10 November 2014

FWS Movie Review: INTERSTELLAR (2014)

The Earth is dying, and the future of mankind rests on a band of intrepid explorer-astronauts to locate an atmospheric standard world. Sound familiar? It is not just the plot of the latest Christoper Nolan film, but also one of the most recent newly-common tropes in science fiction, and works like Virtuality, Earth 2, After Earth, and Titan AE. As I've said before, science fiction is a collective social cathartic experience, and it seems that we, as a species, are concerned about the future of our little blue world. Much like the film that Interstellar is patterned after, 2001: A Space Odyssey, this film could become the standard by other future science fiction films are set by. Interstellar is directed by the peerless Christopher Nolan, with the script written by Nolan and his brother with help from noted theoretical physicist Kip Thorne. Given that and the subject matter, I went to see Interstellar late Saturday night after my first week of teaching at an local Dallas IMAX theater, It is my hope that this blogpost signals the return of FWS back to regular traffic. On with the SPOILER-FREE review. Oh, and I ended up seeing Interstellar and Big Hero 6 in the same day. Very different films.

The Spoiler-Free Plot

The future is not pretty, and Terra is not a happy world. Humans and all life on Earth are suffering through an environmental collapse that has left human civilization in an emergency agrarian society mode, with governments and society at large, just hanging on. Added to this that the bulk of the food crops are failing all around them, and human life on Earth is about to go out. Hope arrives with an unknown wormhole forming near Saturn that could allow humanity to explore the cosmos to locate some vacant real estate in another galaxy. The only thing is that the US government axed NASA years ago due to budget issues. However, some rouge underground scientists have been constructing an space vehicle called Endurance to travel through the looking glass, the bulk of the film starts, the major plot points are revealed along with other weirdness. What will the crew and LEGO robots of Endurance see on the other side of the wormhole?
A small team is assembled to investigate to several likely planetary locations that have been selected by previous 12 manned probes called Lazarus Mission. This colonial survey mission is led by former-NASA test pilot-turned-farmer Cooper, played by fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey. Cooper struggles with leaving his family, given the grim realities of interstellar travel and conditions on Terra. Yep, temporal dilation...and it is a real bitch. After the good FTL ship arrives into the other galaxy, events unfold that will change the course of human history.

Without a doubt, Interstellar is a beautiful film with an impressive cast, realistic designs, wonderful (and impressive) actors, outlandishly great effects, and haunting music by Hans Zimmer. At those levels, Interstellar is firing on all cylinders. The film also touches on our place in the universe, what and who we really are at our core. It also discusses the perils of FTL travel and the connection that love forges, especially between parents and their children. The dying Earth is much different that shown in other recent films, and future Earth of Interstellar appears more similar to Dust Bowl Oklahoma than Mad Max.
To add that layer, Nolan mines the PBS documentary on the Dust Bowl (which I watched), and uses it with great effectiveness. When it comes time for the time to travel millions of lightyears away, the distance and the nature of deep space is surprising realistic that allows the audience to travel emotional and mental to those very distance points of light, The two alien world environments seen on-screen are very well designed allowing the audience an instant and real alien vista to look upon that seems alien and hostile. I wish there more. The ship, Interstellar, and the Ranger landers are also done with real-science and real beauty. This is also applied to the oddball robot designs that appear to be out of the video game Minecraft, however they work on-screen and are impressive in an odd way. However, the greatest moment of the film comes when the Endurance enters the wormhole. It is an moment that needs to be experienced on an IMAX with the speakers pumping. Truly, one of the great moments in science fiction cinema. All-in-all, Interstellar is one hell of an visual/auditory feast that has a creepy air to it.

If you notice what I said about the good of Interstellar, it was not the script or the overall story nor the dialog. Where Interstellar falls flat on its face, is the story, where it goes, and what the actors say between them. The scenes back on Earth are much better than once the action switches to the Endurance. Often I felt that the dialog fails to move the plot or the central ideas forward, and they often discuss other things in oddball ways. It also doesn't help that the music simply overpowers the dialog audio track, and drowns out the spoken word, especially at critical points. Then there is the editing. Not since that French Special Forces movie have I seen a jumpy mess of a film. Scenes snap at the pace of an caffeinated kitten, leaving the audience jumpy and felling like they fell through an wormhole. While this may work for a few scenes, it robs most scenes of any kind of gravity, and creates plot holes. While I did praise the music, it also made me very intense...

