The short version: it’s very pretty, so who cares about the flaws.
The longer version: remember that recent film that kills off a major character only for him to come back to the protagonist – except it’s all a hallucination due to oxygen starvation? Imagine waiting an hour, hoping it’s all a dream.
The even longer version:
We are haunted by 2001, A Space Odyssey. Like it or not, it has become the yardstick of the serious sf movie, the sf art film. It travels at the kind of pace that we rarely see in Hollywood film these days and when we do, I often find it self indulgent rather than joyous. Alternatively, given the action takes a couple of million years and travels to infinity and beyond – sorry, beyond infinity – that’s somewhat speedy as an average. The apes take a while and the stargate sequence really frustrates my students, but there is a joy in the miniatures and the classical music that has rarely been bettered. Hal 9000 created a new stereotype, the evil shipboard computer, to such an extent that I never trust a computer to run a ship.
And so comes along Interstellar, another pretender to the tradition, weighing in at 2hr 49 mins, nine minutes longer than its daddy, minus overture and intermission, or indeed Strauss, Ligetti and Wagner on the soundtrack. Nolan’s done interesting movies – I’ve a soft spot for Falling, a disappear up its own fundament psychological thriller, I enjoyed Memento, despite our not knowing much more at the end than the beginning and The Prestige is an interesting take of Priest’s novel, unfortunately shorn of its present day framing device. I eventually caught up with the Dicklite Inception on DVD and it has its moments, but too many of them seem to being situating women as less good than men. He did some comic book franchise, too, set in a dystopia where almost all women had died out.
So we have Interstellar, a film which I had singularly failed to find three hours to see prior to Saturday, and which I saw in one of the smallest cinemas in existence. We have nostalgic talking heads, telling us how things now have changed, We have Matthew McConaughy as Coop, an actor I last saw in Reign of Fire alongside Christian Bale, and the facial resemblance here suggests that so kind of synthespian shenanigans have been going on. We have a future in which the crops are failing one by one – Death of Grass anyone? – and the solution to this is to ruin the soil even more by growing the same crop in the same fields. Me, I’d be exploring hydroponics and such like. This is a world that needs more farmers and fewer engineers (although in guessing there’s a wriggle out of this) and where there’s a Sekrit Plan to evacuate Earth run by Michael Caine. But that is to get ahead of ourselves because there a Sekrit Messages being sent to Coop’s daughter, Murphy, including binary or Morse code coordinates for the Sekrit Rendezvous (because poltergeists, like the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, know where Greenwich Meridian Line is. Before you know it, Coop has met Dr Brand and her father, Michael Caine, who turns out to be an old friend and clearly marked for death in tragic circumstances at the three quarters point if the movie.
Look away now. Spoilers.
Them, the aliens, the poltergeists, have pointed out a wormhole (and God spare us from the folding sheet of paper metaphor) that leads to twelve planets that may or may not be habitable, polteraliens being teasers that way. Twelve ships have been sent out and some messages have been received that are promising, and Michael Caine is both building a very big ark to get there, if he could only solve gravity, and has collected a load of DNA to reproduce the humans elsewhere. Coop, having been carefully and cutely established as A Good (Single) Father with an interview with his children’s teachers and taking them to a baseball game (although willing to put them at risk with a cross field chase of a drone that seems to play no further role in the film), dumps his children on his father in law and heads out for Saturn.
You know, the ringed planet that was in the first draft of 2001, which then shows up in Silent Running because Douglas Trumbull had worked out how to film it.
On the mission there’s a black guy and a woman because that’s the way that multiculturalism rolls, and a spare white man so the minorities don’t get killed first. White guy might as well be wearing a red jumper. There’s gonna be tears before they find the perfect planet, and there’s time dilation to worry about due to a black hole (though not the wormhole)….
Remember, for every hour in front of a dull film, seven hours of subjective time will pass.
There’s also a smart and occasionally cute robot, who appears to have seen Dark Star, who evidentially you shouldn’t trust and which appears to have such advanced mechanical technology that it’s a wonder they haven’t yet solved crops or gravity. This is a world that doesn’t need engineers, rather it needs farmers, even though the farms are farmed by remote controlled tractors.
So you kind of know there will be a problem with at least one of the planets, because, why have three otherwise, and on one of them you get the kind of feeling that the pioneer astronaut will turn out to be played by Hollywood A List star you hadn’t realised was in the film. He is. And you think that everyone is rather too quick to jump to the conclusion that this is Shangri La when it looks as if they’ve landed in a location shoot in Iceland. He’s been alone along time, right? He’s barking by now.
And because we know how to slingshot around Mars, we can slingshot around a star to get to the final planetary system because they’re short of fuel – only it needs a Meaningful Sacrifice by Coop to get them there. Even better, he can jump into the black hole (shades of The Black Hole) to get the data that will help Michael Caine to solve gravity if he hasn’t tragically died by now, what with him being no spring chicken by then, thirty years into the movie.
So now we have the timey whimey stuff – and autocorrect here wants me to type timey whimsy – and it’s timey whimey stuff of the kind that would Steven Moffatt think that he’s insulting his audience. It’s of the Bill and Ted after-this-I’ll-travel-back-in-time-and… type. The black hole, with its friendly gravitational forces – in the future they’ll solve gravity – means that Coop can travel back in time and communicate in binary. He tells himself where to go, because that will end well. He’s conflicted, because he also seems to want to send a message to himself not to get involved, even though if he obeys it we get into paradox time. Whime. Does he send gravitational equations back using binary? I forget. Maybe I’m thinking of Frequency or Timescape and there’s this alternative world where the future us from the future colony send something more comprehensible back in time. Or find the Scrabble set. And why didn’t Murphy notice the big room behind her bookcase?
But the special effects are gorgeous. We get some pretty take offs and landings and Saturn and a short version of Stargate. We have a robot who could be a black monolith on Stars in Their Eyes (or, rather, Oh My God It’s Full of Stars in Their Eyes) that is really rinky dinky and clearly a century away. We have a soundtrack that isn’t Blue Danube, but on more than one occasion seems perilously close to the Also Sprach Zarusthrusta chords from 2001. We have some dialogue being drowned out by music, but frankly you weren’t missing Shakespeare.
And as so often this distracts you from plot holes that are more conveniently placed than the wormhole was.