Interstellar - 'Daring sci-fi that's out of this world, and out of its depth'
Science-Fiction. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace, Mackenzie Foy. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Cert 12A
Well, one certainly can’t fault Christopher Nolan when it comes to vaulting ambition. Having delivered the hugely successful Batman trilogy and somehow managed to get a studio to agree a budget in the region of $200m for a one-off psychological thriller set in several dreamworlds with the vastly over-rated Inception, he’s now set his sights beyond our planet itself.
Or, to be more precise, Nolan and his screenwriter brother Jonathan have set themselves the monumental task of dealing with several huge themes, namely the imminent destruction of human life on Earth and the possibility that there could be several worlds in a different galaxy capable of maintaining the continuation of the human race.
Set at an unspecified time in the near future, Interstellar begins in spectacular fashion with massive dust storms ravaging the American mid-West and destroying the food supply. Former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is struggling to survive on his farm following an unspecified, or possibly imagined, crash and dealing with a young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) who believes a ghostly presence is trying to contact her and is obsessed with the Apollo moon landings. On the latter subject there’s arguably the film’s finest gag but I won’t spoil it for you.
Echoing Close Encounters, Cooper discovers that his daughter has been delivered mysterious co-ordinates which lead to a secret NASA base in the desert where his former mentor Dr Brand (Nolan regular Michael Caine) is putting together a mission to examine the other side of a mysterious wormhole which has opened up near Saturn and could offer mankind a future. Naturally, Cooper, being “the best pilot NASA ever had”, gets to fly the craft alongside Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), two other crew members and a wise-cracking robot.
Thus far there’s nothing here to differentiate Interstellar from plot strands cribbed from several sci-fi sources but it’s all handled extremely efficiently, not least in a mission launch sequence.
However, the problems begin to arise once we’re off the planet and the film becomes creaky with dialogue and exposition. Discussions about relativity, philosophy and the meaning of life are all very well but there are times when it seems the Nolans are simply tying themselves in knots trying way too hard to make the film showily ‘intelligent’.
One particular scene in which Hathaway’s theoretical physicist bangs on about love being the most powerful force in the universe sounds like it came from a completely different film and is cringe-inducing, not to mention out of character.
On a more interesting note, the story does have the people back on Earth ageing much faster than the astronauts, with Cooper’s daughter (now played by Jessica Chastain) working alongside Dr Brand to crack mysteries of gravity and relativity as time continues to run out.
Interstellar is undoubtedly spectacular, not least when Cooper and his crew get to visit two alien worlds where previous missions had been sent to, but in trying to cram too many themes into an almost three-hour running-time the Nolans have overstretched themselves. They stretch the audience’s patience to the limit too in a final 40-minute sequence which is as baffling and bonkers as the closing section of 2001 : a Space Odyssey.
The cast are generally fine, if occasionally inaudible due to Hans Zimmer’s overpowering score, but as a piece of entertainment perhaps it would have been wiser to trim back on several of the ideas and present a more cohesive, not to mention coherent, story.
READ Paul Whitington's review: Interstellar - 'science trumps story in latest Christopher Nolan epic