Sunday, November 16, 2014

My thoughts on "Interstellar" (Spoilers-ish)

            In "Interstellar" aliens or highly evolved beings (think the Prophets from Star Trek) create a wormhole in our solar system to help humanity escape as ecological plague is destroying the Earth's ability to cultivate human life.  Using NASA's last hail Mary pass a crew sets out with an incubation system able to create hundreds of test tube babies on one of the worlds beyond the wormhole.  The movie is dense with character and motivation.  You see why these scientists need to go on what could be a suicide mission and I felt legitimately sad watching the hero, Cooper drive away from his home and family.

Also, I thought the score was great.
            In short it was great.  At no point did it feel its length, I was engaged throughout.  They dole out information in small enough bites that I never felt overwhelmed, while at the same time information is given out readily enough that I am never left questioning what is going on (this might be a side effect of having seen so many science fiction movies, read so many books, and so many comics, people less immersed in the genre might find the information coming too fast or not deep enough).  I have heard the exact same speech on how wormholes work in another movie ("Event Horizon") and as a kid watching "Star Trek Deep Space 9" I visualized how a wormhole would look to a human eye, envisioning tunnels, disks, cubes, and spheres.  I like science (especially astronomy) and "Interstellar" has lots of science.
            Much like "Man of Steel" there is an environmental message and a commentary on how the government lies to people to keep them from panicking, but that in turn only halts efforts to turn back the apocalypse.  I love that this movie has a sly sense of humor, lots of wisecracks especially from Case, one of the robots.  The robot's design is a really cool concept, maybe my favorite thing in the movie; an obvious homage to the Obelisk in "2001: A Space Odyssey" but able to unfold and move and communicate in such a way that makes them unique and full of character.  The fact that the robots are treated like members of the crew and people showing concern for them was great, serving to illustrate how to correct one of my biggest issues with "Prometheus" (which had a totally human android treated like dirt by crew members who acted less like scientists and more like impetuous asshole children).
            Scientists act like scientists, using rational thought to come to rational solutions, but at the same time they are people and they take actions out of love, madness, fear, or hope and rationalize them the best they can even if their actions are a huge danger to the mission.  I have heard people complain that the concept of capital 'L' Love being some kind of cosmic force that guides people is too irrational for a character like Anne Hathaway's, and that the idea is called back to in the climax betrays the hard science the movie is going for.  I disagree.
            Love is the explanation that is given, but as an audience member you don't have to accept it.  The aliens are time travelers, you can say that love is helping people navigate the time stream because love is so strongly keyed to memory, but at the same time the aliens could be responding to hormone levels that occur in a certain area.  Who knows?  Who cares?  It doesn't matter for the story it is just about a father trying to help his family live thru the apocalypse and in doing so becomes a ghost to them, vanishing from their lives when they felt all was lost.  But even if you take it as a canonical fact that Love is real and it is some kind of psychic force in the universe like gravity... Then that is just a sweet sentiment and the break with reality that makes this science fiction movie more fantastical in tone.  Why would that break the movie?  Doesn't for me.  (Not like there isn't precedence of love reaching across time, more if you include various movies I did not watch).
            The only real issues I had was two distracting choices in casting, Topher Grace shows up as a doctor in the third act, and Matt Damon as an astronaut with cabin fever who acts as the movies' second act complication/tension heightening device (like HAL in "2001").  Neither does a bad job with their roles, but seeing big name actors show up out of nowhere like that took me out of it a little.  But at the same time you need some big names because they are major characters in those sections of the movies, especially Damon's role (maybe we are supposed to act surprised to see Damon as the characters in the movie would feel a sense of awe at meeting a very heroic astronaut/scientist).  Not sure how to fix that complaint, but as I wrote the last sentence the issue bothers me less.

Kind of like Buzz Aldrin would be hugely recognizable to astronauts, Damon is recognizable to movie goers.
            People also seem to think "Interstellar" is too long, but like I said before it doesn't feel its length to me.  People complain that they explain too much, especially Matt Damon, but considering his character has been talking to himself for months and is a raving nut job I can't see an issue there either.  And this is a movie about explaining things.  What did you expect?  I think I will have to play the 'Robots in Pacific Rim' card, you have to accept certain things will happen in certain types of movies, you should have known that going into the theater.  Sure I heard a lot of it before (almost verbatim) but not everyone has, and imagine being a kid in the audience who has never heard a serious discussion on wormholes before, the last few "Star Trek" movies and shows were even less scientific than this movie.
            I also detect strange levels of vitriol directed at Christopher Nolan, who I find to be a fantastic filmmaker.  I haven't actively disliked any of his movies, and even his weakest ("The Dark Knight Rises") only failed for its ambition.  He has a distinct style, visuals, pacing, and dialogue scheme.  I found this movie to be a bit outside his comfort zone with the dynamics of parenthood which he only ever touched on in "Batman Begins" and as an afterthought in "The Prestige", but it is good to grow as an artist and he did.  Apparently "Interstellar" was originally intended as a Spielberg movie, and I can see it, but I am glad that they gave it over to Nolan, changed up the feel of what might have been too emotional a movie (Spielberg hits the parental issues a lot in his work.... almost all of it, "Minority Report", "Close Encounters", "War of the Worlds", "Jurassic Park", at least half of the Indiana Jones franchise, even in "Lincoln" there is a prevalent subplot about Lincoln's son)  This would have been another Spielberg science fiction movie, instead it is a broadening of Nolan's pallet.  That is good.
            I am actually liking the movie the more I think about it.  Yeah there is some stuff in there, like no one on the ship realizing how the time dilation would work on the first alien planet, but I write it off that they were experiencing tunnel vision because of the urgency of their mission.  Or the super nit picky: how in the world was that space craft able to go down to the surface of a world with such high gravity and then make it back to the ship?  Hell the extra gravity should have kept the landing gear from working, and landing in water would have caused them to sink into the ground unless they had exceptionally wide feet on the landing legs.  Escaping Earth's gravity is the big issue of the movie, let alone escaping the impossibly heavy gravity of tidal wave world.  Again: who cares?
            I also want to note this: it was better than "2001: A Space Odyssey".  "2001" is boring, soulless, and revels in its own dated special effects under the guise of letting the audience take it in.  While I respect the visuals (not really, the monkeys look fake even by the standards of the time, and the light tunnel to a nice apartment is lame) "Interstellar" has broader appeal, and is just as high minded without wasting my time staring at things.
            "Interstellar" is a movie.  It has a lot of science, a good bit of adventure, some high minded philosophizing about Love, and a very simple metaphor about how parents leave children behind and how those children grow into adults.

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