At the moment I'm very used to being behind the curve on things, entertainment wise. Hell, we just this week finished off Breaking Bad (review soon!) the most talked about TV show of last year, and thats pretty up to date for us. Add to this the difficulty in getting to the movies for anything that isn't a superhero-themed action film or a flat-out kids flick, I'm mostly in the habit of shrugging and expecting to find out what all the fuss is about a long time after everyone has stopped being, well, fussed about something. So it was nice, this weekend, to see Interstellar, which seems to have generated a lot of interest, and to be able to express and opinion whilst that interest is still around. I'm still a little shocked about that!
Anyway, to the movies. Now I've got to start by saying that I don't think Christopher Nolan has yet made a bad film. I know that The Dark Knight Rises because his "backlash" film, and all the cool kids like to hate on it nowadays, but whilst it undeniably fails to pull all its ideas together, it has a lot of positives and in the moment, right there in the cinema, many of its flaws are solidly wallpapered over by the surrounding craft. What is interesting is that Interstellar feels in many ways similar - it has some pretty substantial flaws that just get buried under a series of triumphant, awe-inspiring strengths. I was asked at least three times this week if Interstellar was a good film and my answer is this: It's a great film, but...
The story is that in the future the planet is messed up and all the crops are dying out. The great traumas of this - the wars, famines and social collapse - are behind us, and now we're a reduced species of farmers, trying to push this crisis in the hope that the next generation, or the one after, will get a chance of a better life. Its a world of quiet resignation, a world that is turned its back on the idea of progress, and a made a sad peace with that. We are running down the clock, and deep down we know it. The first act sets up this world, and our central character, Matthew McConaughey's Coop, astronaut turned farmer. Much of the film is probably best seen cold, so I'll try and avoid them in the most part, but events transpire to draw him into a last, desperate space mission to save humanity, or if all else fails, start again somewhere else.
A lot has been made of the "science" element of the film's Science Fiction nature but really this is a film about the human heart rather than the technicalities of space travel. Its touchstones are Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, films that use their cold and sterile environments to contrast the warmth of people, and Interstellar aims for the same thing. It wants to blow you away with the vastness of space, and alien vistas, but also wants you to feel, and its story turns not the mechanics of relativity but on the aches and pains of it's characters. It makes it a success, but its also the moments that don't always quite gel.
To take the space stuff first it is, frankly, jawdroppingly amazing. It's not just the special effects work, it's how its applied - the tiny, glinting spec of the Endevour against the shadowed bulk of Saturn, the strange, almost-but-not-quite recognisable landscapes (and seascapes) of the planets they visit, and the futuristic yet familiar design of the Endevour and the Rangers themselves. Some of it is easy to pick apart (Ranger 1 needs a three-stage booster to leave Earth and yet later on doesn't seem to need much in the way of external fuel tanks, for instance) and I'm sure some will great pleasure from doing so. I see no need to break my enjoyment of the film through such dissction however.
On the character front the film does, I think, struggle at times. Its not a systemic flaw - one crisis point in the mission is rooted in character, not technology, and is massively successful, and a whole later section of plot left me slight off guard and gave me the whole "holy shit" moment in the film that left me genuinely unsure what would happen next and how - if - the crew would survive. Also the moment of countdown for Coops departure is genuinely heartbreaking, whilst undercutting and reworking how these things are usually played out on film since The Right Stuff.
Where the struggle happens is the intercutting between Earth and Endevour, which is necessary but not always successful. Its also most apparent right at the end - I feel the film ends on exactly the right note and scene, but bridging from the dramatic end, to the emotional end, takes a little bit to long and some of the films undeniable power ebbs away a little in those vital minutes. All that said, and for all these flaws, Interstellar is an impressive, enthralling, and at times awe-inspiring love-letter to the human spirit. It's a film that remembers we can look up, we can dare to dream and dare to look for our own answers even in the darkest of times. It absolutely needs to be seen on the biggest screen you can, where you can let that power wash over you, and carry along with it for the ride, and appreciate everything it is trying to say.