Dir: Christopher Nolan
Academy Award Nominations: Original score. Sound mixing. Sound editing. Visual effects. Production design.
With each film Christopher Nolan makes, the sense of anticipation around his work increases, yet he managed to keep much of this plot under wraps, teasing fans with a very tempting trailer a whole year in advance. Was it worth the wait? Many will disagree, but I think so!
With Earth struggling to produce enough food for the population and the vast majority turning to agriculture to provide what little they can. One farming single father Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) finds himself mysteriously drawn to a secret last chance space program led by an old mentor (Michael Caine) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway). The goal, to find the human race a viable planet upon which to make a new home.
I see this as a great companion piece to ‘Inception’, in some ways it’s almost a mirror of that film. Whereas ‘Inception’ was set within a number of constructed dreamscapes that were limited in their size, ‘Interstellar’ has the whole universe as the setting, with a number of different expansive vistas. There’s also a time element present in the workings of each film, that time is being perceived differently by the protagonists, so I feel they are built on similar thought processes.
I love Christopher Nolan’s way of working, and I mean that in a number of ways. I admire his methods of lining up projects, consistently doing something quite different in-between each of the ‘Dark Knight trilogy’ films with the fantastic ‘The Prestige’ and ‘Inception’. He’s a passionate proponent of shooting on film, especially championing the use of IMAX and when possible avoiding CGI in special effects. The many different formats this was made available in really shows his appreciation for the cinematic experience, with emphasis being put on enticing people to see the film in the very best quality available to them.
The story elements blend science fiction and a somewhat dystopian near-future, with a little mystery wrapped up in a filmy drama. This gives the film more of an emotional backbone than some of Nolan’s previous work, a lot of which has been praised more for dramatic elements and action. For it to work well, the family drama and the science need to be well-balanced, with Cooper’s relationship with his children, especially his daughter (Mackenzie Foy), being the core theme that runs throughout as his personal motivation rather than just the more impersonal yet noble task of saving the human race.
No matter what people think of the story, it’s gorgeous to look at, I would describe it as visually arresting as I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen during the interplanetary scenes. The different planets really are distinctly different in their landscapes and each one is equally fascinating and stunning to behold. Water, snow, and the dusty Earth all set each planet apart from the next, and bring with each surface new issues. There were things in this film that really stood out from anything else I’ve seen in sci-fi films, and even when there were similarities to other planets that have featured in films, the way it’s shot and the detail and scale just put this right up there among the very best ever committed to film.
The ensemble cast are typically great, with previous Nolan collaborators Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine on fine form, but it’s really his new cast members that take much of the praise this time. Young Mackenzie Foy is one of the best child actors I’ve seen in a while, she’s brilliant in her emotionally heavy role, as is Jessica Chastain who always seems to pick some excellent roles in quality films. Matthew McConaughey is definitely still continuing his quality streak with this role too, and it’s nice to see him getting roles that add science fiction and family elements to his portfolio.
Scored by frequent Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer, the music is dramatic and effective as is to be expected, yet again gaining Zimmer a nomination at the Oscars. I didn’t think the music was quite as effective as his previous work was with ‘Inception’ because with that score I always find myself watching the film and going ‘dum dummm’ long after the end credits as the refrain is so incredibly powerful. There’s no doubt though that Zimmer’s score is a good fit with the film and adds a lot of poignant effect to the story as required, so maybe it will grow on me with subsequent viewings.
Apparently the science too holds up, so much so that there’s even a New York Times best-selling book written by scientist Kip Thorne in collaboration with Nolan on ‘The Science of Interstellar’. It’s further evidence that Nolan does put a lot of work into his films, preparing very well and researching the deeper elements so that they can hold up on close inspection and have a chance at longevity and analysis. I’m really looking forward to seeing it again as I’m certain there’s a lot that I missed when I saw it at the cinema.
Even if the science and the story isn’t quite to your liking, it’s hard not to watch in awe and amazement as Nolan yet again creates cinematic worlds you can get lost in. It’s one of Nolan’s most Academy Award nominated films (The Dark Knight and Inception had 8 nominations each, and 4 wins for the latter), but he’s yet again missing out on the prestigious best picture and best director categories. I’m not sure what his next project will be, but hopefully someday soon he’ll make a film that gains him those awards, as his whole body of work is arguably the most consistently* brilliant of any living director.
* 7 of 8 of his big feature films are currently on the IMDb’s Top 250 list and 6 of those are in the top 60, that’s incredible consistency.