Friday, November 7, 2014

Movie Review: "Interstellar"

I wish I had more time to write this review.  I wish I had more time in general, actually, and that's a fitting mood to be in to appreciate Christopher Nolan's new sci-fi flick Interstellar.
Let's back up for a second.  I do not mean to imply anything dire when I saw "I wish I had more time."  I mean, who doesn't wish they had more time?  That seems like a fairly universal concern.  And while I certainly do mean it in the existential sense, I'm referring more specifically to the fact that lately, I simply have not been able to make time for my various blogs.
This particular one has long gone underfed, but I feel the urge to put something -- anything -- down about the movie I just saw.  Thing is, I've got to go to bed or risk getting way too little sleep for the first day on the job after receiving a promotion.
What's a blogger to do?
Answer: toss off something perfunctory.
But that's okay, because I'm not sure I could get into the many feelings I have about Interstellar without delving too deep into plot.  I have zero intention of spoiling anything, so rest easy knowing that this won't be that sort of review.
Instead, a few very brief observations, after which I can go to bed secure in the knowledge that I at least put something out there today:
  • I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the movie.  Some movies are easy to assess.  Earlier this week, I saw Big Hero 6 and loved it.  Terrific movie: very entertaining, with beautiful animation and rock-solid filmmaking across the board.  There's nothing hugely challenging in it; but that's okay, because not all movie need to be hugely challenging.  Interstellar, arguably, IS hugely challenging.  And I'm simply not prepared to, on a single viewing, render a verdict.  Was I entertained?  You bet.  Was I moved?  Laws, yes.  Does the screenplay work 100%?  No.  Does the screenplay work 50%?  Let me get back to you on that.  So, in short: it's an ambitious movie, and it certainly works on a number of levels, but time may reveal to me that it does not work on all levels, and if so, that might damage the movie in terms of its long-term value in my life.  On the other hand, I might decide that the screenplay is 95% effective, and if so, then I'd be willing to proclaim this movie as a masterpiece.  But not yet.  At the worst, it's a very good piece of science-fiction entertainment.
  • Matthew McConaughey . . . well, what can be said?  The man is a dynamo.  I've been a fan for over twenty years, having been one of the people lucky enough to discover him in Dazed and Confused in 1993 and be prepared for how good he was going to fit the role that would serve as his breakout (A Time to Kill).  He made some good movies (Contact, Amistad, Lone Star) after that, too, but for a while it seemed as if he couldn't figure out where to go or what to do.  Happily, that all ended a few years back, and he's been on a major winning streak (Magic Mike, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, the superb first season of True Detective) ever since.  He's not necessarily better in this movie than he was in those, but understand something: he's about as good in those movies as it's possible to be, and such is the case here, too.  I get it: not everyone is a fan.  If you've got no taste for what he does, then I'm not sure this movie will change your mind.  But it might.  Yessir, it just might.  He's superb, and while he won't get a second Oscar for the role, if his name isn't in the mix for it, it'll be a travesty.  Or a REALLY good year for lead male performances.
  • Hans Zimmer . . . I used to not be a fan of this guy, but boy, has his work with Christopher Nolan changed my mind.  His stuff here is bombastic at times, and restrained at times, and what it reminds me of -- in spirit, moreso than in terms of the actual sound of the score -- is Philip Glass's transcendent music for Koyaanisqatsi.
  • I just thought of something I'd like to talk about, but can't/won't.  Durn.
  • Christopher Nolan . . . what can he do next?  If it's a hit, there's NOTHING he can't do next.  If it fails -- and it might -- then I suspect he'll retrench somewhat.  But he's on top of the game at the moment, and while I've got reservations about certain aspects of the story and screenplay, I've got virtually none about the craft of the filmmaking itself.  Beautiful in every way.  If you've got the option of seeing it in IMAX and don't take it, you're doing yourself a disservice.  (Unless that big screen gives you vertigo or makes you want to whoops your lunch; and if it does, then stay away from this movie.)
  • Where does the movie stand alongside serious sci-fi touchstones like 2001 and Blade Runner?  Hard to say, but I'm happy to have a new movie out that at least gets to be part of that conversation; they are few and far between.  Last year's Gravity sort of counts, but it's tilted way further toward sci than fi, and therefore fits in more with stuff like Apollo 13 ad The Right Stuff.  Unlike those, it DOES count as sci-fi, I think; but only barely.  Interstellar, on the other hand, engages in all sorts of speculation, which is the hallmark of serious-minded sci-fi.

