Interstellar (2014) Review – A Modern Masterpiece

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Interstellar is directed by Christopher Nolan who co-wrote the film with his brother Jonathan Nolan.  The dynamic duo have delivered a number of critically (and financially) successful films including Memento (2000), Inception (2010) and The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005 – 12).  The film has been under development for many years and began life as a potential Steven Spielberg project. The science behind the film relied on support from theoretical physicist Kip Thorne who has written an accompanying book to explain what is based on science theory / fact and where the film makers took some artistic licence.

The essence of the story is that mankind is living on a declining Earth where food is at a premium and one crop after another is suffering from ‘the blight’.  The one remaining crop is corn but how much longer will it last?  Professor Brand (Michael Caine) is leading a project to save the human race by finding a new home in another galaxy.  He asks former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to lead the mission through a mysterious wormhole.  Cooper must face up to the decision to leave his family behind and live with the prospect he might never see them again.

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I think my tag line gives it away but I love, adore, worship, pay great tribute to, what I think is one of the best films ever made.  To try and rationalise why I love this film so much is near impossible.  The only way in which I can articulate my love is that it is a feeling – a feeling of that sense that I will never be able to watch this film for the first time again.  I think it’s how so many felt when they saw Star Wars (1977) for the first time.

I had been excitedly waiting to see this film for the best part of a year.  On Saturday morning I woke up really tired having not slept as I had been racked by nerves and uncertainty.  I didn’t believe that the film could live up to expectations and thankfully I was wrong – it surpassed them.  The key to the films success for me was the way the incredible score and sound design combined with my own interests and love of science fiction.

The Hans Zimmer organ-heavy score is rousing and if you see it in IMAX (Sunday morning in my case) it is almost overwhelming.  When this is combined with the scale of the visuals the film is mesmerising in its beauty.  There is a clear attempt to show off the size of the universe and the massive distances involved in travelling between galaxies.  Time and time again the space ship is shown as a tiny spot against a planet or the human characters are lost in the majesty of the alien landscapes.

I am predisposed to liking this film because of the vast volume of popular science programmes I have watched and my interest in space exploration.  I’ve visited the NASA site out in Florida and coughed up the extra money to have the behind the scenes tour when you get up close and personal with one of the launch pads and the runway.  As such I am intrigued by the plans to try and reach Mars and remain amazed by the Voyager programme.  Among my favourite memories include having a piece of cheesecake under a Saturn 5 rocket and walking along the same gantry that the Apollo 11 astronauts did.  So yep I’m a sucker for this stuff (when done well).

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For all my writing about the visuals and emotion of Interstellar, the film is ultimately a story about the best and worst of humanity.  It is about the inherit conflict that exists between people who for the most genuine reasons take polar opposite positions.  In this case there are those like Cooper who lament for the loss of the explorer spirit while there those who want to protect and make the best of what they have and protect scarce resources.  It is a story about the willingness of some to sacrifice themselves for the greater good and how the astronauts deal with living on a different timescale to the rest of the human race.  We are forced to think how we would exist in an aluminium can for long periods without something as everyday as weather or birdsong and the impact on our state of mind.

The final, and by no means least important, element in the puzzle is the all star cast.  Matthew McConaughey is perfectly cast in the lead role and creates an interestingly compartmentalised performance as the tortured father figure who must find the strength to focus on the job in hand.  A strength of the film is the onscreen relationship between himself and Mackenzie Foy as his young daughter Murphy.  It is totally believable and the goodbye is a touching mix of loss and anger.  Michael Caine is arguably a predictable casting but he does the ‘Alfred’ father figure thing really well.  Then of course we have Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, John Lithgow, Anne Hathaway …

It’s a little early to declare this my favourite film not part of the original Star Wars trilogy but it’s bloody close.  I watched this film twice over the weekend scared that the second time around would undermine my initial reaction but it didn’t, it reinforced it.  I am currently struggling to have any sort of rational discussion with anyone who doesn’t love this film as much as I do.  I remember wanting to punch a member of cinema staff who asked if this film was as good as Gravity.  Please, Sandra Bullock being her usual annoying self for ninety minutes.  Please go and watch this film over and over again.  It needs to make lots of money so Hollywood makes more movies with the same level of ambition.

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