“Interstellar”: A space odyssey that’s more ‘2010’ than ‘2001’

Interstellar-2014-Movie

“Interstellar” opens Wednesday in 35mm at Sundance, and opens Friday in digital and IMAX at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. PG-13, 2;45, three and  a half stars out of four.

Part of me wants to write the most negative 3.5-star review ever written. Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic “Interstellar” soars so close to greatness, just almost reaches that the ambitious director of “Inception” and “The Dark Knight” is grasping for, that there’s an undeniable feeling of disappointment that it falls short.

But that shouldn’t discount the fact that it is a immersive and sublime piece of blockbuster entertainment, allowing room for astonishing visuals and emotional performances. And it’s so close to being more than that. In a sly bit of homage, “Interstellar” references not only “2001: A Space Odyssey” but the sequel, “2010.” It’s closer to “2010,” but I liked “2010” a lot.

Nolan and his screenwriting partner and brother John Nolan do an effective bit of dystopian world-building in the first act. IN an unspecified future, Earth is slowly dying. Blight and dust storms are killing off the crops one by one, and society has shifted from exploring and discovering to simply managing what we have left. It’s a sad, ignoble end for humanity, and the earthbound sections of “Interstellar” may be the richest in showing us the dramatic stakes involved.

It’s a world that doesn’t need Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former test pilot and engineer who now farms, like most of the world’s survivors. Cooper chafes at the new world’s lack of ambition (“We’re pioneers, explorers — not caretakers”), and, like parents everywhere, looks at his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) and wonders what kind of world he’s leaving her.

But there is a way out. Cooper is recruited for one last-ditch space mission by the affable but mysterious Dr. Brant (Nolan favorite Michael Caine). There’s a wormhole out there near Saturn, leading to systems with a plethora of possibly habitable worlds. Cooper is to lead his crew — including Brant’s scientist daughter (Anne Hathaway) and a pair of lovable robots that look like walking coffee tables — through the wormhole, to find the most habitable planet for humanity to migrate to.

The mission will take years, and whether if even a successful mission can be a round-trip flight is an open question. Cooper’s anguish at leaving his daughter behind on a dying Earth, and his quest to get home, is the most powerful emotional thread of the film.

interstellar

Nolan shot “Interstellar” on 70mm film, and I saw it on 35mm on Sundance, the first time since “Inside Llewyn Davis” (and probably one of the last times) I’ll be able to see a new film on film. Talk about dying worlds. The outer-space visuals are dazzling, from a tiny speck of a ship dancing across the rim of a black hole to the silent implosion of a spaceship. Add in Hans Zimmer’s deliberately retro score, which makes heavy use of organ, and “Interstellar” on 35mm is a film that both surges forward visually and pays loving homage to the cinematic space missions that have come before.

But it’s also on the mission, full of wonders and terrors and a major surprise Movie Star Cameo,  that “Interstellar” starts to unravel a bit narratively. Nolan is a master craftsman, but the ineffable often seems to elude him — “Inception” is the most undreamlike movie about dreams imaginable. In “Interstellar,” when he reaches for something profound, trying to fuse the scientific and the emotional threads of his story into something awesome, it comes off as clunky and even pretentious. And also, false — Nolan is not a filmmaker who can serve up hooey with a straight face.

“We’ve gone farther than humanity ever has before,” Brant says at one pivotal moment in the film, and Cooper snaps “Not far enough!” That’s the essential question facing the viewer, whether Nolan’s mission is a success because it takes us farther than most filmmakers could, or a disappointment because it doesn’t quite make it all the way.

 

 

 

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