For the first time since 2014, I watched Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. I liked this film the first time I saw it. The visuals are breathtaking, the science is accurate, and the acting is exceptional. I would expect nothing less of a Nolan film, but I was left somewhat underwhelmed, and it seems I was not the only one. Before its release, one could not help but hope Interstellar might make a run for the title of best space film ever made, knocking Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Oddysey off its throne. The comparison was an obvious one to make, even if the two films differ in significant ways. For instance, Kubrick prefers the long shot, whereas Nolan rarely lets the viewer ponder something for more than a minute. Instead, I was all but fuming when confronted by a poorly contrived theme that the power of love is a physical thing, which transcends all else.
It is hard to argue Nolan is not one of the best directors working today. I think he may be one of the best of all time. While Interstellar is by no means a bad film, it falls short of Nolan’s seminal works: Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception. I wanted, perhaps even expected, Nolan to continue to innovate, pushing the limits of film in new and unexpected ways. The real disappointment is that Nolan did innovate with Interstellar, and it still fell short. I enjoyed watching Interstellar more the second time around than the first. I have also come to think not only that Interstellar should have taken 2001‘s throne. More than that, I think Interstellar should have taken aim at best film of all time, or at least the best of an era.
To make myself clear, let me say that Interstellar really is a good film. (The ratings of 7/10 to 9/10 seem fair to me; I would probably give it an 8/10 or 8.5/10.) The beauty of the work cannot be understated. Hans Zimmer’s score is predictably exceptional, and van Hoytema’s masterful use of 70 mm film combines with the natural wonder of nature as understood by Kip Thorne for astounding cinematography, including some of the best visual effects ever rendered on the big screen. The film’s primary conflict is based in reality, but it manages to feel fresh, because Michael Caine’s character correctly sees the situation on Earth as hopeless. Instead of saving the planet, we leave it. Nolan’s classic style is evident, and the production value is high. There is no shortage of rich idea even if they are more scientific and less philosophical than those found in The Prestige or Inception. The science is even relatively well explained, and most of the time the viewer is treated as a reasonably intelligent adult. The problem is really the script. The rest of the film is exceedingly well, near perfect in some parts. Some rewriting of the love story and the Dr. Mann episode would do wonders for this film. Even if the rewrite was nothing extraordinary – included no twists, no heady ideas, just made sense – it would be blatantly superior to the original. Slight dialogue changes would also be nice. Given slightly better lines, McConaughey could have really shined and Hathaway could have avoided her laughable moments.
Many people seem to think critics’ complaints about the connection between Cooper and Murph miss the point or disregard the power of emotion. Emotion certainly has a place in Interstellar, as does Cooper and Murph’s relationship. The problem is in the execution. Anything love might have added to the film was lost when it was decided that emotional connection would physically manifest itself. That’s just cheesy. Love could have played a key role in the plot while avoiding this problem. But when love guides you through a five dimensional tesseract to save your planet by connecting with your child, you are a lazy writer.
I really like Interstellar. I absolutely love what it could have been.