Insterstellar (2014)

*. Interstellar is a movie I admire for a couple of reasons, though in both cases that admiration is qualified, or even contradicted somewhat by the ending.
*. In the first place, it’s a science-fiction epic that has its share of thrilling action sequences but in terms of the larger narrative it’s not afraid to take its time. It’s hard to think of many contemporary popular films that have the same pace. And, significantly, it doesn’t feel slow, even during scenes of exposition. It doesn’t feel fast or rushed either, it’s just comfortable moving at its own speed.
*. This is a good thing given the running time of nearly three hours. But now I enter the qualification: the last 30 minutes do drag. The movie has nowhere new to take us and nothing new to show us and it just works out a plot “twist” that I think most people will have twigged to in the first act. We really don’t need to spend this long closing the circle with the narrative equivalent of a group hug.

*. The second thing I appreciated was how hard it works at being, if not accurate (because I don’t know how accurate we could expect some of it to be), then at least plausible. All the science contributes to making this one of the most believable space operas and time-travel movies I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure all the paradoxes are fully resolved, but everything sort of made sense to me at the end. Though I’m still not sure how Cooper got out of that black hole.
*. Again, however, I enter a qualification because of the ending. Apparently Brand’s theory that love is a physical force in the universe holds true. It’s not that I’m cold-hearted or against the squishy stuff. In fact, I’m a romantic at heart. It’s just that this idea of a mystic connection between Cooper and his daughter in a parallel dimension is at odds with so much of the rest of the film that it seems out of place. I also found the implicit fantasy of eternal youth a little juvenile.
*. Another thing I really appreciated here were the design elements. They were going where a lot of SF movies have gone before, but even so I thought the space station was interesting, the cryo beds neat, and the non-anthropomorphic robots brilliant. Also the texture of the two failed Eden planets was beautifully rendered: the one being a shallow wave pool and the other a frozen lava field with looming ice clouds.

*. These planets must have looked particularly impressive on an IMAX screen, where Interstellar showed on its initial release. This is one of the few films I’ve seen in recent years that I actually missed not seeing at a theatre. I felt I wasn’t getting the full effect of those mountainous waves on my TV.
*. A lot of work went into the script and on the whole I think it’s very bad. It’s a good story, but as I’ve said the final act drags. What’s worse, however, is the clichéd and overly dramatic dialogue that even on a first viewing you can practically speak along with the actors. I also don’t know how or why Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” got dragged into this. Perhaps it was just a poem everyone had heard of, but thematically it doesn’t seem particularly apt or relevant. It just seems like more heavy dialogue to insert at heavy moments. Even Macaulay’s “Horatius” made more sense in Oblivion.
*. Maybe it’s unfair to think a mainstream, big-budget Hollywood space epic should have been a little less conventional. I do think they took some chances here, especially with the pacing, that pay off. The library in the fifth dimension was near to my heart, plus Matt Damon plays a bad guy, which was interesting. That said, for all its length I thought Interstellar needed a bit more meat on its bones. It’s different enough to be a good movie, but not daring enough to be a great one.

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