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Fresh off his success with the Dark Knight Trilogy, along with a little Inception sprinkled in, Christopher Nolan served as both writer and director on his latest project, Interstellar. It was one of those rare films where, no matter how many trailers I saw, I really never got a great feel for what the film was about. Critical response was strong, but with a newborn at home it came and went in theaters without me getting a chance to see it.
Now, with the film releasing on Blu-ray on March 31, it’s time to rectify that and find out if Nolan’s first directorial effort since 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises is worthy of the praise it received.
Set sometime in the near future, Interstellar finds Earth devastated by famine, the result of sweeping global climate change, and society now centered on agriculture. It’s here we find the widowed Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey), along with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and two children, tending to a farm. His daughter, Murph, is having troubles with a “ghost,” which Cooper determines is actually providing them with a set of coordinates.
Upon tracking these coordinates Cooper finds the remnants of NASA. The program is now headed by Dr. John Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hatheway), who proceeds to let Coop know the severity of the problems: Earth is dying. Their only hope is to send a crew into a wormhole, apparently created by an advanced race trying to help humanity survive, to find an inhabitable world for people to colonize and eventually repopulate the species.
From there, Interstellar splits its time between the space mission and those left behind, including Brand, Murph (Jessica Chastain) and her brother Tom (Casey Affleck). If it seems odd for those actors to play Cooper’s children, that’s explained by having time move at dramatically different speeds with one planet potentially costing the crew 51 Earth years in a one-day cycle. The divergent storylines unfold in an interesting way, and they help keep the sci-fi grounded in emotional connections.
We’re big fans of plausible fiction, and the way Interstellar’s future is presented is a good example of that. Rather than some mysterious plague or third World War that has turned the world into a post-apocalyptic cliché, it’s just normal people doing what they need to do to survive while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy. Plus, as noted, the story does a nice job of balancing some weighty science fiction by keeping concepts like love and family front and center throughout.
The phrase “all-star cast” got used into the ground over the years, but there are a ton of quality actors and actresses at work here starting with McConaughey, whose efforts in films like Mud and Dallas Buyers Club (not to mention True Detective) have pretty much erased the damage he did with Failure to Launch, Two for the Money and so on. Caine and Hatheway, who both worked with Nolan on Batman, do well, and there’s even a strong turn from Matt Damon.
With a reported budget of $165 million it should come as no surprise that the special effects are excellent, whether within the craft, the vastness of space or on alien worlds. Once again, everything is grounded in reality, so don’t expect laser weapons or Prometheus style synthetic lifeforms, but there is still some cool stuff, including the weird robot companions TARS and CASE.
While you can nitpick items here and there, by far the biggest issue we had with the film was the dense amount of scientific information (real or fabricated) to digest. A lot of times in movies you’ll be given a very technical sounding piece of information, only for a character to break it down into bite-sized relatable bits so you at least have an idea of what they’re talking about. That’s often not the case here, and it becomes increasingly difficult to follow the further you go.
It reminded us of the second and third entrants in The Matrix, which cast aside the cool mystery surrounding the virtual world for exposition heavy dialogue that never seemed to go anywhere and served only to delay the next fight. There aren’t any massive action sequences in Interstellar, but the complexity of the plot’s technical aspects weigh things down and had us scratching our heads at the late twists instead of just going with the flow.
Interstellar is probably best categorized as “thinking man’s science fiction.” It sets the table quite well and offers plenty of interesting moments, even if eventually all the chatter about worm holes, five-dimensional space and using gravity to communicate across space and time gets a bit exhausting.