Saturday, 8 November 2014

INTERSTELLAR (2014) Film Review

Check it out... if you're a fan of Christopher Nolan's, appreciate immensely dense and ambitious sci-fi films, or wish to embark upon a film that feels far more original than much of the drivel that encompasses cinema today

Skip it... if you're a logic purist, unwilling to accept some portions of a sci-fi film as just that; science fiction; or if you're unaccepting of either Christopher Nolan's direction or Jonathon Nolan's writing

Interstellar poster
"This is the reason I go to the cinema to view films, instead of just waiting for them to release on DVD and home release months later; so I can engage in something that transcends general entertainment"

Interstellar is a film directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Chris and his brother Jonathon, and stars Matthew McConaughey, Mackenzie Foy, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. The film centres around the character of Cooper, a former NASA pilot and astronaut who lives on a future, desolate planet Earth, where all crops apart from corn have died out, and dust storms have ravaged much of the world. Cooper is called back to NASA as the dust storms intensify to partake in a mission that hopes to relocate the human race to a new and far more hospitable planet, thanks to interstellar travel, that may very well be possible due to a wormhole that has been recently discovered near Saturn. 

To give you an idea of my anticipation for Christopher Nolan's latest directorial output; I had completely transcended the anticipation phase, and was in the denial phase. For some unknown reason, when I found Interstellar receiving a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, my body and mind suddenly and inexplicably began to deny the possibility of the film even reaching my initial expectation. I began to believe that I would dismiss the film after seeing it, despite all the indicators that I would, in fact, not dismiss it. After last year's somewhat anti-climatic Star Trek Into Darkness, which was one of my most anticipated films of 2013, my body was preparing for the possibility of disappointment weeks before the Australian release of this here film. As I sat down in the theatre today to view Interstellar, I was met with a number or surprises, even before the projector began the advertisements and previews before the screening. Firstly, the lack of people in my theatre was astounding and very much appreciated; this could be attributed to my town hosting the annual 'show', which serves as the equivalent of a carnival or fair. This led to there being less than fifteen individuals in the audience, including myself. Another surprise was that there was but only one pair of teenagers, part myself, that were seated in the auditorium for the viewing; and fortunately for myself, these teenagers had the decency to shut up for the vast majority of the film, allowing me the opportunity to view the film in the cinema with as little distraction as possible, a rare occurrence with such an audience in house. It was as if all the stars had aligned, and perhaps a higher being was sending a message; that Interstellar was perhaps to be a good cinematic experience. 

That is quite the understatement. Interstellar is by far the most affecting cinema experience I've had in my entire life. This is the kind of film, like last year's exceptional Gravity (a film which I still believe holds a great quantity of merit and brilliance), which must be viewed on the largest screen possible, with as little distractions abound as is feasible. This here is the reason I go to the cinema to view films, instead of just waiting for them to release on DVD and home release months later; so I can engage in something that transcends general entertainment. Interstellar could be, to an extent, compared to a video game, due to the fact that a viewer may not only be entranced and entirely captivated by the film, but also feel as if they're part of the picture, engaging in the activities alongside the protagonists. This is especially evident during the fast-paced flight sequences, more specifically the initial take-off for Cooper and the rest of his merry band of astronauts. This take-off sequence occurs just after the emotional climax of the absolutely outstanding first act of the film, so you move from one intense scene to the next, though the take-off scene reflects something of unparalleled quality; whilst we've all seen spaceships ignite their engines and fly through the atmosphere and beyond within films before, Nolan and sound mixers Drew Kunin and Mark Weigngarten sought to enhance the sound heard throughout the scene, amplifying it until it suitably shook the entirety of the cinema. In all my time spent at the cinemas, I have never felt the sensation of flying. In Interstellar, during this initial take-off sequence, I genuinely felt like I was inside the spaceship, hurtling upwards, the roar of the engine at my ear. It was by far the most incredible experience I've ever had with a film in the cinema. This kind of a sensation is repeated but a few more times during the film, so one should appreciate it whilst it lasts, for it is truly a wonder to behold the power of the visuals alongside the ear-bursting sound of a rocket flying up and outside of this world.

We see and hear some of the most insanely terrifying, wondrous and incredible things displayed within film history during this Nolan extravaganza, with films of the likes of Gravity and Apollo 13 struggling to compare in visual artistry. From the vast expanse of space, which houses a strange sense of beauty all throughout, to the serene and most gigantic of planets, such as Saturn; a particularly effective shot involves the spaceship Cooper inhabits flying past Saturn, appearing as merely a speck in contrast to the gas giant that looms beside with what seems like terrifying stillness. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema manages to pick up where prior Nolan cinematographer Wally Pfister left off, providing a visual identity that seems very much unique to Interstellar, as well as insanely beautiful and full of scope. The score, by Hans Zimmer, filled out with ethereal and affecting organs and strings, seems to only enhance the extent of the films visuals, captivating the audience member with its size and scope. Zimmer has never been as sentimental and heartfelt with his music before as he is here, and whilst it doesn't sound as if it will make great listening as a solo album, it works perfectly within context, heightening the emotions of the protagonists. The visual effects are unparalleled, transcending anything we've ever seen in cinema before. Ever still, Nolan manages to continually implement practical effects, maintaining an exhilarating feeling of realism which draws us into the universe that the film explores. Practical sets, including constructed spaceships, European glaciers, and some insanely large expanses of water help to evoke the most genuine and sincere of performances from the actors performing alongside them. But what makes Interstellar so undeniably beautiful is the contrast between this scientific and universal component and the sentimentality of the characters and their relationships. Whilst the film spans multiple galaxies and takes place on several distinctive and unique planets, what manages to resonate instantaneously with the audience member is the central relationship between father and daughter; that is Cooper and his daughter Murph. From the beginning of the film, it's clear that these characters are especially close, looking out for each other at every turn. As Cooper has to abandon her to save the human race, Murph begins to resent him; the man who has always looked out for her is now leaving for another planet, perhaps never to return. Cooper is as unsure and saddened as Murph, but he doesn't let this show, and so as he leaves, his daughter sees only him deserting her when she needs him most, as the planet is crumbling around them and she sees little hope. 

