interstellarParamount Picture

“Everybody good? Plenty of slaves for my robot colony?”

In Earth’s future, a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand, a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth’s population to a new home via a wormhole. But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Cooper and a team of researchers through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind’s new home.

After emerging from the recent directorial offering from Christopher Nolan, I had an early theory: Interstellar was a spiritual remake of the Disney movie The Black Hole. Then, after chewing it over further with the friends who accompanied this early Saturday afternoon viewing over a late lunch, I have since amended my initial theory to–Interstellar is the result of no one being able to decide to remake either 2001: A Space Odyssey or the afore-mentioned Black Hole. And while I realize that The Black Hole lifted plot points directly from 2001 (among other popular sci-fi movies of the era), I would so not like to incur that kind of headache right now, thankyouverymuch. At least, not on top of the one Interstellar gave me.

Let me clarify–this headache would be one of the good kind; the kind being what results from giving something good to mentally masticate on. Interstellar is a very well-written, well-directed, and overall well put-together science fiction movie that manages to fire on all cylinders throughout the entire run time of the film. There is the ending that makes me a bit twitchy even now, just remembering it, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

In the near future, a kind of worldwide famine caused by a blight wipes out the majority of crops that we can produce for food, resulting in a severe drop in the human population, universal dust storms, and a move back to farming as a way of life. Technology is modified to help focus on farming, but the crops keep succumbing to the blight, leaving only corn as a substantial crop, and even that is beginning to show signs of blight. Matthew McConaughey is a former astronaut-turned-farmer has to deal with his childrens’ school not teaching them proper science, but also with his younger daughter’s idea that there is a poltergeist trying to send messages in the dirt that builds up during the dust storms inside her room. Of course, he figures out there really were messages being sent from an intelligent being, which leads him to the secret operational base of NASA, which has been reduced to Radio Shack status due to the global anti-space travel mindset everyone else has. Apparently, a wormhole has opened up near Saturn, which leads to several other planets that could sustain life, and thus they send McConaughey along with a handful of other science-y people and a couple of robots to check things out. When they get to the other side of the universe, however, the planet they were sent to investigate first seems to be caught in the outer pull of a black hole, which really messes with the relative time dilation. And if you think jet lag was annoying, try having 20+some-odd-years pass in the span of only less than an hour. By this time, McConaughey’s son has taken over the farm and has gone somewhat insane, while his daughter is all grown up and working for NASA to figure out how to get the human race off of Earth and settled in better space digs before their complete extinction, all the while still being butt-hurt about him choosing to go off into space to try and help in the effort himself, to make a better future for his children. That selfish bastard. Meanwhile, they run across a crazy Matt Damon stranded on Hoth, McConaughey gets sucked into the black hole trying to save the remaining astronaut on the mission, and does his best to tell the laws of physics to piss off while pretending to be the ghost that communicates with his younger daughter by way of gravitational fluxes. Believe me, what I just wrote there doesn’t even come close to being as confusing as the actual part of the movie. Anyway, rather than transforming into a Star Child (which wouldn’t have surprised me if they went that route), McConaughey winds up in the future, where his daughter managed to figure out the science behind saving the humans (it involves space station colonies or something), and he even gets to visit her on her deathbed, where he totally squanders the chance to quip, “You know the best thing about Special Relativity is? You all get older, I stay the same age.” I don’t care how heartless that would have been, it was a wasted opportunity, people. Anyway, he then goes off to find the last remaining member of his ill-fated expedition, rather than stay on the replica of his old farm house from Earth days. The End.

It’s rare that I would venture out into the theaters to watch a science fiction movie nowadays; even more so when it’s in its initial first run. But, it was my birthday, and I was attending with friends, and it looked rather intrigueing, so I went. I was rather glad I did, as I found Interstellar to be a good, complex, compelling and utterly engaging science fiction picture that may have stumbled a couple of times, but for the most part made the nearly three hour run time seem like a paltry not-even-two-hours. The entire cast works well together; I’ve never really had much of an opinion on Matthew McConaughey, mainly due to not really having watched many of his films outside of his run in Dazed & Confused and the gloriously bad Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, and you can’t really count those two movies when you’re making an assessment of someone’s ability. Here, he’s perfect as the everyman trying to make the best out of some pretty crappy situations, along with a couple of child actors that I didn’t really find all that endearing. Whiny, maybe, but not endearing. Especially the daughter. “Ooooo, daddy is abandoning me to save us all from imminent extinction! I’m gonna hate him until well into my young adulthood!” Annoying brat. Anyway, all the regulars shine here: John Lithgow as McConaughey’s father-in-law, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley and David Gyasi as the other parts of the crew, Michael Caine as the head of NASA…and I think there was a Topher Grace in there as well. But the greatest part of the cast goes to the two androids, TARS and CASE. Especially CASE, for obvious reasons. Their designs were simple yet slick, and they have some of the best lines in the movie. The fact that they weren’t CGI’ed at all–they were puppets, all practical effects–made them even more awesome. Speaking of obvious segue…

The overall visual effects were gorgeous. The movie relied mainly on practical effects mainly, from the dust storm to the robots to even the all-ocean planet itself to that ending inside the black hole sequence, you could tell that some work went into making this come alive without spiraling into unintentional Uncanny Valley territory. The story, though, is what makes me think of Interstellar as one of the better movies I’ve seen in a while: it strikes that good balance between hard science fiction and slice-of-life drama that is the blend of most of my favorite sci-fi fiction in any media. Mind you, I was more than a bit dubious with the conflict resolution, especially what McConaughey experienced within the black hole, there–and no, I’m not going to delve into that one, as this review is already going much longer than I had intended…sufficed to say, they just tried to out-weird the ending to 2001: A Space Odyssey and, well, fell kinda short–but overall, I found Interstellar a much satisfying science fiction movie that I was glad I managed to watch on the big screen, rather than discovering it as a rental. Highly recommended.