I’ve written about Interstellar on this blog before, but it just occurred to me that I never actually posted a review of the film! So, I figured, with Christopher Nolan’s latest work having been recently released on Blu-ray and DVD, this would be a good time to revisit it. Here, then, is the review I wrote immediately after the film’s initial release, which I have revised and updated for this post. MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
One of the main objectives of any film is to suspend the audience’s disbelief; to combine sound and visuals and story into such a cohesive and believable world that the viewer is completely engrossed and transported into the world of the film. From the very beginning of Interstellar, the viewer’s disbelief is subtly switched off, and they are invited to share in the characters’ firsthand experience of the events of the film.
One of the greatest triumphs of Interstellar is the level of believability it maintains throughout the length of the film. The inclusion of interviews from the 1930’s dust bowl ties the plight of this not- too-distant future to real events in American history and, more importantly, sells the idea early on that the events depicted in this film are plausible. Christopher Nolan knows that the audience needs to care about things on a deeply emotional level in order to have a connection to the film, as well as for character choices and the payoffs that occur later in the film to have more impact. He and his brother, Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote the film with consultation from noted physicist Kip Thorne, also recognized that the film needed to lay a solid foundation of accepted science in order to gain the trust of the audience for some of the leaps in imagination later in the film. Everything the characters experience, right up to the point where the film enters theoretical territory, is spot on.
The situation on Earth, specifically the state of things in America, is mostly established through dialogue, and indeed, the characters speak mostly in exposition, but the true extent of the devastation of Earth’s environment is really driven home by the dust. It covers everything, it blows through towns, enormous clouds and dust storms force people inside. This is how Interstellar sells the audience, and Cooper, on the idea that the Earth is lost – that it is a relic of another time and refuses to be dusted off and put back together anymore. Salvation for the human race lies not down in the dirt, but out in space.
For the personal relationships that become connections to Earth and drive the characters forward, believability is achieved through the brilliant performances of Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, and Mackenzie Foy, who plays the ten-year-old version of his daughter Murph. These performances are bolstered by supporting roles by Anne Hathaway, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, and Jessica Chastain – the latter of which plays the middle-aged version of Murph. Important relationships are set up at the beginning of the film in a way that feels neither heavy-handed nor rushed. When Cooper is bawling his eyes out over a video recording of a character we hardly spent any time with, it feels like a punch in the gut. Nolan successfully maintains this tightrope walk, for the most part, through the entire film. Interstellar is just under three hours long and covers events spanning decades, yet the film feels like one long day. Once the main premise is set up on Earth, no time is wasted in getting to space. After the incredibly emotional scene in Murph’s bedroom when she begs her dad not to leave Earth, and he is forced to leave without her forgiveness, Cooper drives away in his truck. Murph comes running out of the house, having changed her mind and wanting to say goodbye to her father, only to find she’s just missed him. Because of the careful set-up prior to this scene, it hits the audience hard. Once that is done, though, Nolan knows there is nothing else to be done on Earth, and that the most impact will come from a hard cut from the movement of Cooper’s truck to the rocket blasting into space. This is another of Interstellar’s best qualities: it knows when to show more and when to move on. This ability is incredibly necessary for a film such as this – spanning great distances of space and time – and Nolan absolutely nails it. The film feeds you just enough to understand what is going on, and then keeps moving.
The journey through space is breathtaking. From the first glimpse of Earth from above to the frame-filling image of the black hole, Gargantua, the visual imagery has no trouble inspiring feelings of wonder and awe. The realism of the scenes in space really struck me, especially seeing the film in iMax. They reminded me a lot of some old books about the solar system that my sister and I found in our parents closet and played around with when we were kids. There are a few instances of the film that just sort of let its enormous vistas hang there for a while, like when the Endurance is orbiting Saturn, as if to say, “Guys….space!” It’s really gorgeous.
The real hero here, though, is the sound design. The first time the ship enters space, everything goes quiet – even the score. This is where Interstellar makes a welcome break from other mainstream science fiction. Whereas other films depict explosions and flight as being clearly heard in space, this film knows that space is dead silent. The sounds that the audience hears in space are instead all the sounds that would be heard from inside a space ship. The rumble of the engines, the creaking of metal, the awful the din the ship makes during its turbulent journey through the wormhole. Great care was clearly taken in crafting the film’s sound, in order to further pull the audience into the experience of the characters on screen. To that end, some of what draws the viewer in ends up being the inability to hear dialogue. In some of the louder space ship sequences, the dialogue is mixed underneath the sound effects. While some find this frustrating, it does a good job of putting the viewer inside the situation alongside the characters. Furthermore, the score perfectly matches and accentuates the experience and emotion being played out on screen. Hans Zimmer has created an auditory treat that carries the film’s aspirations without overshadowing any of its other elements.
Interstellar is the great space epic of our time. It easily draws comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film manages not to feel as long as it is, and like any Nolan film, you’ll keep thinking about it long after the screen goes dark, if only to try to wrap your head around it. Interstellar accomplishes everything it could have possibly set out to do. If the aim was to provide spectacle, it provided. If the aim was to bewilder, it bewildered. If the aim was to inspire, it did so in orders of magnitude. A moviegoer may purchase Interstellar expecting just another blockbuster. What they will find instead is a work of art.
— Mike Egan, Film Blogger