On a chilly and bleak November day, the Flyin’ Jew and I embarked on a quest to watch Interstellar at the Palisades IMAX in order to see the film in the 70mm format advertisements claimed was the best viewing experience. Along the way we engorged ourselves on White Castle and Baja Blast, but not before smoking enough bud to start a forest fire.
Despite expertly prepping ourselves for the main event, I had reservations about Christopher Nolan’s newest flick due to the polarizing nature of his prior films: Inception and The Dark Knight Rises to be precise. My main concern was whether or not the film would be worth the $16 dollar ticket fee and the quality of entertainment it would provide. Throughout the road-trip, my mind was both fascinated by the scenes shown in the trailer and terrified at the mystery surrounding the plot and story; thanks to Nolan’s penchant for maintaining the utmost secrecy for scripts, leaks were non-existent.
However, once we entered the darkness of the IMAX theater(after smoking even more kush) and found seats near the speakers on the right side of the chamber, the projector started almost immediately. The first thing I noticed as the film started was the lack of any trailers or commercials, because fuck that mainstream, corporate bullshit.
Anyway, rather than being bombarded with 10 minutes-worth of Tyler Perry trailers, sepia-toned logos began to appear on the screen as Hans Zimmer’s score started slowly and softly. Once the film proper started, the Jew and I were pulled from the physical reality we live in and into the beautiful and nerdy odyssey that was Interstellar; completely escaping from the cruelty and monotony of the world to join Matthew McConaughey and the crew of the Endurance in their quest to save the planet. What ensued was not a simple viewing, but a true cinematic experience that I have not witnessed since the first time I saw Star Wars or Apocalypse Now (not the remastered versions FYI).
Attempting to describe what transpired inside the IMAX would be akin to describing the face of God himself, for the sheer enjoyment and wonder that the Jew and I felt watching the screen is beyond words. Suffice it to say, the audience was also entranced, with the loudest child falling silent as the speakers sodomized our eardrums with one of the most beautiful film scores in cinema history, as well as sound effects that were loud enough to shake our fucking seats during the pivotal moments of the film. Long story short, the ride home was as quiet as the night sky as both of us were left awestruck after whatever it was we experienced that day.
This being a movie review, I do have to delve deeper into the most important aspects of this film: story, acting, sound, and of course, special effects in order to explain why I think highly of this movie and why you should buy the Blu-Ray immediately.
The plot of the film is simple: a team of NASA astronauts have to travel through a wormhole near Saturn in an attempt to find a planet that can support the remnants of humanity, after a cataclysmic event called “The Blight” has destroyed all crops, save for corn. The team must travel to three planets: a water world (not that one), an ice-cloud planet, and an arid planet that is only seen at the very end.
While the synopsis appears dull and boring, the story is undoubtedly grand in scale when actually seen in motion. Reminiscent of a classic adventure flick like Star Wars or Lawrence of Arabia, the movie starts off very poignantly on Matthew McConaughey’s farm. His character, Cooper, is a former NASA pilot, whose career ended after crashing an experimental aircraft and joining him are his son (who is not that important), and his daughter Murph (played by Jessica Chastain as an adult), a bright young girl who dreams of becoming a scientist. Meanwhile, humanity has abandoned its knack for exploration and innovation in favor of survival and goes to great lengths to discourage any desire for applied science, going so far as to claim the moon landings were faked.
Cooper is the archetypal adventurer who hates his current lot in life, but must contribute to the subsistence living humans have been relegated to post-blight. Similar to Luke Skywalker and most of the audience, Cooper dreams of escaping the boredom of his life and following his dream of being an astronaut. After a series of events involving gravitational anomalies, Cooper and Murph end up finding a secret NASA base where scientists are planning the aforementioned trip through the wormhole and Cooper accepts an offer from Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway to lead the expedition, leaving his family behind and truly setting the film in motion.
Similar to the famous jump cut from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film takes a huge leap forward during the scene where Cooper is driving away from his farm after having a tearful moment with Murph. What ensues is probably one of the greatest transitions between acts that I have ever seen: as Cooper is driving away, the music picks up and a countdown begins, yes, a launch countdown. As the countdown reaches zero, Murph runs out of the house in a vain attempt to apologize to her father after both departed on bad terms, and once the countdown is over, the camera cuts to the roar of rocket engines as Cooper and his crew blast off into the darkness of space and leave Earth behind.
Once the film reaches its namesake, the storytelling becomes a sci-fi fan’s wet dream with exploration of alien worlds, a lot of technobabble and hard science thrown in to provide exposition for certain scenes. Time dilation and relativity play crucial roles in the plot, something that I enjoyed immensely because it gave the film a realistic tone and put emphasis on the struggles that long-distance space travel would have on humans. Case in point, Cooper’s heartbreak from leaving his family behind on Earth is exacerbated by the time dilation caused by relativity and without getting into too much detail, lets just say that while the astronauts experience time normally, years pass by on Earth. Due to the time dilation, our heroes are forced to miss out on huge chunks of their families lives, witnessing all of this via a better version of Skype and creating an emotional dilemma that challenges the main characters to either abandon their mission or stay on course.
