The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"INTERSTELLAR"

Interstellar

Interstellar is flawed and fascinating, mesmerizing and maddening, ambitious and confusing, intellectual and oversimplified. It is not Christopher Nolan's best film by a long shot, yet it's also proof that “not Christopher Nolan's best film” is still better and more thrilling than many directors' finest work. The movie inspires a lot of feelings in a viewer – some of them good, others not. Even so, the not-good feelings it generates come from a place of trying to go above and beyond what most mainstream pictures will attempt and not quite succeeding. There isn't an ounce of laziness here, simply a desire to blow the roof off the theater. You've got to respect that.

The story is set in an unspecified near future. Earth, now an agrarian society, is in dire straits. Blight has killed off most crops, leaving mankind on the verge of starvation. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former NASA test pilot/engineer now, like many, forced into a life of farming. Through a series of events too complex to delve into here, he is called back into action by what remains of his former employer. A wormhole has been discovered in space, and several explorers have been sent through it, in search of a new home for Earth's residents. Three potentially suitable planets have been identified. Cooper and a small team of scientists, including Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), are launched into the cosmos to see which of them is most hospitable to sustaining life, and to bring the original team home. The trip is perilous, to say the least. It also affects Cooper's family. Because time moves differently through the wormhole, he is gone for many Earth years, leaving his two children to grow up while he stays the same age. Jessica Chastain plays his adult daughter, who resents her father's decision to embark on the journey.

There's much more to Interstellar than what I've described, but in the interest of being as spoiler-free as possible, I'm leaving a lot out. The film, scripted by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, tackles enough cosmic science to give Neil deGrasse Tyson a nerdgasm. Wormholes, gravity, black holes, the bending of time and space – all of them figure prominently into the plot. Interstellar addresses so many big themes that there's no way it can ever pay them all off. And it doesn't. Largely, this is because of some occasionally poor dialogue. The Nolans rely on scientific concepts, yet, in an effort to make them understandable to the layman, dull them down so much that they sometimes come off sounding unintentionally trite. Most egregious is a speech in which Amelia tries to scientifically explain love. It's almost laughably silly.

Other times, the film practically ties itself in knots utilizing all these things. There are scenes where Cooper and others engage in lengthy exposition dumps so we can understand what's happening. At times, they do it during inopportune moments, such as mid-adventure sequences. People are fighting to avoid calamity, while also not-so-subtly explaining to the audience what they're doing to avoid calamity. It doesn't always work anyhow; there are moments throughout that are somewhat confusing.

Having said that, there's a heck of a lot of ambition on display in Interstellar. The use of real scientific concepts, whether you fully understand them or not, gives the movie a sense of weight and purpose. So does the use of duel plot threads. Cooper leaves his kids behind in an effort to save their lives. They carry on without him, largely unaware of where in the cosmos he is and whether he's even still alive and working on the problem. Tension is built moving back and forth between these strands, and there's a powerful scene halfway though the movie in which Cooper grasps the personal cost of his decision.

Directorially, Nolan delivers his trademark sense of spectacle. There are lengthy scenes on two of the planets, both of which are staged with majesty and awe. You really feel as though you're looking at some foreign world. Scenes set in space are magnificent, as well. Nolan visualizes going through a wormhole and experiencing a time/space rift brilliantly. On every visual level, this is astonishing work.

The best thing about Interstellar, though, is the last half-hour. I have never seen anything like the last 30 minutes of this movie. Ever. Nolan devises a concept so stirring and bold that it sends your imagination into overdrive. (If you loved Nolan's Inception, you'll positively flip for this.) Mind-blowing special effects enhance the impact. For any flaws Interstellar may have, it nails the Big Idea at the end in a way that's both intellectually and emotionally engaging.

McConaughey, Hathaway, and Chastain are all excellent, and a supporting character – a robot called TARS – steals almost every scene he's in. The music and cinematography are aces, too. Interstellar isn't perfect, but it doesn't really matter. The movie aims high as can be, hits more than it misses, and, at its best, almost literally takes your breath away.

( 1/2 out of four)


Interstellar is rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 49 minutes.


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