"It has elements of all the things I like. At times it's a ‘hard’ (ish) sci-fi flick with a big budget"
Upon viewing Interstellar, I was curious whether Christopher Nolan's latest offering, touted as a ‘hard’ sci-fi epic, would be the next big blockbuster and hopefully the jewel in Nolan's crown that might make him the king of the big screen.
Does it do this? Well, in my opinion not quite -- although I'm not exactly the average movie goer when it comes to this sort of thing; I've been reading sci-fi (almost exclusively) from the most renowned authors over the past twenty years, so I'm understandably a bit picky!) Putting myself in the shoes of Joe Blogs who just wants a big Hollywood extravaganza, I'm not sure he'd be completely satisfied either. It's a big movie; a big achievement, but by no means a bad one, yet I'm not sure what sort of film it is and that's where the problem lies.
It has elements of all the things I like. At times it's a ‘hard’ (ish) sci-fi flick with a big budget, huge production values and it's all weaved together with a heartfelt, simple story of a relationship between a father and daughter. The problem is, in trying to be all of these things at once, it manages to be none of them to a satisfactory manner. It's a strange three hours, because it's a rather schizophrenic piece that constantly flirts with one style after another, never quite making a commitment to what it wants to be. I have had no qualm with films that break the traditional rules of structure or style if it works, and I'm more than open to a big blockbuster prizing open peoples’ minds -- I loved the recent Horns; that did exactly that with much success and a tiny budget to boot -- but here it just didn't work. I felt every jerk of style and pace was simply used as padding to compensate for a lack of clear storytelling; it really felt like a bit style over substance with imagery and/or dialogue slotted in every time the audience started to struggle with the plot or got bored with the visuals.
So what's the film about? (Don't worry you'll get no spoilers here!)
Essentially it pays homage to a lot of sci-fi gone by, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey -- big shoes to fill indeed! So is the partnership of Christopher Nolan and his brother as good as Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick?...Err, no.
It's quite simple: this isn't a film about spaceships or relativity; it's a story about a man's love for his daughter and his struggle to be a good dad. That's it. So why the need for all the space travel and science? Well I don't know to be honest; it dabbles with big questions about the meaning of life, the universe and everything but doesn't really touch them because the film isn't actually about the big picture. It's an intimate look at one family's relationships -- so why then the constant nod towards showing the massive scope? It certainly doesn’t give any helpful perspective to the protagonist's plight. Visually this is no Gravity and most of the time the cinematography is well...dull.
I saw it in IMAX, and with hindsight there was no need, because, like I say, the audience isn't being pushed towards answering the big questions, it's being pulled in and constantly being asked to put those big issues aside and look at things from a more delicate, personal perspective of one man and how it affects his life. If you're expecting big, beautiful, futuristic images of technology and vistas of space, then you'll be disappointed. It's a very low-fi look (aside from the youngster-pleasing Minecraft-style robots that are admittedly rather cool), which may have been intentional to dupe audiences into thinking it's a sincere, intelligent application of science but it's not.
This isn't ‘hard’ sci-fi at all. In fact, it's quite squishy and veritably slushy most of the time. Nolan happily puts his science text book down and picks up his copy of Mills and Boon whenever he feels the need to do so (a few moments have Titanic quality dialogue to them) so don't expect anything more believable than an episode of Doctor Who when it come to the science side of things; he just visually fills the screen with a lot of retro 70s- looking dials and dirt, almost trying to make you think you're watching found footage of an old NASA launch, which I can only assume is to make the more impressionable of the audience think they're seeing something very intelligent, but sadly this isn't the case.
There's no point in trying to make sense of anything, and why should you? It's a Hollywood film after all and not a science lecture, so just enjoy the (rather dull looking and slow) ride and don't ask questions! This would all be fine if I didn't constantly feel like Nolan was trying to dupe me into thinking that this was some form of profound masterpiece, why miss-sell the film? There's nothing wrong with a bit of 'by the numbers' schmaltz; I've no problem with that, but why try to hide it?
Hopefully you won't begin to put the jigsaw pieces together until after I did about what's actually happening, but you'd have to be pretty slow not to cotton on until the obvious 'and now we explain it all quite vaguely' segment at the end that wouldn't be out of place in an episode of Quantum Leap.
So what is this film? It's not a big action flick. It's not a realistic piece of ‘hard’ sci-fi, and it's too long and boring to be a relationship piece. It certainly has its moments with plenty of time in the three hours to find them, and it did actually bring me to tears a few times: the introduction of Matt Damon’s cameo is just a momentary piece of exposition but it knocked me sideways. The performances are great throughout and the cinematography is well, adequate, I guess. It was rather bland and pedestrian to my eyes, but maybe that's just me.
As I say, I don't think it's a bad film, just not a memorable one. It's got no guts, no flair and when you take away the mammoth viewing time and ask yourself what the film was trying to say, all you're left with is a nice little story about the power and meaning of love that's wrapped up and smothered by a rather silly and inept attempt at a highbrow sci-fi epic.