'Interstellar' Review: Reaching for the stars
The difficulties of space travel are very real. After the recent crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two and the mid-flight explosion of the unmanned NASA Antares rocket, spaceflight has had a spotty record at best over the past two weeks.
But despite the inherent risks of space flight, the scientific community continues to reach passionately, and perhaps foolishly, for the stars. (READ: New Nolan movie Interstellar tackles space, love, sacrifice)
Coincidentally, Interstellar is very similar in that regard. It is an ambitious piece of cinematic work that brazenly attempts to distill the herculean task of interstellar travel into a palatable 3-hour movie. But like the doomed population of Earth, the odds are against it.
Set in the indeterminate future, Interstellar doesn’t shower us with visions of technological progress. Instead, the film greets us with the familiar vistas of the American countryside. But hiding behind the postcard views of cornfields and rural homes is the depressing reality that the world is running out of food.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot and engineer, has resigned himself to life as a farmer, helping grow corn for surviving members of humanity. But when Cooper stumbles upon a decades-long plan to leave Earth, he is asked to lead a team of scientists to establish humanity’s first extraterrestrial colony.
From its premise alone, Interstellar grasps at more straws than it can realistically handle. The idea of following humanity’s first steps into the far reaches of space is already a large enough concept, and depicting it in any believable fashion is no small matter.
But director and co-writer Christopher Nolan was never known to be a filmmaker with small ideas. Interstellar is Nolan’s most ambitious project to date, which says a lot about the man behind The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception. And while Interstellar does stretch itself thin in a lot of places, it does so with the same dauntless ambition that makes space, truly, the final frontier.
Larger than life
Although Nolan’s films always have a larger than life quality to them, they are always anchored by a single emotional hook. In the case of Interstellar, it is a promise. When Cooper leaves his farm for the very last time, he promises his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) that he’ll be back.
But when Cooper and his crew embark on their multi-year journey across the cosmos, they soon realize that time isn’t on their side. Due to the relative nature of time, Earth is aging at a much faster rate than the crew. And what could simply be an hour to Cooper and his team, is seven years to those at home. Suddenly, Cooper is racing to save his family across an interplanetary sprint. And though the world is running out of food, Cooper’s most precious resource is time.
Pressed for time
Coincidentally, the film struggles against its own time bomb. It rushes through a lot of its scientific minutiae and sacrifices exposition for brevity.
But rather than try to explain the reasoning behind its narrative conceits, Interstellar concedes that a feature length film isn’t a long or proper enough venue to discuss the finer details of quantum mechanics and super relativity.
This shotgun-style of storytelling does lend a certain briskness to the film, but it comes at the cost of cohesion. During the film’s final stretch, the story begins to unspool at light speed. Scenes that are at first implausible suddenly seem entirely impossible. And though Nolan has made sure that Interstellar is backed by a staggering amount of scientific research, it all falls apart in the mind of the viewer without any real explanation to guide us.
Even for a filmmaker as capable as Nolan, Interstellar feels disappointingly out of his reach. Plot holes and narrative inconsistencies are common among Nolan’s work, but never have they been as glaring as they are in Interstellar.
Bringing back the stars
Despite its inherent flaws, Interstellar succeeds at sending us into space. Alfonso Cuaron’s Academy-Award nominated Gravity may immediately come to mind, but Nolan’s use of 70mm film gives Interstellar a crisp, visceral quality to its visuals.
The rendered rings of Saturn are glorious, and second only to, what is supposedly, the most realistic depiction of a black hole in history. And though the story is punctured with holes the size of large asteroids, it is driven by a near dauntless ambition to bring audiences someplace new.
As the world continues to slowly implode on a daily basis, the idea of space travel feels detached at best. We find ourselves looking towards our television sets, our computer screens, and to our smart phones. And as a species, only so few of us continue to look at the stars.
Space exploration has fallen by the wayside over recent years, but still, it is driven by a small yet passionate community of individuals, who have nothing but ambition on their side. This isn’t simply a matter of space flight or interstellar travel. But rather, it is a matter of aspiring for more than what is given to us – even if it means running the risk of failure.
In reality, we are living on the same starving Earth as Interstellar. We have our heads so close to the ground we no longer have the desire to look farther ahead. But while the harsh realities of life may have sucked out the stars from our eyes, for a brief few hours, Interstellar brings them back. And suddenly, for a short amount of time, the stars aren’t so far away. – Rappler.com
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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