Film Score: Hans Zimmer Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn
Interstellar, you might think you were watching an Academy Award winning film. If you closed your eyes and simply listened, however, you’d swear you were screening a high school visual arts class project. It’s that bad. All of which makes assessing the film fairly challenging. It’s not a horrible film by any stretch, and it takes no effort to remain interested in the story--at least until the ending. But the screenplay, co-written by Nolan’s brother Jonathan undercuts the good parts of the film at every turn. The dialogue does absolutely nothing to develop the characters, as all of them remain two-dimensional throughout the entire film. It delivers no useful information to the viewer, leaving them a bit mystified as to all of the theoretical plot holes in the scientific underpinning of the story. And finally it’s so far-fetched as to render the entire exercise nearly pointless. But it sure is gorgeous to watch.
Matthew McConaughey is a former test pilot who was scrubbed from the space program when his plane went down. Now he lives on a farm in the Midwest as a widower with his father-in-law, John Lithgow, and his two kids. The time is the near future and while the world has ended warfare, a blight has destroyed all of the grain crops on earth except for corn. He hates farming, his son can’t get into college, his daughter has a poltergeist in her bedroom, and the earth is dying from lack of oxygen. Meanwhile dust storms come sweeping across the landscape every few days and get dirt everywhere. It’s not until McConaughey becomes interested in the poltergeist that things begin to happen. It turns out that the books being pulled off her shelves by invisible hands are an attempt to communicate using binary code. He figures out that the information is a location, and when they go their government agents capture them. It turns out, however, that the location is a secret space program run by Michael Caine designed to go into a worm hole near Saturn that can take astronauts to a distant galaxy to repopulate another planet from the dying Earth. Anne Hathaway is Caine’s daughter and they need McConaughey to fly the ship. It’s actually a little more interesting than it sounds.
But again, the visuals are the only interesting thing about the film, and even they have some problems. The Dust Bowl like conditions are wonderful to look at, but they can hardly be called original. And the space sequences seem oddly reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jessica Chastain and Casey Afleck appear later as the older versions of McConaughey’s kids, and there are spiffy cameos by Ellen Burstyn and Matt Damon, who turns out to be nothing like his character in The Martian. The thing that’s so disappointing is how much could have been done with the idea, and how extravagantly it was squandered by Nolan. The project had originally been designed for Stephen Spielberg and, even though it had been written by Jonathan Nolan at that point, it’s difficult to believe that it would have made it to the screen without an extensive rewrite. One thing Spielberg is known for is the quality of the screenplays he works with. It’s troubling to read how many fans think this is one of the best films of all time, considering how incredibly bad the dialogue is, and that doesn’t bode well for the future. The actors do as well as they can, saddled with insipid dialogue that does nothing to give them any life. The whole thing is reminiscent of the philosophical drudgery of the 1936 film by H.G. Wells, Things to Come, in that it lacks anything resembling a story. While Interstellar has tension and suspense, and boasts some great actors working in visually compelling landscapes, ultimately it can’t overcome a crippling screenplay that never gets off the launch pad.