Re:View – ‘Interstellar’

Film

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NO SPOILERS – FIRST HOUR DISCUSSION ONLY!

A friend I love but whose taste is suspect complained to me last week that ‘Interstellar’ was three hours of his life he’d never get back. I loved every minute, but during the comedown afterwards I was hit with the ‘Interplanetary Ming-Mongs’.

‘Interplanetary Ming-Mongs’ is a device named by Victoria Wood to describe the technobollocks spouted by earnest SF scientists, and ‘Interstellar’ is packed to the gills with it. Having been told that this was hard, serious SF, I realised that almost from the first frame you’re required to make a tongue-swallowingly huge mental jump that I suspect many simply won’t buy.

Matthew McConaughey is an ex-pilot farmer living with two kids and Granddad John Lithgow as the world starts going to pot and his services are needed once more by a now-outlawed NASA. But even before we get to that moment there’s a scene with the daughter’s teacher which makes you realise this may be cute SF masquerading as serious stuff, just as Chris Nolan’s ‘Inception’ was dream-tosh played out with deadly seriousness. Nolan may always obey the laws of nature (he avoids aliens here) but he’s not averse to some daringly silly speculation. Cinema belongs to the dreamers, though, so you can choose to go with him.

Nolan has clearly heeded the key lessons to be learned from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, and after the first earthbound section there are some genuinely thrilling and moving moments, most of which occur when the characters aren’t trying to explain theoretical quantum mechanics. But I suspect Nolan also heeded ‘Contact’, because the human story behind the adventure is foregrounded to the film’s ultimate detriment. With a subject this big and stakes so high, why bring everything back to nurture and bonding? And way before his characters have to untangle the increasingly convoluted science, there’s a forehead-slapper when someone explains time and space by pushing a pencil through a folded piece of paper, a device that has been used in every SF film from ‘Deja Vu’ back to ‘Dr Who’. There are plenty of other familiar moments, from blackboards filled with algebraic equations to that moment in the space shuttle when astronauts discuss slingshotting.

If ‘Gravity’ was Arthur C Clarke in his primary science physics mode, ‘Interstellar’ is Clarke in his ‘Childhood’s End’ phase, full of wonder and awe and sad beauty. An astonishing number of scenes recall ‘2001’. The film works best when it slips time, spanning decades to make us aware of the vast spaces we’re dealing with. But it falls down when trying to convince us that human emotion is as quantifiable as gravity.

No matter – it’s a story about space and time that marries humanity and science, and that alone puts it into the top five SF movies ever made. Go along for three superbly suspenseful set pieces, two surprising casting choices and a robot called TARS that’s really a star.

The film is shot in two aspect ratios because IMAX cameras were used for some sections, but there’s little discernible difference to the naked eye.

5 comments on “Re:View – ‘Interstellar’”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Wow! How could something like that be 3 hours you’d never get back? Your friend is obviously not a Science Fiction fan and he’ll probably never change. Any review that refers positively to A.C. Clarke (twice!) is one that I have to see.

  2. I loved it and I especially loved the music. That’s all I have to say.

  3. Fiona says:

    Would you recommend seeing it in the IMAX cinema or do you think regular cinema will be OK?

  4. Ken Mann says:

    IMAX would definitely help. I’m not sure that it does try to convince us that human emotion is as quantifiable as gravity. A couple of characters use words to that effect, but it is not clear to me that the film confirms what they say, and one of the themes of the film is the conflict between what you would like to be true and what is actually the case.

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