If you’ve read any review or material regarding Interstellar, the words ‘Kubrick’ and ‘2001’ are most likely to have popped up. Having only recently seen the sci-fi classic myself, I was wary of these comparisons as I entered the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. But brushing them aside, I sat down and honestly still had no idea what to expect.
2 hours and 40 minutes later, I walked out of that cinema stunned, though not necessarily in the awe-struck sense of the word. I didn’t know what to make of the film, and that rarely happens. On a purely visual level, it was undeniably mesmerizing (especially on 70mm IMAX format). Before I elaborate any further, I want to stress that this is definitely a film worth watching – it is visionary in its scale and wonderfully ambitious – for better or for worse, ambition is always welcome when one considers the current landscape of blockbusters. But here’s the flip side:
The problem with loving Christopher Nolan films is that you unwittingly crave for the intricate plots of Memento and Inception, and the psychological complexity of The Dark Knight and The Prestige… Sure, Interstellar contains clear elements of grandeur and plenty of cerebral themes (though the latter felt slightly forced in the form of unexplained scientific theories), but fundamentally the film falls a bit flat in respect to its narrative structure and pacing. Without going into specific detail and spoilers, there were a few false notes in the film – and by that I refer to characters spewing dialogue that hinders on cheesiness (but still not as bad as this Batman/Bane’s exchange in TDKR), and their behaving in ways that can only be justified as pushing the plot forward, etc. The most frustrating narrative hiccup for me was an introduction to a new character around the film’s halfway point, which seemed to serve no purpose except to take the audience completely out of the film and offer some sci-fi B-movie twist.
While my critiques seem to be piling up at this point, I have to stress that in spite of these gripes there were still many moments in Interstellar that made me consciously think:
“well sh*t, that was incredible.”
The space sequences could not have looked more stunning and technically impressive, a remarkable feat considering we were only just dazzled by Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity last year. In one particular scene, Nolan’s imaginative portrayal of a much represented scientific phenomenon (named ‘Gargantua’ in the film) absolutely floored me. Upon witnessing it, I ceased to worry about structure and character faults and was reminded that I was having a genuine cinematic experience. And so you can imagine the difficulty I face in trying to assess a film that often slips up, but quickly and amazingly redeems itself simultaneously.
In regards to the Kubrick comparisons, it was my original intention to emphasize the futility of judging Interstellar as the ‘next 2001‘ (before you stop me, I am fully aware of this review’s title, you’ll soon see why). I’ve seen so many critics jump to assessing Nolan’s film as less successful based on the way he presents his grand ideas, and explains them in some cases. 2001 baffled audiences, to say the least, yet it seems that the ambiguous elements which may have angered and confused some moviegoers in 1968 are now considered to elevate Kubrick’s film above Nolan’s. Ambiguity is apparently more ‘complex’ and intellectually satisfying.
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But all of this becomes redundant when we realize that 2001 and Interstellar share very little apart from the fact that both films are set in outer space. So those who try to hold Nolan’s films to Kubrickian standards are missing the point: these are two vastly different films, in both execution and intention. Whether one film holds more intrigue than the other becomes utterly irrelevant. All in all, we should not criticize Interstellar for allowing some of its mysteries to be resolved (honestly there are still PLENTY of things left unexplained, loopholes even – an inevitable part of time-travelling epics). Instead let’s just appreciate the spectacle that is Nolan’s space odyssey, and by that I make no reference whatsoever. Because the film can only be described as that, an odyssey that evokes contemporary fears of global extinction – yet remains sentimental at its core. Nolan may be known for his coolness and convoluted plots, but his films have always been grounded in human themes, that of family, and of love (I’m not trying to get sappy here, one character in the film actually goes out and declares the latter as the singular thing which transcends all dimensions). Perhaps it is this attempt to fuse hard science, black holes, theories of relativity with love that makes things problematic.