“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”
Let’s get this out of the way first. I’m part of the minority of people who think that Christopher Nolan is ever so slightly overrated. Yeah The Dark Knight was good, but it wasn’t outstanding, I actually think Batman Begins is better. Inception is pretty great, but the best film of all time as it is worryingly often called? No. My favourite film of his is the underrated (at least by Nolan standards) The Prestige which is better acted, directed and almost better at everything else than his more popular films. So a part of me sort of wanted Interstellar to be a little crap, to finally shut the Nolan worshippers up. But damn it, it isn’t. In fact, Interstellar is brilliant, and is certainly one of the best films of both 2014 and Christopher Nolan’s entire career.
Firstly, Interstellar is going to be compared not only to previous Nolan films, but to last year’s big space film, Gravity. While on the surface these films might seem quite similar, the actual end result is quite different. In my review I wrote on how Gravity was just pure cinema, a visceral experience and a great feat of technology, with great performances but with the story taking a back seat (but not necessarily to the films detriment). Interstellar on the other hand, while still containing these sort of moments, is much more character and story driven. The film follows Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) an ex-NASA pilot, now a farmer like most other people on the Earth, as he tries to bring up is kids in a word that is slowly dying. After finding a secret base where the remnants of NASA are, he is convinced to join a final space mission to save the population of Earth. The really interesting stuff happens when the crew get up into space though. After going through a wormhole to find new worlds the crew explain that time and relativity have to be taken into account, and their time is not the same as the Earth’s time. One hour on the first planet, for example, is 1 hour to the crew but is 7 years to the people back on Earth, including Cooper’s family. Saying much else would spoil the best moments of the film but rest assured, the film goes places that I for one wasn’t expecting it to go, special Matt Damon-y places…
The cast are very good of course, the film does boast 5 Oscar winners after all. Matthew McConaughey is brilliant as always, bringing just the right amount of everyman-ness to the role of Cooper while not appearing stupid compared to the more conventional scientists. Anne Hathaway who plays Brand, a crewman on the Endeavour with Cooper, is also great. A lot of people have complained about her performance, but I thought she did a good job. She had to hold her own against McConaughey at the height of his McConaissance and she did, and she did it well. She doesn’t get the same amount of emotional scenes as McConaughey but when she does she’s really good, and much less annoying than she was in Les Miserables. The rest of the cast are great too; Michael Caine doesn’t phone it in this time and is great in the short time he has, Jessica Chastain is good also and so is Casey Affleck, who play the grown up versions of Coopers children. There are also appearances from actors like Topher Grace, David Oyelowo and John Lithgow who only appear for a very small number of scenes but really help the film because their presence means that even the smallest characters are portrayed by good actors.
The script for the film is also getting a lot of flack but, for the most part, it’s pretty solid. Out of context the lines about how powerful love is might seem a little eye-rolly but in context, once you’re all swept up in the film, they’re completely fine. The script does take the film to some abstract places and while it might be too much suspension of disbelief for some, I loved it. I feel Interstellar does something with the science fiction genre that we haven’t seen in a long time; it pushes the boundaries of film, and it makes us as an audience wonder again. It’s not just action and a couple of cool sci-fi concepts, no this film follows the characters and takes us places relativity unique to cinema. It made space both magical and totally believable, while never being boring or familiar. And if anything, the film reminded me less of Nolan’s inspirations, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more of the trashy but completely awesome Event Horizon. Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar soundtrack was also a particular highlight. Unlike a lot of Zimmers work it felt completely new, sounding nothing like Pirates of the Caribbean and Gladiator, and is pleasingly over-the-top when it could have been a bit restrained.
The Bottom Line: Interstellar is Nolan’s best and most cerebral film since The Prestige. The superb actors hit all of the right emotional beats and the film is absolutely stunning to watch (and it’s even better when experienced in IMAX). But more importantly than that is that the film covers new ground for the science fiction genre and pushes the boundaries of the genre. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what’s important with a genre like science fiction? It’s meant to show us new things, to make us question and be intrigued and to wonder. Interstellar is an amazing film; terrifically acted, a feat of film making (especially as it was mostly practical effects), and a great example of an intelligent blockbuster. But it’s the fact that it makes us wonder, and makes us question our perception of the universe, for why I feel Interstellar is an amazing film.