The utilization of hard science is also a flaw that may dissuade casual moviegoers, who will no doubt be confused by talk of wormholes and the philosophical banter between characters. Likewise, while the outer-space adventure is phenomenal, Murph’s storyline is not as interesting and only serves as a connection between Earth and Cooper; it does not gain traction until the end of the film. Otherwise, I found the story to be a great example of the adventure genre and it’s message of humanity re-embracing it’s natural instinct for exploration and overcoming the greatest obstacles.
If you were to tell me 10 years ago that Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway were great actors, I would have bitch-slapped the taste out of your mouth. Thankfully, Anne Hathaway has blossomed into one of the most talented and sexiest actresses of my generation, and that is a tremendous improvement from being known as “that girl from Princess Diaries”. Likewise, McConaughey has transformed his image from “the shirtless redneck in every rom-com of the 2000’s”, to “the philosophical redneck in every Lincoln commercial”, and Interstellar provides a terrific platform for him to showcase his skills.
McConaughey is able to play Cooper in a very down-to-Earth way that makes him more relatable to a blue-collar worker, while at the same time exhibiting the curiosity and cleverness of an engineer. When Cooper is given a glimpse of the wormhole for the first time, McConaughey deftly turns his gaze into one of a child entering a playground for the first time, resulting in a genuine look of excitement and wonder. Of course, the oft-parodied scene where Cooper starts crying after watching decades worth of home videos that his family sent him, is where McConaughey proves his worth. The level of emotion McConaughey displays is both tragic and spellbinding in that the pain of watching his children grow up without him, is easily written on his face.
Anne Hathaway on the other hand plays the stuck-up nerd character to a tee, and gets to wax philosophical more than Matthew McConaughey(if that were even possible). While she does not get as much screen time as the leading man, she is still able to portray her character(Amelia Brand) as the rational, scientific sort, while displaying fear and vulnerability in the hostile environment of space. Hathaway turns her character from the weak throwaway female archetype into an adaptable and capable (and waifu worthy) counterpart to Cooper.
Jessica Chastain is also in the movie, but not until halfway through does she actually appear. Her performance is not bad, but her role as the Chosen One is brief compared to the previous two actors, the character never really develops or has any memorable scenes(aside from a cool monologue at the end). Also, being a Christopher Nolan flick, Michael Caine plays the old wise man of the story, which is essentially every role he has played for the past 15 years. Matt Damon also makes a surprise appearance in the film and plays a batshit crazy astronaut suffering from 30 years worth of isolation and he pulls it off exquisitely.
Did I mention how loud the movie is already? From the roar of a spacecraft aerobraking through the atmosphere of a planet, to the Hans Zimmer-composed score, the sound design is among the best of any film I’ve seen. The sound effects amplify each scene and bring the action to life, immersing the audience greatly. Zimmer’s organ-laden score is the real highlight however, with the bellowing of the pipe-organ evoking memories and images of a Castlevania game, and at the same time adding intensity to the action sequences.
The music conjured up a plethora of emotions from me, ranging from terror to wonder: either from the sight of a massive wave, or the entry into the wormhole. Before watching Interstellar, I would never conceive the organ as a versatile instrument or being used in anything other than a dead video game franchise. The volume of the soundtrack, while extremely loud, also adds believability to the film. By allowing the sound effects to overwhelm the dialogue, the audience can experience the same confusion and excitement as the astronauts on-screen. Similarly, the extreme volume caused our seats to FUCKING SHAKE AT THE SAME TIME AS THE MOVIE. Who needs 3D or Oculus Rift for added immersion, when the IMAX has speakers forged by Cthulu himself?
Compared to the soundtrack of the Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar stands out for being unique and less reliant on the industrial sounds that permeate Nolan’s other films. Also, the score serves not as an addition to the film, but as an organic element that seamlessly blends in with the visual aspects.
Undoubtedly the best part of the movie, the special effects are fucking incredible to say the least. Just as similar to Nolan’s prior films, the director purposely avoided using CGI whenever possible, opting for models and practical effects. The result is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen in a long time. From the imposing approach of a rogue wave to the warped majesty of the black hole, the combination of CGI and practical effects strikes a balance that no other movie seems capable of nowadays. In a world where Michael Bay and George Lucas use CGI to create entire scenes, Nolan proves that the most beautiful shots are those taken in the real world.
The space sequences are among the best of any sci-fi film ever, with the scaling of the Endurance against the planets and astronomical objects creating a sense of scale that makes the adventure larger-than-life. That sense of scale is kicked into high gear with beautiful shots of the Endurance as it is passes Earth, Saturn and Gargantua, a super-massive black hole that lies at the heart of the alien solar system. These shots only heighten that sense of exploration and terror, and serve as a grim reminder of the beauty and dangers of space travel, while showing the audience how minuscule and insignificant mankind is in the cosmos.
After smoking even more hash, I couldn’t end this review without talking about the two baddest motherfuckas in the galaxy: CASE and TARS. Those monolith-looking thugs can turn into WATER WHEELS, save Anne Hathaway’s ass, fly into a black hole and still crack jokes at the end of the day. Who knew two walking Lego blocks could be the embodiment of the Thug Life?