Cooper cries a whole lot in this film, primarily for Murph, who he also believes he deserted in a time of crisis. Time spans in what seems like illogical ways within the planets that Cooper intends upon embarking to, and so what may seem like an hour to him will appear as several years for his daughter and son on Earth. This leaves Cooper scrambling for ways to preserve time, and leads into the most central theme of the film; that time is a resource that is eventually exhausted by humans. The most heartbreaking thing about Interstellar is not only the disconnect between Murph and Cooper as he leaves for space, but is the fact that she is growing up without him. Cooper is the everyday man, someone who we can properly resonant with, and we understand his devastation as he realises that his daughter's life has been slipping away whilst he's been trekking about in space. Time is considered a threat by the characters, as something that can pull apart loved ones and reduce strong men and women to weak ones. It's the most detrimental of adversaries, and at the same time the most obscure; an opponent one can not technically fight, but only fend off for short periods. Time affects Cooper and Murph in different ways; with Murph, it makes her more resentful of her father leaving, and she begins to seemingly give up hope on the odds of him ever returning. Behind the veil, though, it still seems as if she wishes to continue to hope for her father's return. She grows older as Cooper is above and beyond, and she lives most of her life without him beside her, hateful of his decisions. In contrast, Cooper experiences far less time throughout his exploration, whether it be due to the gravitational pull of a black hole, or the incomprehensible longevity of hyper-sleep. Murph grows old as Cooper feels little time pass. As Cooper begins to realise the limited time and control he has over the situation, the tension mounts, and the film propels forward, Cooper trying to save the human race as well as try to return to his family before they are gone. It's an emotionally wrought thematic core for the film, and makes the disconnect between the two central protagonists even more effective than what could've been achieved otherwise.

The relatability of Cooper comes from that of Matthew McConaughey, who seems to be on a roll in regards to exemplary performances. He manages to anchor in the character of Cooper, and realises his full potential. His immense dedication to the role, as well as his chemistry with all of his co-stars, especially that of the underrated Mackenzie Foy proves to be the showcase of the film, as well as the sentimental centre of the picture. He has a natural flavour to his acting, and at no point does it seem like he is over-extending himself, nor acting melodramatic. He is seemingly genuine in all of his lines, delivering everything with a sincerity and wholeness that is very much human in a film of otherworldly proportions. The supporting cast all hold their own, providing profound and resonant performances, contributing to a wholly sound ensemble; Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine are all immensely good in their roles, Hathaway proving to be the stand out, far and wide. Her interactions with Cooper are at first rigid, but as their relationship blossoms and they begin to understand each other's emotions and motivations more clearly, they grow a strong friendship which furthers many of their latter scenes. All of the actors and actresses jump right into the film practicality, enhancing the viewing experience for all of us. Hathaway in particular engages in what has been reported to have been an immensely difficult range of physical activities for herself, as she had to deal with claustrophobia and other fears of her's. This furthers her performance to being something that seems fearful and entirely grounded in reality, making her more intense scenes dreadfully consuming and emotionally harrowing.

Interstellar poses few faults, though they are undoubtedly existent; there are a number of exposition-like pieces of dialogue that appear throughout the film, detracting from the mostly realistic words spouting from the lips of the characters. Hathaway's Brand seems to have undeveloped feelings for a certain character, this relationship doing little but to cause an argument between herself and Cooper. Another scene involving Brand seems entirely implausible by the way of common sense, her motivations seeming unrealistic to a point. And the final fifteen minutes seem dreadfully convenient, with certain plot lines wrapping up in ways which don't necessarily seem natural; they still carry emotional baggage though, so despite their improbability, on a sentimental level they do succeed in satisfactorily concluding a damn brilliant film. But despite these flaws, I found the vast majority of Interstellar to be one hell of a ride; one that could have very well have vouched for my Best Picture award come end of year if not for the final fifteen minutes. Disappointing in that sense, but less so when I compare it to how I felt initally coming into the cinema to see this picture. What was I expecting? A space opera? Something crafted in typical Nolan fashion (is there anything typical about Nolan's films?)? I don't really know, though I remember feeling hesitance to see this. Fortunately, I did, and it shall stay with me until the day I die. There are few times when you get to feel the sensation of flying within the cinema, and get to cry for characters who feel so emotionally resonant that you immediately relate to their plight. Whilst many will undoubtedly disagree with me, I found the setup to be handled in great taste; the space sequences all beautiful and ambitious; the planet scenes filled with tension and danger; the final act riddled with ideas, concepts and executions which prove that Nolan is in fact one of the finer directors of the modern age. He's not on the level of Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, or Hitchcock, as many have made him out to be, but in comparison to the masses of directors currently out in the world, Nolan has proven time and time again that he is one of the best in the business, Interstellar being no different. Its ambitions are high, though sometimes it doesn't reach the levels of dazzling brilliance that it aims so high for, whether it be Jonathon Nolan's screenplay or Chris' direction to blame; but perhaps we can forgive them for such. After all, ambition and reaching for something more than the norm is what drives cinema in a positive direction, and Interstellar reaches for the stars. 


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