Interstellar is one of those big, rib-rattling, epic-sprawl movies that you only get from determined, well-funded visionaries like…well, like Chris Nolan. And this, make no mistake, is a super-charged time-travel flick that is also very personal. It’s basically about Nolan saying “there’s no place like home, like family, like love”…probably due to a suspicion that he works too obsessively and is missing out on his children’s lives or something along those lines. Sounds like The Wizard of Oz in Space, right? Without the jokes and the songs and the fancifulness, of course. And without, I regret to say, any way to believe in other-wordly realms. Interstellar is quite the wowser throttle ride — you have to see it, of course — but for me it didn’t hang together in a way that felt right or rooted or satisfying. It “played” but it didn’t sink in.
Interstellar is basically a grim story about love, loss, heroism…a down-the-rabbit-hole tale about seeking and adventuring and returning, Odysseus-style. It’s riveting at times. Now and then it’s breathtaking. And at times it is speechy and banal. At times it’s one of those “wait..give me that again?” movies. I just didn’t believe or understand a lot of it. And it has one scene that, no lie, is comically awful. Beware the killer colonist who once dropped in on Che Guevara!
That was my reaction, for the most part. I was “impressed” by it as far as the chops and the eye-filling scenery, both local and cosmic, were concerned and I generally liked the rumble-in-space stuff, but I couldn’t buy into it, man…not really. (Does this mean I’ll lose out on Paramount award-season ads? I’m weeping over this but I gotta be me.) But a friend tells me that Emile Hirsch and Chris Rock and Adrien Brody and a lot of other celebrities who saw it last Wednesday night were really blown away so…you know, don’t let me stop you. (Rock told my friend that he “doesn’t think any film can possibly match it.”) It’ll be Best Picture nominated, I suppose, because the community wants to kiss Nolan’s ass for the same reason it has smooched Spielberg’s ass for the last 39 years. And it’ll probably win two or three tech Oscars. And it’ll make loads of money.
I mentioned last week that I couldn’t hear half the dialogue due to the oppressively bassy, ear-splitting sound inside the TCL Chinese. Two days ago I spoke to a technical guy with decades of experience under his belt who knows all about that theatre the way Janis Joplin knew all about that wine, baby, and it really is a problem venue — trust me. I should really re-experience Interstellar at a decent theatre before writing any further but everyone’s reviewing this morning so I’ll do Round Two later on. Like I said the other day, “I’d hear a word or sometimes a phrase now and then, and sometimes an actual whole sentence or two. But I realized early on there was no winning. The atmospheric rumbles and impact sounds and vibrating whomps ruled above all.”
Interstellar goes to Oz, all right. It’s basically about a trip to a cosmic Grimville — a cold, gray, hellish world of heaving seas, anti-gravitational Inception-like walls and ugly sheets of glacial ice and snow drifts. “Who the hell wants to colonize in this Godforsaken place?,” I was thinking to myself. “Is it okay if we take the movie back to good old doomed earth because this place really blows, man…get me outta here!” And yet it’s a planet that might, humanity hopes, serve as a place where humans could colonize and start over again with earth having all but choked itself to death with dust storms. So yes, like every other big movie of any scope or imagination these days, Interstellar is another dystopian vision — an end-of-the-world thing or at least one that begins with that proposition.
Like Dorothy, Matthew McConaughey‘s Cooper, a devoted Texas dad and an ex-astronaut given a second chance to fulfill his destiny, goes way the hell out into a mind-bending place, or more specifically on a long space trek with co-voyagers Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Dyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley), and then into Wormhole Land and finally onto the least attractive planet you’d ever want to colonize on, only to whine repeatedly and be struck over and over by a basic human realization, a simple statement of emotional truth…”Ah miss mah keeyids.” And they are Murph (played as a 12 year-old by Mackenzie Foy and by Jessica Chastain in her adult phase) and Tom (Timothee Chalamet as a boy, Casey Affleck as a man).
