Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2015) In many ways Interstellar is the movie that Christopher Nolan’s most ardent supporters always hoped he would make: a massive, sweeping, thoughtful epic that hits grand themes as hard as it does awe-inspiring imagery and tear-loosening emotion. It’s also the movie his detractors feared he would make: too ambitions, visibly flawed, and overly serious to the point of feeling silly. It’s certainly an impressive cinematic achievement on the biggest possible scale, just far from a perfect film.
You can’t help but think of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey while watching Nolan’s latest opus. The filmmaker openly draws comparison by mirroring many of Kubrick’s themes, images, ideas, and even characters. This is a sci-fi blockbuster that aims to make viewers’ heads explode. You’re supposed to be floored by the massive imagery, deeply moved by the human story, and have your brain busted by the complex space theory simultaneously. In a few magical sequences in the midst of the generous 169 minute running time, Nolan achieves those goals and the results are astounding. You’ll find yourself moved simultaneously by all ways that movies can affect audiences and feel like you’ll need to be scraped out of your seat after having congealed into a pile of goo from sheer cinematic force. Unfortunately, that stunning success arrives only in those few sequences and in between them the film can feel muddled, confused, convoluted, and thanks to Nolan’s patented self-serious tone, unintentionally comedic.
Just like The Dark Knight Rises, it’s a fault of ambition and at least that’s a fault that’s admirable. Nolan’s aim is to create something special and thoughtful out of popcorn fodder, but he just can’t quite pull all the pieces together. There are distracting plot holes, horribly stilted passages of expositional dialogue, cornball sentimentality, and faux-profound moments not nearly as meaningful as intended. For some, the bad will outweigh the good and they’ll look past all the remarkable work that Nolan and his team accomplished to nickpick and sneer. Certainly immediately after wandering out of the theater and gathering my bearings, all I could do was replay the flat moments in my head and lament that they existed.
Then a day later I found myself looking back on the film and only remembering what worked: The astoundingly large and beautiful images of alien planets backed by physically affecting sound design that enveloped me in the movie as deeply as Gravity; the richly emotional family story at the center that moved me to tears through variations on themes I thought I’d seen too many times to fall for; the application of theoretical physics into action movie set pieces that had my brain racing as fast as my heart; and the breathless pacing as well as the clever application of Nolan’s beloved non-chronological storytelling and cross-cutting that made it feel the film was racing to the credits for every one of it’s 169 minutes. When Interstellar works, it’s truly a remarkable achievement. Sadly, it doesn’t work all of the time.
What Christopher Nolan has crafted is an experience as much as a narrative and it’s worth taking the ride whether you like it or not. The flaws I’ve mentioned are those well known to anyone who has loved or hated Nolan’s previous work. Performances are deliberately sedate, often to the detriment of the audience’s emotional evolvement (even if it has to be said this is by far Nolan’s most moving movie to date, arguably his only one that tickles the heart strings). In an attempt to tie complicated space theories into the narrative, characters frequently ramble exposition off endlessly and awkwardly (at times the over-explanation can even feel mildly insulting, as if the filmmaker doesn’t trust us to understand what he’s going for). The tone is also overwhelmingly serious in a way that betrays it’s ultimate popcorn slinging nature and will generate snickers from audiences when bum lines of dialogue drop (his attempt at humor rarely works, with one character even requiring a light to clue the audience in on the fact that it’s joking in an amusing metaphor for Nolan’s tin ear for comedy).
So, Interstellar is a far from perfect movie, yet that should in no way deter you from seeing it.It’s just important to keep expectations at a reasonable level. The ways in which the movie fails are at least the result of a filmmaker attempting to stretch the boundaries of his genre and talents too far and that’s far more appealing than a movie that sets it’s ambitions too low. Nolan’s gift for creating grand immersive imagery is extraordinary and Interstellar features some of his most awe-inspiring work to date. That work is well suited to a Blu-ray presentation, even if home viewing ain’t exactly as immersive as IMAX no matter how impressive the home theater. Still, Warner Bros. has gone out of their way to ensure that this is one of the most impressive Blu-ray presentations on the market. Details are remarkably clear (especially in the IMAX-shot sequences, which have been presented in a larger aspect ratio here to the delight of purists and frustration of others), blacks are thick and inky, the rare colors pop, and depth is remarkable. Even better is the lossless soundtrack. The controversially dialogue-swamping sound mix has been retained and will cause plenty ears to bleed. Regardless of your opinion of the movie, there’s no denying that this is a showpiece Blu-ray. The special feature section is all doc-based with an hour-long feature on the theoretical science behind the movie and then another hour or so worth of mini-documentaries exploring the effects and production. Those hoping for anything resembling Nolan explaining the holes and confusions surrounding his script won’t be pleased, but anyone interested in the astounding technical achievements in the production and theoretical physics that served as inspiration will get plenty of info to chew on.
When Interstellar works, it’s like watching 2001: A Space Odyssey on 1.5 speed with added emotion and action scenes (in all the good and bad ways that implies). When it fails, it’s like watching 2001: A Space Odyssey on 1.5 speed with added emotion and action scenes while sitting next to a friend who doesn’t trust your intelligence, so he constantly over-explains everything and cracks bad jokes to break the tension. Sure, the film can be frustrating to watch, but it’s also absolutely amazing to watch when it’s cooking. Ultimate enjoyment comes down to how easily you can ignore the flaws. Either way, you’ll never feel like a dollar of your Blu-ray purchase was wasted. Christopher Nolan has crafted a cinematic experience that will transport you to another world, there’s no denying that. Whether or not you like where he’s taken you or how he got there is where things get tricky.