By: Kevin Jordan
It’s all relative.
Two years ago, one of the best movies I’d ever seen – Cloud Atlas – went largely ignored by the American public. It was an amazing movie that was meticulously crafted and beautiful to behold, but poorly marketed and horribly misunderstood by many critics. Then, last year, Gravity came out and every critic thought they’d seen the best science fiction movie in the history of ever, despite that Gravity had almost no plot, contradicted its own physics as well as factual reality, featured a grand total of two characters – neither of which was well-developed, and had nothing at stake beyond the main character’s own life (seriously – how did not a single critic note that if she had died, it wouldn’t have mattered to anyone or anything because she had no family and she wasn’t trying to save or stop anything from happening?!). Sure, it had cool special effects, but Michael Bay’s been doing that for years and nobody has ever accused his movies of being Best Picture material. Now, we have Interstellar, the latest from Christopher Nolan, as our annual fall sci-fi flick and again, an oddball response from the main-stream critics (by which I mean those who are featured on Rotten Tomatoes) and a “fresh” rating of only 73%.
I’m not going to trash the critics like I did in my John Wick review, but sometimes I think they have a form of brain damage that occurs temporarily and randomly and causes them to hate something in a movie that they absolutely loved in another movie. In Gravity, the critics loved the realism and science – even though both of those things were wildly inaccurate – and thought the story was incredibly riveting, even though it was incredibly generic and predictable. In Interstellar, they deride the science and realism – even though both are driven by pure theory, thus open to all kinds of imagination – and thought the story was tedious and boring at times, even though it was never either of those things. It doesn’t make any sense –unless they have brain damage.
But enough of that – let me tell you why this movie is far and away the best movie of the year.
Interstellar is the kind of hard-core science fiction that reminds you of guys like Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Joe Haldeman, and Larry Niven – guys that wrote science fiction that was both incredibly creative and scientifically fascinating. All of them used prevailing theories or topics of the time to build their universes and write about what-if scenarios and their possibilities. What if humanity developed regular space travel? What if humans fought intergalactic wars? What if wormholes were real? Those guys asked those questions with more depth than something like Star Wars – they actually cared about the consequences of things like relativity with regards to faster-than-light travel or acceleration and deceleration to and from high velocities. Interstellar follows in their footsteps by including things like wormholes and black holes and then imagining the effects of those things. As a science fiction fan, I was geeking out worse than a man dressed up like a Reaver at comic-con finding himself locked in a room with Summer Glau.
Interstellar takes place in a future an indeterminate number of years from now. Blights have decimated global crops, starvation has killed millions and the situation has gotten to the point where corn is the only crop left that will grow. Oh, and massive dust storms regularly ravage the land and everything is constantly covered by a layer of dirt. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, an engineer/pilot-turned farmer, ekeing out a living with his son Tom, daughter Murph, and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), on their farm. One day, with some help from Murph, Cooper stumbles upon a secret NASA installation and Cooper is recruited by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway) to captain a space mission to find a new planet to colonize. Yes, it’s an amazing coincidence that Cooper just happened to have been previously trained to fly their specific space plane and just happened to live within driving distance of the secret facility without them knowing it, but you’ll just have to live with it.
Anyway, Brand explains to Cooper that a wormhole appeared near Saturn and that they have already sent twelve explorers through to find suitable planets for humans. Since communications through the wormhole are spotty at best, Cooper’s mission is to go to the best candidates to retrieve the explorers and their data and return to Earth. In parallel, Brand is working on finishing a formula that will allow them to manipulate gravity to the point where they can launch an entire station off the Earth and through the wormhole to start the colony. All of that is Plan A. As a Plan B, Cooper’s ship is being loaded with 9,000 fertilized human eggs to be used to start a new colony in case they are unable to return or must explore further for a suitable planet.
Ok – I know that’s a whole of detail there, but I wanted to make sure you understand that this movie’s plot is far more detailed and layered (I’ll get to the other layers in a moment) than the incredibly shallow plot of Gravity. Plus, there’s more at stake than just the entire human race. Due to relativity, Cooper and his crew will age slower (when they travel) than the people of Earth, so they can’t just succeed – they also have to finish and get back before all of their loved ones age and die. How freaking awesome a concept is that (I told you I was geeking out hard)?!
Time dilation is also one of the consequences I talked about earlier and one of those hard core science concepts that is hard to grasp, but included in most science fiction dealing with travelling through space. Basically, the concept is that the faster a person moves, the slower time passes for that person relative to the people who are not moving with them. This is showcased in the movie during a sequence in which one of the planets they visit is near the event horizon of a black hole. Because the planet is moving incredibly fast around the black hole, seven years will pass on Earth for every hour that passes on that planet. In other words, if Cooper and crew spend three hours on that planet, his kids will age twenty-one years during that same. Considering Cooper’s driving force is to get back to his kids, he probably doesn’t want to find out if Starbucks has already found that planet.
Because I think this movie is awesome, I won’t reveal anything else about the planets they visit – which are visually spectacular – or anything else from a plot perspective in the movie, but I do want to talk about the other main topic in this movie – human emotions and motivations. One reviewer claimed that you won’t care about the characters’ fates because they are poorly developed, but nothing could be further from the truth. In addition to trying to save the human race, Nolan looks into the human element of such a grave task. We get to run the gamut of greed, stubbornness, despair, love, fear, betrayal, courage, anger, and deceit among the main characters. Hell, even the intelligent robots display their humanity, adding humor and sacrifice to the list. And, yes, I did say robots.
As if the story and visuals weren’t enough, the acting is great and the music and sound are off the charts. In order to get the audience emotionally invested, the actors have to convince us to connect with them and boy, do they ever. There were a couple of times during the film when I felt myself tearing up with the actors, a couple of times I wanted to shout warnings to them, and other times when I was just as angry as they were. And, if the actors don’t suck you all the way in, the music finishes the job. If you’ve never quite understood the meaning of palpable, you will after this movie. Not only does the Imax make you feel the music and sound, but the tone of the different pieces fit their scenes perfectly, even when there is silence. The music alone is enough to make you feel some of the emotions wrought during the film; so good it’s almost its own character.
I know I’ve gone for a while and gushed for a lot of it, but it’s only because I haven’t seen a movie this close to perfect since Cloud Atlas. My biggest hope is that Interstellar has a better marketing campaign than Cloud Atlas and that it crushes the box office. Actually, my biggest hope is that this movie wins Best Picture because there hasn’t been a movie even in the same ballpark as Interstellar this year and it would restore some faith that the Academy isn’t completely worthless even if most main-stream critics are.
Rating: Worth more than the next best five movies combined. I’m pretty sure I didn’t blink for the entire 169 minute running time.