind find a new home. He's joined by two scientists played by Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, The Dark Knight Rises) and David Gyasi (Cloud Atlas, Red Tails). They will face not only the risk of a journey never undertaken before, but the very realities of the science of the cosmos, such as relativity's shattering of our sense of time.
"Interstellar" is a grand film that bridges the meditative tone and sense of awe of "2001: A Space Odyssey" with the kind of scientific, intellectual suspense of Robert Zemeckis's "Contact." Some shots in combination with the organ-driven, symphony of a score by Hans Zimmer, are so obviously borrowed from either Stanley Kubrick or that other cinema philosopher, Terrence Malick, that they can almost feel like a tribute.
This is a film that's more about tone and atmosphere, grand gestures and immense vistas. This is Nolan's first film with Swiss cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, known for his use of color and shadow in films such as "Let The Right One In" and "Her." Here Hoytema uses the widescreen canvas for shots of epic breadth, composing with magic hour light and the vastness of space moments of grandeur.
Nolan is renowned for his insistence on organic visual effects, and here he gives us a startling combination of miniatures and CGI to create an immersive sense of time and place. The space station in which the crew travels towards a black hole that could lead to new worlds is a swirling, intricate carrousel reminiscent of "2001" with references to the ship in Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris."
Nolan's cosmic imagery is both elegant and real, with few if any false notes. On a big screen the effect is immersive because of Nolan's use of a classical style. If his mind-bender "Inception" was a series of fast, psychological cuts, here he takes his time to let scenes in space breath and swallow the screen. If his previous films obsessed with the twists and turns of a plot, here he seems to be settling for giving the audience a sense of how movies can simply take us somewhere else, and imagine visuals for the viewer to drink in.
Interestingly enough, Nolan, who is accused by some film critics of being cold and detached (his Batman movies were entertaining, but not exactly moving), finds his most human story in a film about space travel and scientific equations. His script, written with brother Jonathan Nolan, makes a worthy attempt of providing characters who do feel like actual people undergoing an adventure of unimaginable proportions.
The film plays with Einstein's "twins paradox" theory, when characters realize that while hours have passed in their current reality, decades might have already passed back home.
This is not to say the script is flawless. At times it can become a bit gimmicky, as when the expected themes of love and heroism come in. When the film's villain is revealed, it feels like a forced, required touch. Instead of going for an even grander third act, we're treated to a typical duel in space plot line before the film tries to regain its metaphysical spirit.
McConaughey and Hathaway deliver very uniquely authentic performances for a sci-fi film, but because "Interstellar" takes itself seriously, so do they when telling this story.
But ignore any minor plot holes, "Interstellar" is definitely worth viewing because of Nolan's attempt to bring a David Lean-style space opus to the screen at a time when conventional, shallow popcorn junk rules the box office. If "Interstellar" tries too hard to inject a heart into the cold, vastness of space, we are better off for it. The effort alone makes it worth the ticket price.