It is the end. I am so tired of film that go rouge and gets mind-fuckery weird at the very end. The connection for Interstellar to 2001: A Space Odyssey becomes more apparent when the end 15 minutes unfolds, and the story and film suffers. There was a better film under the bullshit that the Nolan brothers laid over the basic story. The film should have about the journey and the race to find another world, not a "ghost" or the role of gravity in space/time. Interstellar is a little like Chinese food. You could pick around the ingredients you don't like, but the dish is incomplete without it, even if you hate celery. I liked the hunt-for-another-world storyline and the father-daughter-in-a-dust-bowl situation, but there is there other parts that I cannot discuss in an spoiler-free review, and they drag down a much better move into the deep dark water, and murder it.  

The Bottom line on the film and Should You See Interstellar?
This film is getting wildly mixed reviews by professional critics and word-of-mouth, causing some to doubting a trip to the ole cinema. So, should you it? Yes. I think so. The power of the images coupled with elements of the story are worth the IMAX experience and your cash. However, at the end of this film experience while walking back to my Toyota, I came away with this: Interstellar is one part 2001: A Space Odyssey, another part, Field of Dreams, and another part Gravity, and it mostly doesn't work...it is like when your Hollandaise sauce breaks after you worked so hard to create it.

The Forever War/Interstellar Connection

While watching this space trek through the corn fields of the future, I could not help but wonder if we are seeing what The Forever War film might look like in Nolan's Interstellar. Both deal with aspects of the horror of FTL travel, how deep space alienates our space travelers from the bulk of humanity, and how this long strange trip alters human behavior. Honestly, some of the visuals should have saved for The Forever War movie...but, if this is what The Forever War movie will look like, we could be in for a real treat. 


  1. Realy helpful review. I've been trying to decide to see it or not, and this has tipped me in favour of it without spoiling anything. It's a bit of a pity that so many of the movies recently have had such good visuals and concepts, but failed in the execution. A lot of the better SF movie around are smaller productions, like Hunter Prey, although The Edge of Tomorrow was quite well done.


  2. Good review. I was wondering, only because you brought it up at the end have you heard of any updates when we might be seeing the Forever war movie? The last I heard a script was being reworked (that was over a year ago).

  3. At the moment, the Forever War film is still in very pre-production. That makes four years now. Ugh.
    For all of those FWS readers, if you go see Interstellar, please let me know what you think of the film!

  4. Warning! Spoilers loaded comment.
    I agree with much of what you wrote save one – The two alien worlds aren’t "well design" at all.
    The first world in black hole gravity well, the time dilation is 1 plant hour is 7 years in earth! Really?! How close the planet has to be to the black hole for that dilation? I bet in that distance the black hole tidal force would tear the plant to pieces, if not a planet circling a cosmic sink hole will be bombarded constantly by objects falling to the black hole, if not the gamma radiation from the matter falling to the black hole will radiate the surface, if not any sun close enough to illuminate the supposedly habitat planet will be subject to the same tidal force.
    The second world has floating "frozen clouds"… are the contain Unobtainium?
    Again with this black hole planet – the Ranger Lander manage to break easily from the black hole gravity well and return to the Endurance. Why Copper daughter back on earth puzzling her pretty head with the gravity equation when her daddy already breaking out from a black hole gravity pull using VTOL drop shuttle ?
    And why sending someone down there to study the world environment? Even a quick 24 hours resource will produce an answer that will reach earth after 168 years!
    Another issue is the idea that you have to send human to planet's surface that you can determine from distance that there aren't human friendly: a plant near a black hole, frozen planet that rotate every 134 earth day.
    I wouldn't be so petty if not for this huge contrast between the design and physics of the space vessels and the total absurdity of the planets and black hole!
    I mean, did the film have 2 separated gropes of scientific advisories? One for the space & robot tech, the other for cosmology?


