Monday, November 10, 2014

Interstellar (2014)

I think it's safe to say that Christopher Nolan is the "it" director of this generation. He's every bit on par with the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and can even surpass arthouse favorites like Stanley Kubrick. Following in the footsteps of Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy - both cinematic tours de force that are emotional, entertaining, and thought-provoking, and totally worth seeing in the theater - comes his latest, the dramatic sci-fi powerhouse Interstellar. You don't need to have a degree in physics to appreciate it, but scientists with imagination will find lots to love.

In a doomed near-future, the Earth is dying, and mankind's last hope for survival is a trip through a mysterious wormhole orbiting Saturn (conveniently placed there by an unknown intelligence). On the other side is a handful of planets in the vicinity of a supermassive black hole, that may or may not be conducive to human life. The big-ticket items on display include the space voyage theatrics (with a good mix of vacuum tension and extraterrestrial geography), and an exploration of such grand physics themes as relativistic dynamics, time dilation, black holes, wormholes, tesseracts, higher dimensions, etc.

However, the heart of this story is the very human tale of a father (Matthew McConaughey) having to leave behind his daughter (a tragically charming Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain as an adult), on the slim hope of saving the human race, which left me weeping crocodile tears. Also starring is Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway as a father-daughter pair working for NASA, and John Lithgow as yet another crotchety old man (recalling, for me, both Kinsey and Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Some of the film's dissertations on love as pertains its scientific validity approach the level of hokey pseudo-science, but mostly it serves to keep the story grounded in human pathos, which is balanced expertly alongside the imaginatively speculative science.

Nolan is obviously a huge fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Interstellar plays like a loving ode to that flawed classic, with its long run time, and its segments devoted to 1) activities on Earth leading up to 2) a great space voyage, ultimately culminating in 3) some pretty weird shit involving the universe and higher dimensions (no spoilers beyond that). 2001 succeeds in its idiosyncratic prologue depicting the birth of paleo-human intelligence, and in what would have made a great sci-fi/horror movie on its own: the betrayal of the artificial intelligence HAL 9000.

But where A Space Odyssey faltered - particularly in keeping the audience interested over its almost three hours, and its indecipherable ending - Interstellar shines. I feel like Interstellar is the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey needed to be. It's much more accessible, and ultimately more rewarding, with a more cohesive story. I hope it wins some awards - not that I usually care about that, since it's all a big popularity contest, but Interstellar deserves it. And you should definitely get out there and see it. It's worth it. It's the best new movie I've seen in a while, on par with Snowpiercer, which was fantastic, better even than Prometheus, once you strip away the Alien fan appeal, and able to hold its own when matched against Rise of the Planet of the Apes (and its sequel).

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