Sunday, November 9, 2014

INTERSTELLAR (2014) Movie Thoughts

Ambition has it limits..

Echoing about in my mind as the final moments of Christopher Nolan's great attempt at a stylistic crossroads. Highly anticipated as a grand scale space drama set as the Earth seems set to close the curtain on humanity, INTERSTELLAR, is an epic fraught with balancing new frontiers of the celebrated director and the clearly human heartbeats intended for its original captain. Initially designed as a project for Steven Spielberg, what results from this much-touted hand-off, is a clear case of great talent/potentially wrong footwear. Despite all the technical mastery at work throughout the film's sprawling 169 minutes, it becomes easy to see the divide between the often sentimental Hollywood giant, and the cold, calculating new king.

Matthew McConaughey, is former expert pilot and engineer, Cooper, who discovers a secret mission to save humanity as unprecedented blight seeks to end all human life on Earth. In a time when corn is all that remains as a viable crop, and the Apollo moon landing is taught to have been a hoax, Cooper's dreams for the lives of his young son, and particularly curious and headstrong daughter, Murphy, are largely being rerouted toward agrarian lifestyles. So when the single father and kids run across clues leading to NASA's clandestine and clearly dangerous mission, Cooper is seen as the last viable candidate to pilot the long distance ship, the Endurance. The goal: to traverse the gap in spacetime in hopes of finding a habitable world for what remains of the quickly dying human race. Based upon the work of elder scientists, including old friend, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), the small crew which includes his daughter, Amelia Brand(Anne Hathaway), Romilly(David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and geometrically fascinating military robot, TARS (Bill Irwin) launch for one last gamble.

And while a great deal of the film offers up sumptuous and occasionally chilling detail regarding space travel, and alien environs, Nolan (and his brother/collaborator Jonathan) finds himself occasionally sidetracked by familiar fetishes. And while this can be expected of many great filmmakers, there are times when it simply doesn't gel with the larger whole. A problem that often dogged their last film, the obligatory, Dark Knight Rises (2012). Beginning with a mostly strong first third on Earth, the film soon hits rocky places once the often enticing talk of hard science runs headlong with the emotional core. As witnessed in past works like INCEPTION(2010), there is an almost reflexive queasiness that creeps in as the debate between theory and emotion are meant to collide. It seems to be the film's main thrust and yet both ends of the equation never seem to gather enough steam upon one another as equal combatants. Nolan's films are often meticulous exercises of conflicting ideas, and yet this time they seem unwilling to play ball as hard as previous films have displayed.

So when looking back at the film's initial existence as a Spielberg project, it's pretty easy to see where this could have all gone. But once it comes our way, the need for tangential storytelling rears its overwrought head, often sabotaging some truly graceful moments. There are stretches here that are simply daunting to contemplate being in the hands of just about any high grade auteur. From often jaw-pulling zero gravity sequences, to some utterly beautiful visions of alien worlds, there is much to behold in terms of cinematic majesty. However, this often comes apart at the hands of a script that seems hellbent on second-guessing itself. The most egregious example taking place in the final third of the film, where an uncredited starring role seeks to circumvent the mission, leading to an episode that feels completely under thought and unnecessary. It simply comes out of nowhere, almost taking the wind out of whatever sails the story was flying with.

As to whether or not this move is completely fatal to the piece may vary from one viewer to another. But considering the inspired finale, all that is left is a feeling like the waterworks have simply found themselves parched. There's no reason why this should have been the end result. And one cannot help but feel like the previous false note is largely to blame. If one is to play a film like a puzzle, every piece needs to count, and this mistake feels like a poorly cut centerpiece to an otherwise serviceable bastion of questions.

And it's a real shame too, because the cast truly brings their A-game to the proceedings. Especially McConaughey, who's gravely earnestness and vitality makes for a potent lead. Hathaway does exceptional work where she can, as does Jessica Chastain, who both feel underserved as actual characters and more like many Nolan females; as merely symbols. Also worthy of note, is Bill Irwin's voice performance as former marine robot, TARS, who is an occasionally strong counterpoint to classic spacefaring AI such as HAL 9000.

But where the film really fails to connect, is in how it maintains the core relationship between Cooper and his daughter. It's clearly something someone like Spielberg could do blindfolded, and yet Nolan breaks out the emotional big guns, and never seems to hit as hard as he does early on. The piece finds itself far more interested in debates regarding quantum theory, and openly discussing the theme rather than showing us the theme in action. While that might have worked in INCEPTION, it simply will not do with such a pared-down, more family-centric story. The fit between director and material never seems congruent, and it hurts more than hinders in sections. It's like a dancer sporting cleats, the end result is often a graceless affair.

So in all, INTERSTELLAR boasts sights and sounds never experienced in a grand space odyssey, but it rarely reaches beyond its own need to sidetrack or obsess. There are occasionally beautiful moments and ideas at play as we see and hear things we could only sum up in our wildest dreams. It's just too bad they often can't get past the pitching stage. Interstellar, for all it's yearning for the grand and intimate, intermittently sputters when it should soar.     

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