Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)

Christopher Nolan’s space-exploration epic has transcended being merely a film and has become a kind of international event. With its sprawling starscapes, well-thought-out science, huge cast and mind-blowing visuals, this was always bound to get people talking. It’s a shame that I didn’t enjoy it very much at all.

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Before I start, I should say that I watched it an IMAX cinema. I’ve heard stories about different experiences depending on which cinema you’ve seen it at, but mine certainly wasn’t a pleasurable one. The film starts with a blasting soundtrack, so ear-piercing it makes the viewer feel uncomfortable. The discomfort never truly goes away throughout the film, but it is most pronounced in these scenes, and sort of lulls back and forth in the background for the rest of the film, making the spoken words more or less audible depending on how Zimmer and Nolan wanted to play it. To add to this, I had the joy of watching it in a busy screening so I was also fighting against the 100s of people who were eating rustly popcorn, chocolates and sweets, slurping drinks as big as their heads, or tucking into crunchy, pungent and hideously over-priced nachos [1].

As a visual experience, the film has many merits and if there is one area it should sweep up come awards season, it should be on the special effects. The distant planets are fully realised, tangible places and when we step off into a vast rocky, icy plane we feel completely like we on a place not of this planet but totally real. That probably benefited from being seen at an IMAX, and I was doubly pleased that it didn’t have to tart itself up with 3D visuals that weren’t required.

I didn’t think any of the lead actors were at the top of their game. Following last year’s Oscar winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club and a memorable appearance in The Wolf of Wall Street, Matthew McGonaughey was obviously on a high going into this. Bar a highly emotional scene where he starts to receive video messages from his eldest child (played, eventually, by Casey Affleck), the rest of his performance was merely adequate. Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine both did a great job playing the same role they usually play in Christopher Nolan films. It’s just a shame none of these performances blew me away.

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As the film has many opportunities to have the plot ruined by people, mostly people said to me “It’s good, but the last 40 minutes were completely pointless.” That annoyed me because I was expecting a slump at this point. As much as I resisted, they were wholly right. Up to this point we had a solid, thoughtful action film and in the last chapter it just descended into madness, tripping itself or the audience (or both) up with complicated 5D gravitational bleeding theory and scientific speculation. At one point I actually laughed out loud. I’m convinced the most cinema goers would have been completely lost by the end of the film. Maybe that was the idea. Following Nolan’s previous films, where we were challenged and surprised by the twists at the end (The Prestige is still one of my favourite films of all time, precisely because it has a great twist or three at the end), it was disappointing that the big reveal was so well thought out but yet so poorly communicated. Perhaps they needed to have a 30 minute lecture before the film introducing us all to the work of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne. Maybe an idea for the Blu-Ray release [2].

I’m not going to sit here and recommend you don’t see this film. It’s just an opinion, and seemingly one that goes completely against the grain of everyone I’ve spoken to. I just didn’t think it was as good as the hype, nor as good as Nolan’s previous efforts. All-in-all, a bit of a let down.

Interstellar is out now at cinemas worldwide.

[1] = Why-oh-why would you choose to do spend so much on food at a cinema. A cinema of all places? It’s so expensive and you annoy everyone else at the same time. Have we, as a nation, become so obese that we can’t make it through a three hours screening without doubling our calorie intake for the day? I think it’s a serious issue and indicative of where society has taken itself that we must consume unhealthy food every couple of hours. No wonder there’s an obesity problem. It reminds me of the guy in China who buys every single ticket to a screening at his local cinema for once a week, which is increasingly seeming like a good idea (though I don’t think I could justify the £2k spend each time to be honest).

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[2] There’s a great explanation of the science behind the film over at Screen Rant. It’s full of spoilers but if you’ve already seen the film and want a bit of a nudge on what was happening, that’s a great place to start.

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