Interstellar Review

11/07/2014 Stephen Colbert 0 Comments

Interstellar tells a story in the not so distant future, where humanity has lost much of the drive that marked the 20th and (so far) 21st century.  Before long, the Earth will no longer be capable of supporting human life, so a dwindling NASA sends a  team of explorers into the stars, hoping to find humanity's future out of our solar system, in another galaxy entirely.

I have always been a fan of Christopher Nolan's movies, and Interstellar is no different.  Chris, and his brother Jonathan, have a knack for writing some of the most grand, yet intimate, stories (The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige, and Inception), with Interstellar being one of the most daunting tasks they have taken on to date.

Not only do the Nolan's write grand stories, but Chris Nolan loves putting these stories in IMAX.  A lot of movies come out in IMAX these days, but not like interstellar.  Most IMAX movies are digital projections that are just projected onto a massive IMAX screen.  A large chunk of Interstellar is actually shot using 70mm celluloid film.  If you aren't a cinephile, a movie on celluloid is like an album on vinyl, whereas digital projection is like a CD.  If you aren't an audiophile, think the difference between a TV dinner and a home cooked meal.

I am lucky enough to live in Chicago, where Navy Pier has one of only 37 theaters in the country that supports 70mm IMAX.  If you are within driving distance of a 70mm IMAX theater, this is the way to see this movie.

First, because that's the way the director shot the movie.  If Chris Nolan intends for you to see his movie in 70mm IMAX, then go see the movie in 70mm IMAX.  Native resolution is 4:3, so if you see it any other way, you will be seeing a cropped image for a chunk of the scenes, where a combined 40% of the original shot is missing from the top and bottom.

Digital projection may be all the rage, but it is nowhere near as clear and vibrant as celluloid.  Even if you aren't near enough to a 70mm IMAX, try to find it in 35mm.

Second, while you will be able to rewatch Interstellar at home on Blu-Ray on a large 4k TV at home, you may never get a chance to see the 70mm IMAX version again.  IMAX theaters are going the way of the dinosaur, so even if it comes back for another theatrical run in the future, Interstellar may never show on 70mm IMAX again.

When it comes to shots of terrestrial or extraterrestrial shots, or shots of space, Interstellar has some of the most stellar visuals of a movie of this scope.  If you like looking at NASA's pictures from the Hubble telescope, imagine looking at the at those images on a 70 foot tall IMAX screen.  Visually, Interstellar is absolutely stunning.

The setting of the movie is nearly timeless.  Nolan avoids inserting any fancy sci-fi technology or crazy fashion.  This movie could take place next week, next year, or 500 years from now.  The fact that date of the aesthetic doesn't stand out in any substantial way ensures that this movie will feel just as relevant in 20 years as it does today.

Hans Zimmer's haunting and dramatic soundtrack only emphasizes the scope of this movie.  The soundtrack communicates both the gravity of humanity's last days, and the spark of hope for the future.

The entire cast is also perfect.  Of course, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain are all excellent in their roles, as are all the smaller roles (which are all filled with some surprising and excellent actors as well), but it was Mackenzie Foy, who plays Murph, the daugher of McConaughey's character, Cooper, who has really stuck with me.  It is likely one of the best perfomances I've seen from an actor of her age.  Not to take away from everyone else, but who really expected McConaughey or Chastain to be anything other than exemplary.

Although the visuals, music, acting, and directing are all nearly spotless, the writing is the one area that has a few issues.  Unfortunately, I do feel like the Nolans may have bitten off more than they could chew with this script.

The character moments are all excellent, many of the themes are well established, and the callbacks and resolutions to various arcs are brilliantly constructed (really, it's an expertly crafted screenplay), some of the elements start to fall into themselves when it all comes together.  It shouldn't be a big surprise that Interstellar deals with time travel.  The theory of relativity is quite a central theme to the plot, and most of the science of the movie is very well established.

The Nolan's put a lot of effort into making sure the movie was accurate with a lot of theories on black holes, wormholes, relativity, and the like.  The production of the movie even led to a breakthrough in our understanding of how a black hole may behave.

Unfortunately, with such lofty aspirations, not every single plot element ends up landing perfectly.  I found some of the physics to contradict some of the emotional parallel's they were attempting to make (this usually happens when time travel is involved), and there were some moments of exposition that were too on the nose, and could have been cut, but were likely left in so as to not be too ambiguous for some viewers.  Anything else, and I'll head into spoiler territory, so I'll just leave it there.

There are plenty of clear homages to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I think it is very deserving of a place at the table, and I wouldn't hesitate to say I consider Nolan a modern Kubrick.

The unfortunate difference, though, is that Kubrick's space epic was left more ambitious for the viewer.  The famous acid trip scene at the end of 2001 originally had a voiceover that explained exactly what the obelisks were and what exactly it was that had just happened, but Kubrick cut it, because it was too on the nose.

Unfortunately, Nolan wasn't able to do the same, which is odd, because Momento, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight all had endings that were fairly ambiguous, and Inception is one of the most famous unexplained movie endings.  Interstellar would improve significantly in my book if there wasn't such a strong attempt to bring everything together for the viewer.  I left feeling like Chris Nolan didn't leave me a lot of room to discuss the movie with anyone, because he'd said everything (and more) than there was to say.

Having said that, Interstellar is still one of my favorite movies of the year.  It is bound to age well, too.  Although the saying is overused, cliche, and I hate it with a passion, Interstellar is encapsulated perfectly by the phrase: "Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you'll land amongst the stars."

Christopher Nolan may not have been successful with everything he attempted in Interstellar, but as a whole, it is still one of the best movies of the year, and very well may prove to be one one of the more influential films of the past few decades.

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