The Hippo


Jul 22, 2019









Interstellar (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Interstellar (PG-13)

A small crew of scientists sets off on a mission that will take them galaxies away in hopes of finding a new home for the people of a dying Earth in Interstellar, a movie that will cure cancer and end poverty.
At least, that was the impression I got from the large amount of weirdly reverent pre-movie coverage. As it turns out, I suspect the movie, despite its thick tangle of science-talk, probably can’t cure cancer but will probably keep its writer/director Christopher Nolan well away from anything like poverty.
In the not too distant future, the Earth is running out of food crops due to devastating blights and dust storms. When Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA pilot who is now a corn farmer, asks about his teenage son’s chances of going to college, the teachers inform him that Tom (Timothée Chalamet) didn’t test in to the small slice of kids still admitted to college for careers other than farming and thus will be working the fields just like Cooper is. Still a frustrated engineer at heart, Cooper is annoyed that his son’s future is already set and wants more for him and his other child, daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy). She’s a spunky science nerd just like her dad, so when a strange gravitational anomaly at the family home gives Cooper a set of coordinates, Murphy tags along with him when he goes to check it out.
What he finds are the remains of NASA, mere hours away from launching a craft that will join up with the space station Endurance and begin a trip to Saturn, where a wormhole, opened by some mysterious force referred to as “They,” offers the potential for relatively speedy travel to distant galaxies. Previously, some dozen scientists have headed out for this great beyond and three have sent back promising messages about the potentially habitable planets they landed on. The mission of Endurance is to find the planet that makes for a good real estate upgrade for the people of Earth and then come back and get everyone — or, more specifically, come back with the details, by which time NASA big cheese Professor Brand (Michael Caine) will hopefully have figured out a realistic way of moving humanity to its new home. 
Really? All of humanity? Even, like, enemy countries? There is a certain amount of talk about how the “present” when the movie opens comes after governments have more or less devolved into something with limited power and no armies (though something that still collects taxes, as Cooper complains). So perhaps the implication is that there are no more enemy countries — but I still have a hard time believing that a U.S. that has a hard time feeding its residents and has to hide its NASA program because its citizens wouldn’t stand for the expense of it is going to build enough space transportation devices for the rest of the world too. The mechanics and morality of the “let’s get everybody off the planet” idea fascinated me — though not apparently Christopher Nolan, because the movie deals with the question in a fairly slight way.
That slight way is to mention the existence of Plan B. Should the Endurance find a habitable planet but not find a way to get the information back to Earth — or Brand and his buddies not find a way to make their giant space travel device work — Plan B says that the Endurance and its scientists will start a human colony using the 10,000 (or something) genetically diverse embryos that it will be carrying. So, everybody on current Earth will die but the human species will live on in the form of these new people that are somehow gestated and cared for through childhood on this new world (a tribe of two-year-olds is not going to survive on a habitable planet, even if that planet is a constant 68 degrees and is made of Nerf and Cheerios; some of those genetically diverse toddlers will find something high to climb up and fall off of while others smother each other with Nerf while trying to get that Cheerio over there, which is mine, and totally different from this Cheerio over here). 
Cooper is in for the mission, but with an urgent desire to make Plan A work so he can come back and save his children. Along for the ride are scientists Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), the professor’s daughter, Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi) and two, I don’t know, let’s just say robots, TARS (voice of Bill Irwin) and CASE (voice of Josh Stewart), who have naturalistic-sounding human voices and occasionally a sense of humor. 
As the Endurance sets off, time becomes both a motivating factor and something of an enemy. Because of wormholes and black holes and other science stuff that my brain started “mwah mwah mwah”-ing, Charlie Brown-style, through, the trip will take, in Earth time, years, possibly decades (though for crew members, it will feel more like weeks), and the longer they’re gone, the less likely their labors will save the current occupants of Earth. And then there are the scientists on the distant planets. They have been gone years and there is a possibility that some could be rescued — a factor that is particularly important to Amelia.
Watching this movie, I couldn’t help but think of Signs, the 2002 movie from M. Night Shyamalan. Signs (which was recently given the sins treatment by CinemaSins, perhaps why it was on my mind) is not a bad movie. But as the movie right after 2000’s Unbreakable (pretty universally loved) and right before 2004’s The Village (the first of Shyamalan’s really, awfully self-indulgent affairs), it can a bit feel like a bend in the Shyamalan road, as the CinemaSins people pointed out. It’s the point where Shyamalan’s movie making quirks could start to be read as twitches. I’m not saying this is Christopher Nolan’s Signs but Interstellar does leave me a little afraid that his next movie might be headed toward The Village territory. Interstellar is not a terrible movie, it’s characters are not universally off-putting but it does tend toward bloat and self-importance and for a movie set in space — on unexplored new worlds, no less — it does a surprising amount of telling, not showing.
The movie also has a few Signs-recalling moments toward its end, which is a little “swing away” in its resolution. Is that a spoiler? I don’t know because I’m not sure what the central motivating storyline in the movie is. Are we most interested in the plight of humanity? The plight of Murph and her family? The relationship between Murphy and her father? The explorer-striving of the Endurance crew? Brand and Cooper’s relationships? The secret of the mysterious They who are helping humans find a new home (that one is telegraphed to the point where it felt more like padding than suspense)? The movie seems to want us, at varying times, to care very deeply about all of these things but changes its guiding principle so that, in the final scenes, I was not entirely certain what I was rooting for or, frankly, “when” all the different characters were in relation to each other.
And then there’s the science, which frankly I am not qualified to judge, other than to say that science in movies — even sketchy science in movies, a-hem Gravity — can create wonder or murkiness and Interstellar seemed to say “murky it up!” whenever possible. I like when a movie can make me forget that I’m watching a movie and just leave me to be in awe (again, Gravity) but even when it traveled the stars and found new worlds, Interstellar never inspired awe.
Which leaves us with the human characters — and this is not firm ground for this movie to build its foundation. Both Foy and Jessica Chastain, who shows up to play adult Murph, are fine, I guess, though all the character is really given to do is be mad or tightly wound. Matthew McConaughey’s performance feels like an extended version of his Lincoln ads. Hathaway’s character is, I’m not sure, underwritten? She feels both slight and unlikeable, somebody I’m never excited about spending nearly three hours with. And then there’s Michael Caine, doing Alfred again but with a final scene that leaves him also feeling scrawnily constructed. Oh, I thought while watching him, he was probably supposed to have layers; huh, I didn’t get that at all.  
And maybe that’s where I am on this jumble of spaceships, physics concepts, half-baked characters, melodrama and corn that is Interstellar — I just don’t get what this movie is doing. I wasn’t bored, necessarily, though I did find it dragging. I wasn’t turned off by the characters, but I didn’t find myself caring all that much about them. And while the overarching ideas are interesting — finding a new world, space travel and its perils — the execution of them here just isn’t as big, bold and captivating as the movie’s massive marketing campaign left me thinking it would be. C+ 
Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language. Directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, Interstellar is two hours and 49 minutes long.
As seen in the November 13, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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