Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)

What’s it about? On a not-that-futuristic Earth, the food is running out, threatening the existence of the human race. Hope for survival lies with NASA pilot-turned-struggling-dustbowl-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who is recruited by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to boldly go on a secret mission into space to find a new world for humanity to live on. Only to do so, he must leave his family behind. 

Is it any good? You would have to be a pretty poor specimen of the human race to not be enthused or stimulated by the stuff Nolan tackles here. The future of Mankind, the nature of love, wormholes, black holes, artificial intelligence,  ghosts, relativity, combine harvesters with a mind of their own; these are all things that have exercised the minds of men since time began. Thing is, many sci-fi film-makers and writers have tackled this stuff previously, so does Interstellar bring anything new to the table?

Well, not really, although there is still much to like here. Nolan primarily aims to celebrate two things; the pioneering spirit of the human race and their capacity for love. The first is championed through science and Man’s thirst for knowledge, with some pretty heavy astrophysics mapped out economically without patronising the viewer. There’s some cool gadgets on display too, particularly the splendidly designed robot TARS, who gets all the best lines and who is an instant addition to the list of great movie robots. Fittingly, the celebration of science onscreen is reflected by the technical advances behind the scenes, which results in some stunning visuals and sound design.

Balanced against the scientific element is the second theme - the exploration of human love and intimacy, exemplified in the relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murph. Some clunky dialogue aside, the cast do good work here to engage the emotions, as the film reminds us there are things science cannot explain (yet?). Not sure these moments really needed the looming Hans Zimmer score, though, which gives the impression of a man who has collapsed onto his organ at times under the weight of the film’s themes.

However, the problem for both elements is that they hang upon a terribly baggy plot, which confuses, rather than surprises, by throwing some rather illogical and contrived plot developments into the mix. As a result, and somewhat ironically for a film so concerned with time and gravity, it ends up being too long and too heavy overall, in danger of collapsing in on itself at times. Nolan must have been too close to a black hole when he made it (award yourself 2001 space-points if you understand that joke). I couldn't help thinking that a previous McConaughey film, Contact, based on the excellent book by astrophysicist Carl Sagan, dealt with much the same themes to better (if less spectacular) effect.

And thus, as I headed out gently into the good night from the cinema, I concluded that Interstellar might not be the ultimate trip to the movies, but it had enough of the right stuff to make it a worthwhile (star) trek.

Anything else I should know? Still struggling with relativity? Here's a simple explanation, through the medium of a dazed and confused Matthew McConaughey*.

*May not be entirely accurate.

What does the Fonz think? It’s like Steinbeck meets Star Trek: The Grapes of the Wrath of Caine.

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