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March 2015

Interstellar

cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, and Michael Caine

director: Christopher Nolan

168 minutes (12) 2014
widescreen ratios 1.78:1 (IMAX footage) / 2.39:1
Warner blu-ray region free

RATING: 8/10
review by Steven Hampton

Interstellar

During a new American depression created by overly industrialised farming in the mid-west, the US heartland has become an increasingly poisonous dust-bowl environment, with an impending famine that devastates the ability of planet Earth to sustain life, never mind help feed the struggling fragile societies forming a global population of six billion. Engineer turned robot-tractor wrangler Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) eventually teams up with NASA biologist Dr Brand (Anne Hathaway) for an exploratory mission to Saturn, where a wormhole might provide easy access to other inhabitable worlds.

Interstellar is, more accurately, a science fictional drama about inter-galactic travel. There is a cool realism to depictions of hardware, including designs for spacecraft like the 'Endurance', so that everything from the technical gear of ship interiors to various weightless sequences and orbital action scenes is remarkably convincing, comparing favourably to such recent movies as Gravity. In addition to the hard-SF concepts that inform the plot, this genre production also rationalises some paranormal/ apparently supernatural phenomena, like ghostly poltergeist activity, as initially misunderstood attempts to communicate via gravity waves across space-time.

But even more compelling is the drama that accepts the socio-political failures of late 20th century education systems that have produced generations of workers lacking much ambition greater than finding regular employment, a situation that resulted in school's teaching bogus history lessons, including such nonsense that Apollo missions where faked as Cold War propaganda to bankrupt the Soviet Union.

Far beyond the Earth, the spectacular landscapes of strange alien planets almost fulfil the cinematic promise suggested by the possibilities of an imaginative combination of location filming and cutting-edge digital image-enhancement. Surfing a landing-craft on mountainous waves, and the hero's climactic docking manoeuvre with a spinning orbiter are the main highlights of this movie's traditional space opera appeal.

The blocky slab-like robots (named TARS and CASE) here are the picture's foremost witty allusion to Stanley Kubrick's classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, a creative conceit particularly inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's notion that 2001's mysterious monolith is an alien-tech version of a useful Swiss army knife. And so the shape-shifting droids of Interstellar have functional appendages which are not unlike flick-out blades to affect a versatile utility.

Marooned light-years from home, Dr Mann (Matt Damon) livens up the sci-fi movie's third-act Robinson Crusoe-like confrontation that results from his survey mission on one of the prospective habitable worlds. Cooper and Brand end up suffering from the isolation and social distancing of time-dilation effects caused by the colonial plans for their expedition to visit an extra-solar planet that's affected by the pull of a black hole amusingly nicknamed Gargantua.

Hans Zimmer's polished and ultimately stirring score underlines the movie's sincerity and support its epic qualities as a multi-generational mystery-adventure, but Nolan's usually astute direction has a tendency to slip off-course, so the latter half is prone to lapses into some crudely sentimental episodes. Refusal to accept the obvious fact that any long-term Earth-bound survival of a massive population is doomed weakens the rationality of its SF premise. The burden of cartoonish quasi-religious beliefs in love and the necessity of the hero's pioneering will-power do weigh the narrative down a lot, but without crippling it.

The biggest problem with Interstellar is that its ideas-based plot is such a tightly wound timepiece that it's a clockwork mechanism without much room for human quirks beyond the obvious fears, betrayals, and familial bonding clichés. Even the accomplished supporting cast of Michael Caine, John Lithgow, and Jessica Chastain have precious little to do except react to over-emotional beats and unexpected blips of the futuristic storyline.

Disc extras: a featurette The Science Of Interstellar (50 minutes), is somewhat lazily narrated by McConaughey, but successfully examines some of the basic astrophysics (the Big Bang, cosmology, and entropy, etc.) that supports the speculative fictions of this movie, with vague input from scientist Kip Thorne, although watching Cosmos - the original or its remake - would probably be more helpful to many viewers. There's also a batch of five short behind-the-scenes items.



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