Review: Interstellar - Aims for the stars and hits the ceiling

Tom Browne

It's probably the most highly anticipated film of the year, but does Christopher Nolan's Interstellar live up to its much-hyped arrival?

Interstellar comes looming out of the screen like a huge and beautifully designed piece of machinery, trailing the kind of hype normally reserved for Spielberg or Scorsese. Director Christopher Nolan—the man behind the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception—is one of the few mainstream filmmakers to combine big-budget spectacle with intellectual depth, and he certainly doesn’t patronise his audience. But while Interstellar is ambitious, full of ideas and visually stunning, it’s also overlong, corny and, at times, downright silly. What could have been the movie of the year is, in truth, a bit of a disappointment.

The film starts with a number of talking heads discussing an apparent ecological disaster that threatens the human race with extinction. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a widowed engineer turned farmer who fears for the future of his family in the face of crop failure and increasingly threatening dust storms. One day—either by divine providence, alien intervention or sheer coincidence—they receive a message that directs them to a remote NASA airbase, where Cooper learns about a secret space mission to find other habitable planets. Despite the near three-hour running time, this set up feels very rushed. Before you know it, Cooper has agreed to commandeer an experimental craft and is being flung into the outer reaches of space with scientists Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley). There’s also TARS, a chirpy onboard computer voiced by Bill Irwin, which recalls the more reserved HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Nor is this the only reference to 2001. Nolan is clearly in awe of Kubrick’s masterpiece, and much of Interstellar plays like tribute to the senior director’s film: you can see it in the eerie moments of silence, the overarching, ponderous tone, and the Stargate-like sequence that makes up most of the final act. But these numerous references only emphasise the gulf in quality: if you’re going to remind people of the greatest sci-fi movie of all time, you’d better be pretty damn great yourself.

Sadly, though, Interstellar bites off more than it can chew. The exposition is often clumsy—characters frequently stand around explaining the plot, even drawing diagrams at particularly tricky moments. This attempt to avoid confusion renders much of the dialogue clunky and banal. One long speech, in which Anne Hathaway discusses love and how it defies scientific analysis, provoked titters at the screening I attended. Worse still, it leaves the audience with little work to do. For all its apparent depth, Interstellar, unlike 2001, isn’t the kind of film that stands up to repeated viewings.

That said, there’s plenty to admire. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is more subtle than you’d expect, deftly balancing suspense and drama. The visual effects are consistently great, not least a nail-biting space-docking sequence that equals anything in Gravity. Best of all, there’s a cameo appearance by Matt Damon at the halfway point that really brings the film to life and puts most of the other performances in the shade.

But although you can’t fault its ambition, Interstellar is frustrating rather than mind-blowing. In aiming for the stars, Nolan has hit the ceiling.

Watch the trailer:
 

Read more articles by Tom Browne here