  5. DAMN, Yoel! That is fine review! It is odd when I was watching the film and realized that these exo-planets were getting their energy from the black hole and that none of these planets seemed to be evn close to having habitable conditions.
    Nice Work!

  6. SPOILERS ALERT, BE WARNED..............The main thing that was really WRONG with interstellar, the failure to account for the fact that the blackhole was giving off enough radiation to fry the ship, crew and water covered planet in seconds (whoever's time you are working in). Real blackholes are some of the most prowerful energy sources in the universe, they might be black themselevs but all the matter falling towards them gives out about half it's mass as energy (for comparison nuclear fusion in stars only converts 1% of mass to energy) during the drop. This blackhole clearly had an accretion disc so would have been giving off bright gamma rays and x-rays. The film also failed to account for the truly bizarre effects that would happen on that little world, as time would be running much slower on the inward side of the world than on the outward side it would not only be bizarre tidal forces acting upon it. I would have preferred the film to use special relativity of a fast relatviistc ship to generate time dilation rather than using general relativity from a blackhole, the book "tau zero" is a good example of this. This film has been harder sci-fi than some i have seen but it has also suffered from some real flaws that have been glossed ovr, ignoring the absurdity of the time travel and inter-time communication done inside the blackhole i must also criticize the radius of the blackhole, it was supposed to be a stellar blackhole so it should have only been a few tens of kilometres wide. Other issues i noticed were that the SSTO shuttle needed several booster stages for earth launch but was able to land and take off unassisted from all the other worlds shown, despite there being a blackhole behind one of them which would vastly increase the escape delta V needed. I would also criticize why the daughter on earth doesn't just set to work on building a few thousand orion launch ships. In a world that is at peace there will be plenty of atomic weapons which are no longer needed, why not repurpose them all into "fuel" for heavy lift launch vehicles, and it would even help make things tougher for the blight once earth had been abandoned. I did think the music was pretty decent, didn't realize it was from hans zimmer but i know he has written a fair bit of excellent stuff. I also liked the o'neill island staion depicted in the last five minutes and in this last five minutes it was nice to see the fighter craft depicted which could clearly trace their technology back to the SSTO shuttles used on the starship. I would advise seeing the film but i would warn that it is verging on fantsasy whilst trying to pretend to be hard sci-fi, makes me wish tau zero had been made into a movie (without any changes in plot or details during the conversion from page to screen).

  7. That was a great review! And I completely agree, Tau Zero would have made a better story. I wish we could have seen more of the O'Neil Station, and an Orion pulse propulsion ship.

  8. Interstellar movie is the combination of Adventure | Mystery | Sci-Fi which makes the fantastic movie. This movie is directed by Christopher Nolan and the stars of the film is Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. If you want to movie online free in hd quality then you have to click on the movie keyword and you can enjoy this awesome movie.

  9. McConaughey and his co-stars do a terrific job of underplaying the tech-nobabble and selling their individual moments... and Nolan's trademark big-picture confidence propels Interstellar through its near-three-hour running time with breathless style.

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  11. To be honest, I was looking forward to Interstellar from the initial teaser and trailers, that it was going to be about exploration of unknown worlds in a vein similar to Star Trek, but more rooted and plausible.

    Then it went with the whole "Earth got used up" plothole and, to be honest, it was a real struggle for me to even want to watch the flick in theaters. Eventually I did, and though I enjoyed it well enough, it still left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Granted, the whole time dilation thing wasn't really a thing until they tried that thing with the black hole, which is apparently this film's "Force" or magi-science reason and all that, at which point what would have taken three years at best went for a decade or two. Granted, it has a unique drama of the whole "child dying before the parent" issue but it just felt like unnessessary drama. Still would have liked it if it was purly focused on interstellar exploration and not just that time dilation tragety, earth used up plotline. A myserious object in space is plenty enough hook to have a space expedition, the survival of the human race isn't needed and in fact actually questions the industrial capacity for such a project.