Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interstellar Just Doesn't Pack Enough Punch

I've been waiting excitedly for a new space odyssey for some time now. Gravity was awesome, sure. But it also didn't explore anything outside of our solar system... really nothing even outside our atmosphere. It couldn't be expected to show us the insane variety of phenomena that can exist in space... on other worlds... in other dimensions. So I welcomed the possibilities of Interstellar.
Unfortunately, Christopher Nolan seemed fairly comfortable simply using the same bag of tricks he's been relying on for the last fifteen years. This is not to say Interstellar was a bad movie, far from it. Interstellar was... fine. It was... alright. But it didn't achieve the level of greatness I came to hope for... not from this genre and certainly not from this creative team. The All-Star nature of the cast was, at times, laughable. Because every time I thought I knew what I was watching, a new celebrity showed up and unwittingly pulled me out of the movie...
I'm specifically looking at you Matt Damon...
That's of course the casting director's decision alongside Nolan... and why wouldn't these actors want to work with the man? You can't blame anyone for this. But I definitely noticed the rest of the audience awkwardly chuckling at the same thing. Some of these actors really didn't need to be in these roles. And the film may perhaps have been better served bringing in a number of lesser knowns with great potential. Yet this is not even close to the film's greatest misstep.
Without giving too much away, the ending of this film tries desperately to feel epic... it tells us that we're watching something amazing happening. It tries to trick us by saying this solves every single problem we've come up against. But it doesn't actually give us any information. It utterly ignores any kind of explanation it could have offered us. The Nolans seemed perfectly happy to just skip what I think is the most important single fact they had to know. Sure it's theory, and probably not based in any kind of reality... but this is also a movie... and the issue they were dealing with was already so completely unrealistic (as grounded in fact as they tried to make it seem) that the audience deserved to get some form of resolution... some kind of additional explanation beyond "Eureka!"
And before you go and point to Inception, remember that no matter what we wish had happened in that movie... no matter what we claim may have happened... the Nolans did make a specific choice and forced us to live with that. The totem doesn't fall. It's not a question. That's what happens in the movie, and it changes the meaning of everything that's happened because they actually made a decision... a frustrating one, sure. But a definitive choice none-the-less that has kept that movie in esteem and consistent conversation for almost five years now. For any of its faults, Inception will be remembered long after Interstellar... because it made that choice and Interstellar wasn't willing to. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Cooper's one line explanation about where the "gravity messages" were coming from felt so lazy that I had actually figured it out within the first 30 minutes. This movie was three hours long. We needed more than that.
I'm probably sounding ranty right about now. But science fiction has been my favorite genre since I was a tot. I'm not about to just accept whatever bull comes out and claims to be prophetic just because it tries to copy every trope 2001 gave us back in '68. Which I would have been fine with... had they gone for it. But there was an awkward laziness about the steps of this movie. At no point does it actually fulfill its promise. The other worlds that are visited feel bland and over-simplified, while the science feels unsure of itself and ultimately undefined. Sure there was a particularly tear-jerking moment here, an amazing visual there, a surprising character choice where we may not have suspected it... some very quality acting performances for sure... and the human element was meant to be the focus I suppose... but (as I keep repeating now) this never felt like enough. The sum of all of Interstellar's parts lead me to a strange feeling walking out of the theatre that was utterly inconsistent with anything I could have hoped for. I felt like I had sat through three hours of blah (that's actually the sound of Hans Zimmer's score blaring over all of the dialogue in the movie) and I couldn't believe I had been so excited all year for something so unjustly mediocre. I don't hate Interstellar. I think I just nothing it. And in many ways that may be the greatest offense Christopher Nolan could have committed... making me not care.

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