INTERSTELLAR (2014) – Film Review

As a fan of Christopher Nolan, and of science fiction in general, I was intrigued to see what the revered auteur would bring to this particular genre. Would his storytelling genius wow audiences once again? Would this movie become my favorite sci-fi film of all time (as I dared to only slightly hope)?

In anticipation of the experience, I enacted a self-imposed media blackout: I decided that I wouldn’t watch any trailers for Interstellar or read any critical reviews before seeing the film for myself. I wanted to step into the theater with as little knowledge about the future as the astronauts in the movie. The fewer preconceived notions I harbored, the less likely I was to be disappointed—and the more likely I was to be satisfied.

So, what to my wondering eyes did appear? Let’s take a look. As a reminder, I rate movies based on three criteria: morally objectionable content (C), artistic merit (A), and my personal opinions (P).

CONTENT (C): 9 out of 10
Let’s be honest: one problematic characteristic of Christopher Nolan is that he loves his anti-heroes. In his films, you find yourself rooting for people whom you wouldn’t invite over for dinner in real life. In this case, however, the main character is a more traditional protagonist. He is not just sympathetic, but also quite scrupulous. This is a man you can fully support.

One laudable characteristic of Christopher Nolan is that he consistently rejects opportunities for reveling in the obscene—and he’s been given the opportunity several times (not the least of which was the presence of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises). Nolan has taken the admirable path of decency once again in Interstellar, for which I am thankful.

Probably the most controversial elements of the film are a smattering of language (including the explosion of an f-bomb) and an implicit declaration that there is no room for faith in a world of science. Although, later in the film, another force is given its due reverence, which could be interpreted as either complementary or subversive to the earlier declaration. Whatever the case, there is a strongly humanistic slant to the film’s resolution, but it’s not anything I would consider problematic.

ARTISTRY (A): 8 out of 10
The most captivating aspect of this movie is Matthew McConaughey’s performance. The range of emotions experienced by his character are intensely palpable. If it were up to me, I’d nominate him for an Oscar.

The script is padded with a bit of extraneous material (a pointless baseball scene, redundant exterior shots of the spaceship, etc.), but it’s nothing terribly bad. Some critics might complain about logical inconsistencies, but those come naturally with a story saturated in metaphysics.

I love how Nolan decided to go completely silent for the shots of outer space. Such a restrained approach, especially when used in a few key plot points, is atypical for big-budget Hollywood—and, as a result, is more poetic. It shows that you don’t necessarily need to juice everything up to the nth degree in order to be dramatically effective.

The one place where I think Nolan is consistently weak is in the music department. He picks composers and/or scoring techniques that hover in the realm of mediocrity. True to form, the music composed for this film is bland, although there are a few moments of genuine creativity. Why composer Hans Zimmer chose to use an organ as his main instrument is beyond me. The instrumentation isn’t nearly as bad as that employed by Ennio Morricone in Mission to Mars, and it still technically works in the film, but I’d like to see a Christopher Nolan movie with a musical score that is more than just serviceable.

Speaking of audio problems, there are times when the music is mixed so loudly that the dialogue is incomprehensible. It only happens a few times, but the poor mixing quality is surprising, considering the caliber of those behind the camera.

PREFERENCE (P): 5 out of 10
Unfortunately, Interstellar isn’t anywhere near my favorite sci-fi movie. Not to say that I hated it. I never found it boring. In fact, I was fairly interested throughout the movie’s entire 169-minutes. But a Christopher Nolan film usually does a lot more than just keep me interested; it captivates me and, in the case of The Prestige, causes me to geek out long after the credits have rolled. That didn’t happen this time around.

And then there was the ending. I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that I found the climax a bit…hokey. It didn’t take me out of the experience, but it did seem farfetched. Then again, Nolan is dealing with various phenomena about which we have only partial understanding. I can appreciate his attempt to avoid being clichéd in the third act; I just didn’t find it completely satisfying. (I will point out that my wife, who is smarter than I am, guessed one key aspect of the film’s ending only a scant few minutes into the movie. In that sense, she would say the ending was, if not clichéd, too predictable.)

If I were to rank all of Nolan’s films, I’d probably place Interstellar at or near the bottom. I don’t mean for that to be an insult. As I’ve said about Pixar, a bad Christopher Nolan film is still good filmmaking. It’s going to take a heck of a lot more than this for me to say the director has lost his touch. With Interstellar, he just didn’t touch my mind and heart as powerfully as I might have hoped.

CAP score: 73%