17 November 2014


F*%&ing Nolan.

Interstellar stinks. It stinks as only something created by an army of capable people can stink.

It is not a noble failure. It is wrongheaded root and branch. It indicts all of Nolan's films which I have enjoyed as strokes of luck.

It invites comparison to other space films like Sunshine and Soderbergh's Solaris and Mission To Mars and Gravity and — of course — 2001 and it suffers next to each of them.

I left the theater angry.

Mild spoilers ahead.

This was one of those bad movies with a lot of good things in it, so I can confess to a number of things that I liked:

  • Nolan's use of practical effects as much as possible. He is a champ about using practicals — I think my favorite thing about Batman Begins is the palpably real Batmobile. There's still a lot of computer graphics in this picture, but only when really necessary. A lot of stuff was done with models and puppets and real sets, and it makes a difference.
  • Good actors did their level best to sell the script they'd been given.
  • Cooper's reply to the nose-pinching schoolteacher who has a problem with his daughter is delicious. My cinema companion said, “good parenting” because McConaughey delivered it so convincingly.
  • The chase after the drone was fun and quietly science-fictional.
  • Looking into the wormhole and seeing the other side gravitationally lensed through it was cool for a physics nerd like me.
  • Romilly's face when he sees his crewmates again after a long wait tells a lot of story in a silent moment.
  • The first scene when we see Mann is cool. We can smell it coming that this will be an uncredited actor who will give us the character with their persona just by showing up, and sure enough we get the exact right actor.
  • The robot's spinning run is nifty. Really, all the stuff with the robots is nifty; I wanted more of them.
  • The look of the Borges Thing Inside The Wormhole is flat gorgeous. A friend commented that it would make a good setting for a Japanese horror film.
  • The look of the black hole was gorgeous, and the story behind it is pretty great.
  • The use of relativistic time dilation as a plot device on Miller's planet was some proper science fiction.
  • Sound cutting out for the exteriors in space was often really affecting. An old trick, but still a good one.
  • TARS' line “I'll see you on the other side,” is cool in itself, and then pays off a little later in the film.
  • Michael Caine is great.
  • Jessica Chastain's cheekbones. Zowie.


The main problem is that I simply didn't believe the characters. The worst thing about them is we get several people too wrapped up in their own selfish BS. It kept making me think of Sunshine, a movie I love despite the catastrophic misfire of a third act. In Sunshine we have people on a mission for The Only Chance To Save The Earth and they are — as people who would undertake that mission would be — quietly aware of the stakes. They are prepared to make whatever sacrifices they need to for that purpose — compared to the fate of the Earth, their own lives are unimportant — and they've already come to terms with that before we even meet them. They don't even discuss it, it's just part of the silent background, so the movie lets us in the audience do the math and find it noble and tragic.

Even Michael Bey's Armageddon understood this.

But the characters in Interstellar are wrapped up in themselves and do dumb things because of it. It's obviously supposed to be heartbreakingly human, but it read to me as implausible and inhuman. It takes Mann to a place that feels not like honest characterization but absurdly unrealistic behavior which is just there to move things in the way Nolan wants to set up an effects sequence and the next round of plot machinery. I flat did not believe it. Nolan is a chilly filmmaker, and that can be okay, but in this picture I felt like I was in the hands of an alien trying to manipulate my Strange Hu-Man Emotions.

The other big problem is that the film is just not well-crafted on a technical level. There are some striking images, but Nolan doesn't know how to assemble the elements into good cinema. Here's Tony “Every Frame A Painting” Zhou (* * *):

Interstellar confirmed many things I’ve felt about Chris Nolan: he is who he is, I am who I am, and this is where we respectfully part ways.
I’m honestly just not feeling it anymore. I don’t wanna sit through 169 mins of shot — reverse shot, handheld, lazy staging, and loud music.
I wasn’t moved emotionally. I couldn’t soak in the majesty of space. I wasn’t inspired by a single shot. I thought the editing was rly bad.

More particular gripes:

  • There's a heck of a lot of exposition in the movie. Despite it, I still had to work hard to figure out what was going on, supporting it with some outside knowledge of physics, and even with all that I felt lost some of the time.
  • That effects sequence with all the spinning? I sure would have been impressed by it ... had I not already seen Gravity.
  • In fact, Gravity showed what was wrong with a lot of the exterior shots in space in Interstellar. The frame in Gravity always felt like it contained more than I could take in, but in truth it was just a little more than I could process because it never kept me from following the main thing that was happening. In Interstellar there are many shots and sequences that are so busy that I got entirely lost.
  • Speaking of visual noise, the movie is also full of audible noise. Loud music. Loud background sounds. Sometimes the dialogue was inaudible. After the half-inaudible villain in The Dark Knight Rises, you would think Nolan would learn.
  • I do not believe that lady astronauts have time to keep their eyebrows that well groomed.
  • Given Plan B, why did they only bring one lady astronaut? Why were there any boy astronauts at all, in fact?
  • What was up with Topher Grace showing up out of nowhere? Obviously something wound up on the cutting room floor, because I think we were supposed to care about him. Or at least know who he was.
  • The Power Of Love? Really?
  • That amount of forced Closure is M Night Shalaman's signature move. We enjoyed it that one time with The Sixth Sense, but we do not admire him for it.

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