Have Rocket ‒ Will Babble
by Glenn Lovell
Now may be a good time to reassess Christopher Nolan’s standing in the firmament of important American filmmakers. I’ve always thought the guy was overrated, that his films, dating from “Memento” and including “Inception,” were too overly calculated and hermetic by half ‒ interesting schematics for movies rather than interesting movies. In this respect, Nolan is a bit like Brian De Palma.
Nolan’s latest, a $165-million Paramount-Warner Bros. co-production called “Interstellar,” proves a New Age-y, fuzzy-headed sci-fi’er that borrows liberally from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Contact” and the director’s own “Inception.” It’s overlong, talky and, depending on the crisis, either dopey or pretentious … sometimes both. During the Big Revelation, which is supposed to make us feel all tingly and wonderful inside, I was reminded of John Carpenter’s Kubrick spoof, “Dark Star.” In that shaggy-dog cult item, the astronaut-cum-glorified garbage collectors behave less like Flash Gordon than The Three Stooges.
Maybe the best way to describe this expensive boondoggle is as cornpone existentialism. About a third of the film takes place on a Midwest farm in the near future, when sandstorms and dust-bowl conditions have rendered Earth all but uninhabitable; the rest of the story unfolds in deep space aboard a ringed centrifugal craft called The Endurance. The crew, led by Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and science officer Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), have been tasked with traveling to Saturn and exploring the most promising of three planets in another galaxy ‒ accessed through a gaseous wormhole much like the terminus Stargate in “2001.”
There’s much talk about quantum physics, higher life forms, and transcending “the dimensions of time and space.” None of this scientific palaver, however, amounts to a hill of beans. The missing element in the equation? With apologies to the Beatles, “Love, love, love.” (At crucial junctures, Hans Zimmer’s familiar score is cranked up to drown out these silly exchanges.)
Because the four-member crew and their surprisingly agile security-bot (voiced by Bill Irwin) are passing into another dimension, every hour spent on a planet equals seven years back home. This makes Coop especially uneasy because he’s a single dad and has promised his kids that he will return in time to save them and the world. Alas, NASA and Amelia’s father (Michael Caine), the project’s lead scientist, have not been totally forthcoming about the mission’s contingency plan. And time’s a-wasting. Coop’s teenage kids have already morphed into Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck.
But that’s the least of the mission’s worries. As orchestrated by Nolan, who co-scripted with brother Jonathan, nothing adds up here. Former test pilot Coop just happens to wind up on NASA’s doorstep and, with nary a refresher course, is hailed as the only man who can head up the mission to save mankind, either by ferrying Earth’s population to a new planet or by repopulating the planet with cryogenically preserved eggs. Brand has her own secret agenda. She makes like a laboratory wonk but her silly smile gives her away: She’s less about saving mankind than fixing a broken heart. The less said about the physicist (David Gyasi) with a bad case of motion sickness the better.
Matt Damon also shows up in what’s supposed to be a surprise cameo. He awakes from a sleep chamber in a foul mood.
“Interstellar” can’t be faulted for a lack of ambition. When was the last time you saw a film that crosscuts between a domestic dispute down on the farm and a disintegrating spaceship? It’s sort of like watching a TV with a loose connection ‒ one moment you receive “August: Osage County,” the next “Mission to Mars.”
INTERSTELLAR ✮✮ With Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Ellen Burstyn, Bill Irwin, Casey Affleck. Directed by Christopher Nolan; scripted by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. 169 min. PG-13 (for violence, profanity, intense action sequences)