Science Fiction movies have become rare in Hollywood. While comic book adaptations are booming, there is rarely space for science fiction stories with a big budget, unless they involve a super-powered hero wearing a tight costume. Since Memento, I’ve been a fan of Christopher Nolan and his talent to present mind bending stories in gritty and unconventional ways. Therefore, I thought he would be the perfect director to revive the almost dead genre of hard science fiction. I went into Interstellar with very high expectations. I wanted to be taken away to strange, unfamiliar worlds, be pushed back and forth by a convoluted story and shown space like I had never seen it before on screen. But, as I had to admit after seeing the movie, Interstellar only scratched the surface of what it could have been.
Interstellar takes place in the foreseeable future. Devastating storms of dirt and dust sweep across the whole planet, not only destroying the crops, but also damaging the lungs of children. Scientists believe that the earth might become uninhabitable in the not too distant future, and so a space mission is started to find a new terrestrial planet mankind can survive on. Fortunately, a possibility to leave our own solar system pops up and, because of a weird coincidence, the retired astronaut Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, is chosen to lead the final exploration of mankind’s future home. Cooper leaves his life as a farmer and his two children behind on earth, hoping to return to them one day as a hero.
Once Interstellar has established the context on earth, and allowed us to escape the gravitation of earth into the vastness of space, it unfolds its whole beauty. The shots of bent space and giant planets in the distance are breath-taking. While Gravity last year conveyed the subjective feeling to be in space perfectly, Interstellar shows space from an almost god-like distance in order to demonstrate its majesty. It’s definitely orientated towards the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey concerning its visuals. On top of that, the sound design and Hans Zimmer’s bombastic soundtrack has a truly epic feel to it. The moment when the earth-shaking sound of blasting engines combined with orchestral music blasts through the cinema, you feel like you’re sitting in the cockpit of a starting spacecraft, too. While not being as imaginative as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar has still condensed the essence of what made 2001 so beautiful, and combined it with modern concepts like multi-dimensional space and gravitational lenses. I couldn’t ask for more.
As I already mentioned, Nolan tries to stay close to actual astrophysics for the most part of the movie. This of course inherits the danger of limiting the imagination and therefore creating boring settings. Even though Nolan has incorporated very interesting concepts into one of his foreign planets, all the other ones stay totally bleak. There is nothing interesting to look at and nothing complex to care about. It’s most likely that alien planets will turn out to be totally dull if we actually landed on one. But they would still be different from earth in some way. This is a fiction film, not a documentary. People want to be entertained. There would have been many ways to show the wonders of a new and different world, but it seems like Nolan didn’t care for that at all. He has managed to present space in an exciting way and space is mostly a vacuum. But apparently there was very little creativity left for the planets.
Another important issue are the characters in Interstellar. Nolan rarely cared for character development in his previous movies. Most of them simply had the function to advance the plot, and this can work if you are invested enough in the plot. The problem with Interstellar is that it tries to be more emotional than it actually is, resulting in cheesy dialogue and tiresome moments. The actors do their best to distract from the crudely written script. I’m not the biggest fan of McConaughy and his mumbling voice, but he manages to convincingly stage some very emotional scenes. My favourite performance is without a doubt Jessica Chastain as Cooper’s daughter. Like every other character, her role is pretty basic. But at least her attitude changes throughout the movie and she portrayed all facets of her character very emotionally. Nolan also decided to include robots with human like voices in his movie. In order to apparently resemble the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey they look like walking toy bricks. They wobbled around so clunkily in the beginning that I thought they might be the most inefficient robot design in science fiction history. But as it turns out, they get some cool scenes in the end and one of them actually becomes a memorable character. However, their locomotion still looked awkward.
So even though the actors somehow compensated for the clumsy writing, Interstellar didn’t thrill me. And the reason is simple: the story of Interstellar is bland. Nolan’s best movies always lived on a complex and astonishing plot, and that’s why it didn’t really matter how one-dimensional the characters were. But the story of Interstellar is so boring, so predictable and so unimaginative that it threatens to disrupt the movie as a whole. People complaining that Interstellar has too many plot holes are missing the point. In fact the plot of Interstellar is quite consistent and structured. The problem is that the turn of events is presented in such an unexciting and overloaded way. The explanation for the painfully predictable ending that feels completely disconnected from the rest of the movie only puts the cherry on the cake.
Interstellar is one of the few terrestrial planets in the empty void of science fiction cinema worth checking out. It looks impressive from an orbit but once you land there, you discover it is more barren than you thought.