Movie review: “Interstellar” less than stellar

BY LOUIS JOHNSON – johnsonlo@mnstate.edu

Christopher Nolan has crafted quite a career for himself. His first independent film was shot in 1998 on a budget of $6000, and he now stands next to film industry superstars like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg. He has released multiple films that have found themselves on the list of highest-grossing films of all time. Now, in 2014, Nolan releases his newest film, “Interstellar.”

Nolan’s first sci-fi film is a clunky and flawed movie that glimpses at greatness but never quite achieves it. Despite some breathtaking visuals and meticulous scientific accuracy, at the core of the film is a poorly written and uneven script that struggles to hold the film together.

Nolan spends so much time in “Interstellar” lavishing in the technical aspects of space travel that he forgets how to craft a film with character and emotion. The dialogue in the film never feels like genuine human interaction, and instead it seems like Nolan had the actors read a science textbook.

Nolan has characters spout long scientific explanations about how wormholes or black holes work. This is at least half of the dialogue in the film. But I find myself asking, “why are the characters telling each other science facts? Aren’t these characters astronauts?”

Every technical detail doesn’t need to be explained to the audience, only what is necessary. So much time is spent on explaining the science that it leaves little room for dialogue that develops the characters.

None of the characters have depth. The only one I can briefly describe is Matthew McConaughey’s character Cooper, and even then all I can say about him is that he’s a dad. At the end of the movie I didn’t have a sense of any character’s personality. No time was spent fleshing out the characters beyond their archetypal molds.

The first act of the film is spent on Cooper and his relationship with his family. Although McConaughey’s performance is solid, the child actors who play his kids are so wooden that I didn’t feel any connection to their family ties. Cooper and his daughter Murphy share an important bond in the movie, but the actress who plays her as a child had such poor line delivery that she failed to portray the emotional bond of the two characters.

The main theme in the film is love, not love in the Shakespearean sense, but love in a Hallmark card sense. We are told characters, like Cooper and Murphy, love each other and are told we are supposed to care, but the performances lack the subtlety needed to convince audiences of this. Nolan believes that having actors cry is all that is needed to convey love.

Despite all the scientific focus in “Interstellar,” in the end emotions win out. Without giving too much away, the film concludes outlandishly with a complete rejection of cold hard science that it had vehemently stuck to.

There’s also some large plot holes in the film. A number of the characters have shifts in their motivations, but the reasons why are either poorly explained or not explained at all. There is also a problem of characters conveniently leaping to illogical conclusions for the sake of plot progression. There is no explanation as to why the characters come to these conclusions, and it feels like lazy writing.

At one point in the film a character shows up who raises questions of his mortality and conveys legitimate fear for his own survival. This is my favorite part of the movie because emotion is finally conveyed. Deep at its core, sci-fi is an exploration of what it means to be human. Unfortunately this story arc is ruined as it becomes just a segway to incorporate an action scene.

The other huge flaw in this film is its lack of visual creativity. Don’t get me wrong, the technical effects are fantastic and the film has some of the best special effects I’ve seen all year, but Nolan had an opportunity to do so much more. He had a chance to explore surrealism and expressionism when working with a film about interdimensional travel. Yet everything on screen in these different planets and dimensions all look like things found on earth.

This was also a huge flaw in Nolan’s 2010 film “Inception,” a film in which characters travel into people’s dreams. Everything we see in the dreams is something that is tangible in the physical world. In “Interstellar” Nolan once again dips his fingers in a world of abstraction, but stubbornly stays in reality.

Although Nolan never ventures into the abstraction and surrealism I would have liked, the special effects and cinematography are still fantastic. The technical aspects of the film are its greatest strength. Whether the characters travel through a completely frozen world, or a planet of nothing but water, or even just drive through a corn field, there is never a dull moment visually. I would liken it to watching a National Geographic film shot on another planet.

Despite my many complaints, “Interstellar” is by no means a bad movie. Its just incredibly rough around the edges. There’s more than enough visual spectacle, and the movie stays pretty engaging once you get past the first act. Just don’t expect to be blown away.

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