The wait is finally over. Luke Blackett reviews Christopher Nolan’s long anticipated Interstellar
The big release this week was the John Lewis’ holiday advert, featuring the plight of Monty the penguin. However, alongside the commercialisation of the festive season by the middle England’s favourite department store, a small indie film by a relatively unknown director was also released. Okay, so I’m being a touch facetious; Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated blockbuster release of Interstellar has built up a hysteria engulfing the film community, all hyperbole being exhausted. It is therefore true that this film might suffer mildly – as his last piece, The Dark Knight Rises, did – from excessive hype.
It’s hard to review Interstellar without giving away crucial plot details. In brief, the film is set in a future where humanity is running out of food, as earth’s ecosystem fails. As the dust clouds gather and the corn fields burn, Cooper, an out of service pilot and engineer played by Matthew McConaughey, is called to go on a mission through a wormhole to find humanity a new home, leaving his family and children behind. Anymore and I fear I will spoil the customary tightly wound plot of director and UCL alumnus, Christopher Nolan.
As a long standing Nolan fan, I went in with high hopes wanting to like the film. Nolan is someone who understands the spectacle of cinema, the importance of the visual element for his medium of storytelling. There are very few directors capable of creating such a grand and epic story while simultaneously forcing the audience to think. We witness sweeping sequences of desolated corn fields, planets of ice and water, wormholes, black holes; all captured on 70mm celluloid film in a way which certainly does inspire awe.
However, when one is talking about Nolan films it’s hard not to use the theory of cinematic relativity, and indeed, compared to his previous offerings, Nolan’s latest work lacks the characteristic narrative rigour. Inception, Memento and The Prestige all have more carefully constructed arcs and are better paced as films. Interstellar’s first hour drags a little with expositional and simple scenes which, while often necessary, feel mildly awkward. The dialogue too, having to handle the heady and complex physics of dimensional travel, often seems to wish to be constantly profound. This is especially true when spoken by McConaughey’s character, something that does uncharacteristically grate a little. Here, however, we also find a remedy to an often and sometimes unfair criticism of Nolan’s previous work by introducing humour, mainly from the expedition’s robot companions.
Another minor objection for a director, known for his meticulous approach to the technical details of filmmaking, is that on the IMAX screen quite a few shots look slightly out of focus. Perhaps a conscious decision to induce a soft nostalgia over the science fiction background, it often blighted important shots of the characters. It may be that we will have to understandably wait to see results comparable to the enduring Wally Pfister/Nolan collaboration that had been so strong in previous films, from new cinematography partner Hoyte van Hoytema. Though that isn’t to say plenty of sequences aren’t shot in an incredibly compelling and beautiful manner, such as when trucks crash through the undergrowth; the light of planet earth has an undeniably elegant, dying feel to it.
Regular collaborator, Hans Zimmer, returns with a score whose genesis has been much talked about; its execution sometimes feels part space opera, part religious experience. Despite alluding to the elephant in the room, which is 2001: A Space Odyssey, it does appositely match the epic scope of the tale when required.
This, however, is to point out the flaws in a film, which relative to general Hollywood studio fare is perhaps astounding in its existence alone. In a time, when so much standard blockbuster fare is painting by numbers, lacking interest in the bigger social and philosophical questions, it stands out. Its awesome scale and ambitious reach attempts to grapple important issues of humanity; its plot manipulation, through Einstein and Kip Thorne’s theories of relativity and time, throws up intriguing scenarios.
Although much of the hype touted this as Nolan’s emotional film, indeed it has a spoonful more sentimentality than previous entries. Here we see Nolan grappling with this element more prominently than ever before. Beyond the physics, this is a story of a father and daughter, and the nature of sacrifice versus abandonment. Mackenzie Foy, who plays the young daughter, delivers a performance that grounds much of this and Jessica Chastain, who plays her as an adult, is used carefully to build on this relationship. Understandably, however, the grand scale and complexity of the plot can dwarf this core narrative.
I must come back, though, to the fact that very few directors are able to do what Nolan does: his precise filmmaking and commitment to realism – while also understanding how to create interesting, big budget films – is unparalleled. Disappointment is only felt because of how satisfyingly good Nolan can be (The Dark Knight, for me, remains the best example of this), and even so, some of the ambition in making Interstellar is truly unmatched. I am glad that I will be seeing it again soon (with the UCLU Film & TV Society) at an altogether more social hour to my first 5:30am showing. I believe with distance from its blitzkrieg marketing campaign it may turn into a fond favourite of its genre.
Perhaps this is not Nolan’s best work, certainly no new 2001, nonetheless, it’s definitely worth the attention. Being named the successor of both Kubrick and Spielberg is a mighty weight to carry; one that Nolan does with considerable grace. Indeed, as is usual with Nolan films one might find a meta-meaning, in the parallels between how Interstellar’s mankind has forgotten about the wonders and pioneering nature of space travel and modern-day Hollywood’s similar lack of desire to experiment with original material. That self-aware commentary from Hollywood’s biggest darling is enough to want to see this film succeed.
Featured image credit: moviepilot.com