Hollywood doesn’t make movies like Interstellar anymore. In Tinseltown, science fiction is not taken seriously. Instead, it’s all dogfights in space, or ragtag groups gathered together to fight other eccentric extraterrestrials. We don’t look upward and wonder. Instead, film has found a billion dollar niche in using our ever-expanding universe as a cosmic backdrop for alien action and superhero battles. Gone are the days when Stanley Kurbrick wondered what the year 2001 would bring, or when Stephen Spielberg suggested we watch the skies. Instead of a final frontier, our galaxy is a glorified given, unworthy of further exploration.
With his latest jaw-dropper, Christopher Nolan changes all this. Interstellar may not be perfect, but it’s an inspiring attempt to bring spectacle and scope back to the CG heavy sci-fi genre. It asks difficult questions both scientifically and personally while providing a potent emotional core that carries us across the often indecipherable science speak. This is a smart movie, a sentimental movie, and an optimistic movie. It provides the kind of hope the original NASA missions inspired while acknowledging that, somewhere along the way, we lost our desire to explore.
Newly minted Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey plays a character named Cooper, a former astronaut now having to resort to farming as a means of helping the planet. Earth is failing, massive dust clouds and huge dust storms reminding residents that a mysterious disease is killing all our crops. As populations die out, the future looks grim. But when Cooper’s inquisitive daughter Murph (McKenzie Foy) stumbles upon the coordinates to a secret space lab, run by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), there appears to be a solution. “Something” has created a wormhole near Saturn, and after exploring it, there appears to be at least three possible planets out there capable of sustaining life. All Cooper has to do is lead a follow-up mission to determine the best possible candidate. Unfortunately, that means leaving his family behind.
There’s more to the plot — much more — but part of Interstellar‘s joy is in discovering what Nolan has in store for us. One moment, it’s Wes Bentley as a fellow space traveler, the next is Matt Damon as a mythic scientist. Along the way, Casey Affleck and (most importantly) Jessica Chastain arrive as the adult versions of Cooper’s kids, each with their own grudge against their father. Indeed, the older Murph is left to question her dad’s decision while trying to help Professor Brand with his “solution” to the problem. Chastain is really the central figure of the film, a reflection of the desperation and determination being experienced on a worldwide scale. While McConaughey does all the heavy-lifting, F/X wise, Murph’s spirit continues to guide us through some of the movie’s more impenetrable truths.
And what a set of sensational sequences they are. We visit do the three planet possibilities, each with their own obstacles (massive tidal waves, endless frozen vistas). Nolan doesn’t go overboard on the optics, instead letting smaller moments between the actors outline the scope of what’s at stake. Granted, the movie does deliver on the eye candy, but it’s in service of the story, not in spite of it. Nolan really wants to take on the tough subjects, the same ones Kubrick and Spielberg asked over forty years ago. His answers may seem more pat, but that doesn’t deny their power. Trying to discover out place in the world is one thing. Uncovering our position in the grand scheme of the cosmos is Interstellar‘s hidden agenda.
With his revisionist comic book movies and other fantastic flights of filmmaking fancy, Christopher Nolan has proven he is a worthy wearer of the auteur tag. One need look no further than Interstellar as proof. It may not be the best movie of the year, but it surely is the most breathtaking.
The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack includes a full Blu-ray disc of extras, comprising a vast number of making-of featurettes and interviews.