I was thinking of Oz earlier because of a third-act sequence in which McConaughey’s drawlin’, space travellin’ dad, stuck in some precarious realm amidst the blackness of space, suddenly finds himself on the other side of a magical looking-glass realm (actually the other side of an imaginary bookcase in his Texas home) and gazing at the 30-something Chastain, who was 12 when he left the earth. He calls out to her, looking to connect, to somehow be felt or heard…and in a way he gets through despite being trapped in this spectral, near-death void. It’s an affecting moment (probably the most memorable of all) but it also reminded me of Dorothy looking at a sepia-toned image of a distressed Auntie Em inside a crystal ball. “I’m here, Auntie Em!,” Dorothy cries while her aunt cries back, “Dorothy! Dorothy…where are you?”
After the Chinese screening I heard from a forward-thinking geek who said he and his homies were down with Interstellar and in fact transported by it. So we’ve got the celebrities and the geeks. But forget the 68 year-old Academy farts. How many times does Nolan cut back from space to that same damn farmhouse and cornfield…the same damn dust storm, the same pickup trucks, the same flatness?
I was saying to myself as I sank into the second hour, “If I could hear more of the dialogue I might be into this a bit more, but all I’m really hearing beyond the odd word or phrase of occasional sentence is the whomp and the romp and the stomp. Given my limited comprehension of the dialogue due to this shitty sound system I have to say that I really hate hate HATE movies that make me feel dumb. And this film is making me feel like an effing moron. McConaughey and Hathaway and The Informant are in hell on the ice planet of Hoth, and I’m in hell in the TCL Chinese.”
You know when I’ll be able to fully understand Interstellar? When I watch it next summer on Bluray.
A friend who sat next to me said it was “aggressively user-unfriendly. Inception explained its rules in the first few scenes and then settled in so you could watch every permutation play out. Interstellar never stops introducing new rules and explaining them to you, and the actors sound like they’re reading from textbooks — even, disastrously, when they’re talking about love.”
On top of which Interstellar features an intelligent headless robot that looks partly like several large, dark-gray bricks (like digital speakers found at Best Buy) and partly like a dark-gray leggo creature with Rubiks Cube hinges. The film actually features two of them, called CASE and TARS. They’re as smart as HAL and they pitch in from time to time. Presumably toy-model versions will be available in stores before long. Nolan has called the the robots “anthropomorphic…a five-foot quadrilateral design…you’ve got four main blocks and they can be joined in three ways.” A friend is complaining this morning that these robots are basically Jar-Jar Binks X 2.
Another friend felt that Interstellar was, at times, “almost like an SNL parody. The Informant sequence almost sunk the whole movie. The script is so hard to understand it’s like watching a French movie with no subtitles. Overwrought, talky, melodramatic — laughably bad in points. But the visual effects sequences are beyond fantastic. And that last part is amazing.”
I’m sorry but I heard giggles, cackles, chuckles and groans behind me and to my left, especially during the Informant sequence. A younger woman sitting next to me was reacting in a very demonstrative way as if to say “wow, I can’t believe this…my God…wow.” She might have been with the geeks and the celebs, or she might have been on my side of the debate or somewhere in between. But she definitely wasn’t bored.
Another friend wrote that “we should thank our lucky wormholes for the Chris Nolans of the world.” I’m glad also that guys like Nolan are making films like Interstellar, and I am earnestly looking forward to giving it another chance in a theatre with a better sound system. It may not work all that well but at least it’s been made in a formidable, first-class, budget-blazing sort of way that at least stretches you out and makes you grapple with it. It’s definitely a wrestling match kind of experience. But Hans Zimmer‘s bombastic score, man…later.
Funny Poland: “And the score. OH MY GOD!!!! The score. I often love Hans Zimmer. I have found myself defending his scores when others complain. He has done some truly wonderful work. And this film felt like being hit over the head with every instrument in the orchestra until unconscious. I don’t ever recall a more relentless or agonizing aural experience in a film. There is not a moment of drama that does not, apparently, require underscoring that makes it seem like Atlanta is burning. HEY! THIS IS IMPORTANT. But everything is important in Interstellar. That’s what the film tells me endlessly.”