The best thing about British director Christopher Nolan’s space travel drama Interstellar is the fact that, in an age of market-oriented, risk-managed blockbusters, it actually dares to invest so much in something so relentlessly cerebral. Its readiness to engage in highly conceptual hypotheses and commitment to pushing cinematic exploration beyond the bounds of empirical knowledge make it a hardcore science-fiction film the likes of which we seldom see anymore.
As titillating as its furious imaginative reach may be, the movie proves only intermittently compelling in execution. The script’s slight penchant for the fatalistic and possible overindulgence in spirituality sabotage the authority of its scientific voice. One may argue it’s this emotional aspect of the story that gives the cold, perilous journey a beating heart, but “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space” does sound just as icky in context as in the trailer. That said, there are a handful of scenes which depict time as the essential factor of the human experience, where a father watches in pained silence the lives of his children he’s missed out on or an old man confesses with his dying breath a secret he’s kept for two generations, that are undeniably moving.
Technically, the film isn’t as compact or breathtakingly seamless as last year’s Gravity. The first two hours, especially, see an often less than brilliant (non-digital) cinematography too focused on close-ups to give a sense of movement and dimension, exacerbated by some relatively lax editing. The last third improves significantly, with parallel narratives racing forward into the unknown, accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s urgent, celestial, metallically orchestral score. Art direction and visual effects are not consistently spectacular but shine with particular intensity in certain awe-inspiring intergalactic flight sequences.
For better or worse, Nolan has always been an intellectual filmmaker. With this latest, his grandest effort to date, he boldly considers the unanswerable and pictures the hereafter. While the result is not as profound as one’d hope, this is the kind of solid, serious-minded studio production the world of popular entertainment needs more of.
Interstellar | Directed by Christopher Nolan, with Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain. Starts November 6