Monthly Archives: November 2014

There’s been a lot of criticism of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and deservedly so. To my eye, this is Nolan’s most deeply flawed film since his unfortunate remake of the brilliant Swedish film, Insomnia.

I’ll admit that I was more stung by my own disappointment, than I was by any actual problems with the film. My expectations for Nolan are always unrealistically high. The problem is, often he meets, or even exceeds them.  So even though it was utterly unfair of me to go in expecting the mind-altering originality of Inception, I did… and the experience was hollow.

That being said, I actually don’t think it’s possible to create something truly original anymore. Maybe I’ve become a post-modernist, but I usually see a film through the prism of all the other films it’s owes its pedigree too. Usually, I don’t much hold it against them; there are only so many plot structures available to writers (between 7 and 36, depending on how detailed you want to get), so duplication is inevitable.

But Interstellar has its roots sunk so deep in the soil of so many other movies, it’s really tough to ignore. Yes, there are the obvious comparisons to 2001, and I feel like the filmmakers acknowledge this by keying off each act with the chord from Also Sprach Zarathustra. But let’s also acknowledge the debts owed to 2010, ContactSolarisSunshineAI, and even Idiocracy.

You read that right. Think about the world Cooper’s rock-stupid farmer son grew up to be Casey Affleck in; a world with very few people of education beyond crop rotation and pulling corn out of the ground, and then imagine a non-comedy version of Mike Judge’s terrifyingly-apt future vision. Then again, given the recent mid-term elections, how could anyone not assume the morons were running America?

A lot of criticism has been leveled at the plot, which I actually didn’t have a problem with. The science is speculative, and stretches what we know (or think we know) about relativity, quantum physics, and string theory, but it actually makes perfect sense within its own framework. That’s not saying it isn’t clunky and ham-fisted; it is. But it does  follow its own logic. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Matthew McConaughey did.

I suppose I can forgive a Brit for thinking every American pilot is a good-old-boy like Sam Shepard in The Right Stuff, but I think someone might have told Nolan it was a bad idea to cast a guy far more suited to farming than spaceflight as a would-be space jockey who hated farming. Once MM got off-world, he became the least-believable special effect in the film.

Lastly, I want to take a few lashes at something everyone else has praised, which is that the film is “gorgeous” and “technically brilliant.” Yes, the FX are absolutely flawless, but regarding the photography, I have to say I miss Wally Pfister. Hoyte Van Hoytema has shot some great-looking films, including Let the Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but replacing the inimitable Wally Pfister as Nolan’s DP, one can’t help but think he was too busy audition for his next job, shooting Bond 24, because Interstellar looks like the work of someone who’s trying too hard.

I became aware of the photography, the chosen “look” for each segment of the film, too many times. Photography, like editing, should be seamless. It should enhance, without being self-aware. Pfister’s work is unambiguous, and yet subtle. Van Hoytema is anything but, and Interstellar needed all the subtlety it could get.

 

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