Well, my self-imposed time-limit has elapsed, so it's wrappin'-up time.
Bottom lie: if you're a fan of science fiction films, then this is a must-see.  You may have reservations like the ones I have; you may end up with even more of them.  Either way, the movie is quite an experience, and figuring out the specifics of how you feel about it will probably make for fun conversations.
So, is that a recommendation?
Most definitely.


  1. I had a lengthy comment typed out and after signing in the damn thing disappeared. Short version now. I finally watched Interstellar. I agree with everything you said. I watched it in a full IMAX theater. Nolan knows how to make use of the screen size and sound. I'm still processing everything and I may never fully understand gravitational singularity and tesseracts, but damn was that movie ambitious. I'm considering seeing it a second time in theaters (something that I haven't done in so long I can't even remember when) just to see how I feel after a second viewing.
    - Bret

    1. That sucks about the comment getting disappeared. Blogger does that sometimes; I make it a point now to copy my comment before I post it, just in case I need to recover it.

      I'm glad you did leave one, though. I thought I'd come back here and left one myself after seeing the movie a second time, but I hadn't. So I'll do it now!

      Essentially, the second viewing cleared up 99% of my story concerns. I was worried that all the black hole stuff didn't make sense. And arguably it still doesn't, but there's an out for that: I think the idea is that...

      SPOILER ALERT, any who have not seen the movie...

      ...that since humanity ends up settling on a planet near a relatively stable black hole, our race is able to devote who knows how many generations to the study of the phenomenon. The end result is that humanity -- presumably in the far distant future -- is eventually able to learn to manipulate the forces that power a black hole.

      Personally, I don't think that's possible; but I can accept it within the realm of fiction, and I believe that's what's going on here.

      So, for me, seeing the movie a second time was a revelation. I was just blown away by it. There's still some stuff that doesn't quite work (Chastain is great; her character is not), but it's so far outweighed by all the stuff that does that I would characterize the movie as being a bit of a new classic. Some of the visuals are astonishingly good, and the part of me which has been a Matthew McConaughey fan since 1993 was very pleased. Hans Zimmer's best score? Yeah, I think it might be; I used to not be a fan, but that's changed.

      For my part, I'm trying to find the spare hours to watch it a third time before it's not playing in IMAX anymore locally. I think it's officially my favorite movie of the year.

    2. Comment poltergeist is at it again. I should have copy-pasted that.
      You have 5 hours to make it down to Orlando if you want to see 'Interstellar' in a traditional IMAX theater. I was really thinking about going tonight, but I'd have to call in sick to work (only showtime is 10pm because of the all day Hobbit IMAX screening). I'm also curious to see how well it plays in a normal theater. I remember a few times where the entire IMAX screen was being used (and something important was at the top and bottom of the screen) and wondering how they would present it in scope format. That does bring me to my one criticism over Nolan's use of IMAX format: when the screen goes from scope to the full IMAX screen, you know some shit's about to go down. Almost a mini spoiler. It was true in Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises, and Interstellar.

      I'm thinking about watching '2001: A Space Odyssey' before seeing Interstellar again. It's been over a decade since I've seen it, but I feel like some of the cinematography and music pieces in 'Interstellar' have some influences from '2001'.

    3. I would say it's beyond doubt that Nolan is a "2001" fan. I think of "Interstellar" as an attempt to get at some of what "2001" gets at, but via a completely different method.

      "2001" is one of my absolute favorite movies, and I don't have much bad to say about it except that it steadfastly refuses -- like most of Kubrick's movies -- to invite you to put your arms around it. It's a bit like a cat in that regard. But for some people, that just makes you want to put your arms around it that much more.

      "Interstellar," on the other hand, is a bit more like a dog: it wants ALL the love.

      Not a perfect comparison, but at least in the vicinity of being apt.

      For me, the end result of both movies is pure awe. I didn't have that experience the first time I watched "Interstellar"; some of the plot questions kept me from it. But I definitely had it the second time.

      As for the IMAX issue . . . I hadn't considered the aspect-ratio thing as a quasi-spoiler, but now that you point it out, yeah, I can see that working that way. I'm guessing it's less pronounced on a LIEMAX screen, which is how I saw it.

      I'd love to see it on a really-for-real IMAX screen. It's impressive enough just on what we've got here in town.

      As for how it plays on a regular screen (and how it will play on Blu-ray, streaming, etc.) -- I suspect it will survive the transition. It's about emotions as much as it is about anything else, which means it's the performances carrying a great deal of the weight. I think those will work in any format.

      But the louder, the better.