I am a simple man.
I like my movies like I like my women: bigger than life, in Technicolor, and not intimidated by 4-walling.
I could not say that any of these qualities were to be found in overabundance in the IMAX presentation of INTERSTELLAR that I saw. Nor, for that matter, (as I soon learned to my dismay) were earplugs. This gave the movie an unfair advantage, in my opinion, since I missed a good deal of the dialogue trying to wedge my fingers more deeply in my ears. The music ( by Hans Zimmerman, who else?) uses crescendos the way lesser men use intermezzos, stubbornly pausing just long enough to grab up another blunt instrument, the better to concuss all the little notes and clefs into your cranium.
Nevertheless, I’ll play by the rules; I shall attempt to bring forth, in the next few paragraphs, a review that is as spoiler-free as I can manage. This won’t be easy, considering that the movie relies heavily on its visual extravagance–much more than it should–while neglecting the family issues that should be at its core.
There have been, to the best of my admittedly faulty memory, a relatively small number of films that have tackled–or attempted to tackle–the subject of transcendence. You’ve all got your own lists, no doubt much more exhaustive than mine.
But I’ll wager that there’s one title that tops most lists, or at least makes the top five: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. It’s the belwether by which all other sci-fi films are judged, and despite some serious flaws, its position on Top’O’the’Pops has never been seriously challenged.
Nor is it now.
INTERSTELLAR, I’m sorry (really I am) to say, is no space odyssey. And I’m sorry to say it because I’m not a person who looks backward rather than forward. I respect the classics, true, but part of me wishes that some of these blockbuster new technologies could be used to create something other than summer bigtops about people who spin webs, can fly, or who have amazingly discriminating olfactory palettes. (Oh, yes.) There are only so many movie-available hours in the day, and so many films that deserve to be made without dialogue such as, “You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love comic book movies. In fact, I make a good living writing comic books and comics-style scenarios. But one reason I do is that I take the trouble to get whatever science I stir into my fiction right–or, if not, I write around it. TRADE SECRET: You can get a helluva mileage out of having your Mad Scientist cackle lines like “I would explain the way my Omnicosmic Pan-Dimensional Destructor Beam works, except that your pitiful brains could not grasp its complexity! MWA Ha-ha-ha!!”
(Ah, wacky times …)
Anyway. The long and the longer of it is that, while I do take my tinfoil-lined hat off to Nolan and his team for what they tried to accomplish in their movie, I’m afraid that the execution of it fell a few million solar masses shy of a Schwarzschild radius.
It wasn’t just the science–though God knows there were moments in INTERSTELLAR that made IT–THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE! look like GRAVITY–but I can forgive IT for its largish gaffes far easier than I can INTERSTELLAR. Why? Because INTERSTELLAR fell considerably short of its goal, while IT didn’t. Granted that INTERSTELLAR had a much loftier goal than IT; but that wasn’t the point. One movie was about an attempt to survive in a starving world, while searching for a new one. (Left, I guess, to the viewers’ perspicacity is the problem of hauling 7 billion people in 4-man ships through the wormhole. And no cutting in line!) The other was attempting to separate me and others of my generation from 35 cents for a matinee ticket about a terrifying nonspecific pronoun.
(Plus, the man who played IT was none other than Ray “Crash” Corrigan–not to be confused with Doug “Wrong Way” Corrigan, a stunt aviator who rather famously couldn’t find his ass with a Geiger Counter and Plutonium suppositories. I mean, c’mon, people, Crash was in UNDERSEA KINGDOM! Where’s the love?)
I suppose a revisitation should be made to Hans Zimmerman’s score, which, as noted earlier, is mostly composed of crescendo on top of crescendo, building until your teeth are rattling in syncopation with the rafters. He literally pulls out all the stops. This is not necessarily a good thing. In response to the criticism that the music is at times analogous to having a pipe organ dropped on your head from 5 stories up, Nolan has said, “I don’t agree with the idea that you can only achieve clarity through dialogue.” Maybe not, but it couldn’t hurt.
The biggest and most pervading flaws, however, were in the human part of the story. I simply wasn’t involved in any of their dynamic, which is a real shame, since a father aging years instead of weeks, and coming home to a child all grown up, could have been heartrending, instead of yawn-inducing. They’re all excellent actors, but an actor can only do so much with dialogue that hangs like an albatross necktie.
So, all things considered, not the least of which are travel time and weather — there are several shots and sequences that look pretty awesome in IMAX, but, given that it takes me 15 minutes in benign weather to get to an IMAX, for me it’s worth it. But if you’re living someplace a wee bit more inhospitable, such as above the 49th Parallel or any other location that requires Scott of the Antarctic to valet park your dog sled, I’d say pass.
HBO will have it eventually, and your life will not be measurably poorer for waiting. Which is, after all is said and done is really the sum total of its sins; It’s not a terrible movie, just not a terribly good movie. I would say that it needs much more gravitas than gravity, except that I already used that line in my review of GRAVITY. I could point out the disingenuousness of using the title INTERSTELLAR instead of INTERGALACTIC, but really, why bother? The bottom line is that Nolan has made a movie which, despite its egregious mistakes, is a serious attempt to rattle our complacency and force us to look to the stars once again as our ultimate destination. This is, overall, a good thing — not something that is a classic film, or even a classic genre film. And if it makes even one person think long and hard enough …
After all, Miguel Alcubierre was inspired to create a warp drive that works (on paper, at least) while watching STAR TREK.