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A familiar journey to the unknown, albeit a grand one
So last night I got the chance to see the early screening of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. The film I've been waiting so much from the early days of the shooting. How did it fare? Here's my take:
To avoid any tl;dr risk, let me get this straight from the very beginning, Interstellar is one goddamnedly good film, it gets you to the edge of your seat, it soars, it warps, it rips your brain senseless. It's that good.
Interstellar is a story about the earth dying, with its soil no longer able to sustain crops other than corn, and of course, it will lead to the extinction of humanity. Our hero is an ex-NASA test pilot named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a typical ordinary-guy-in-an-extraordinary- situation everyman who's also a dedicated family man, especially toward his daughter Murphy (named after the Murphy's Law). In an all-too-Armageddon style our hero gets invited by the (publicly) defunct NASA to become humanity's last hope in finding a new home, for they have found a wormhole near Saturn (2001, anyone?) which will warp the astronauts to another galaxy in quest of a habitable planet. Solid and compact premise, although it's been used before.
For seasoned filmgoers, there are many similar elements (although it's understandable) with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Robert Zemeckis' Contact (1997). In a sense that this is not a bang-bang-shoot-shoot-blow-em-up sci-fi, but more of a slow-burning, metaphysical sci-fi which gets you to think about your place in the universe and your exact place in time.
Similarity with 2001 and Contact is never a bad thing, but it becomes a wee bit too predictable, although Nolan is a smart enough director in providing the final (a very sentimental one, I should say) twist in the story. The visuals in this film is majestic, everything is shot to a meticulously calculated level, Nolan-style. The space scenes are serenely suspenseful just like Cuaron's Gravity, but unlike the documentary feel of Gravity, there's a real gusto and pace to these scenes. You should also be prepared for the (for some, maybe) unexpected third act, it is Nolan's most sentimental and humane moment to date. And this is why Interstellar is more than just a science-fiction, it is a human drama intertwined in space and time loop.
One thing that Nolan gets a bit wrong is the narrative. Nolan was never a 'warm' director, his films are filled with brilliant ideas and flair but it feels cold, it maybe suits Memento and The Dark Knight but in Interstellar he seems to have been lost in determining which of the interpersonal drama or the sci-fi that will be Interstellar's forte. The result is a rather incongruous script, intermittently cutting off the excitement of the previous scene and so on. But it is a forgivable sin, for the good is a lot more than the bad in this monumental film. At the end of the day, all I can say is that Interstellar is a grand film. It is monolithic, thoughtful, sentimental, sophisticated, visceral but also with its flaws. I wouldn't say it's Nolan's best work to date, but I daresay that this is one of the best science fiction ever released.
After watching Interstellar, do yourself a favor and get lost in space and time and go back in time to see Contact (1997) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to further wonder and wander into the realms of the unknown.
Because sometimes it is the unknown that fascinates us, frightens us and brings out the best in us.
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