Friday, November 7, 2014

Review of INTERSTELLAR: Top Notch Sci-Fi with a Big Heart

November 7, 2014

The Earth in the near future is a shell of what it used to be. The plant life is dying from a deadly blight. The very soil that used to sustain it is destroying it. There are some underground efforts headed by Prof. Brand (Michael Caine) dubbed Lazarus to find an alternative world to settle in somewhere out there in the vast reaches of space. Three such potential worlds have been found beyond a black hole near Saturn.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a retired NASA engineer who had been chosen to pilot the spacecraft to further investigate these alternative planets. Despite the stiff objections of his spirited 10-year old daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), he accepts the mission and lifts off together with his crew of three scientists, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi). 

From there, we are brought on an unparalleled adventure of space, time and humanity by a master who is probably the most challenging writer and director in the film industry today, Christopher Nolan. Front and center in this visually spectacular sci-fi film is the timeless bond between a father and his daughter. The poetic story he has written is multi-layered and emotional, despite its scientific jargon and bleak settings.

As with his other projects, Nolan works with some of the best technical talents, many of whom are award-winners in their fields. Everyone on this team are guaranteed at least Oscar nominations for their work in this film, and they may in fact all actually win.

Film editor Lee Smith, sound engineers Gregg Landaker and Gary Rizzo and musical scorer Hans Zimmer together effectively create excitement and drama. The cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema is breathtaking especially in those wide landscape shots, both on earth and on those other planets. The visual effects are innovative as ever, particularly in the third act where a whole new dimension of space and time was created. 

Production designer Nathan Crowley had some nifty ideas for his futuristic props. The circular design of the mother ship Endurance was beautiful in its symmetry. The block designs of the robotic sidekicks TARS and CASE are in no way similar those in Star Wars. 

Matthew McConaughey continues his streak of acting excellence which was just capped by an Oscar earlier this year. Michael Caine was very good as expected. However, there was this final speech of his that sounded too garbled to be understood well, and it contained an important plot point. Anne Hathaway's role is a bit of a puzzle for me. While she actually managed to be credible as a scientist, she had a rather cheesy monologue that seemed out of place when it was delivered.

Three talented actresses portray the character of Murphy Cooper at different ages: Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain  and Ellen Burstyn. Foy goes way beyond what she was required to do in her two previous hit films, namely the "Breaking Dawn" films and "The Conjuring". Chastain is such a riveting presence as ever, and it was good to see her again after her long break after "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Mama.". Oscar-winner Burstyn's singular big scene made me tear up.

In the second hour of this almost three-hour long exhilarating ride, I was surprised to see a special, heretofore uncredited, big name guest star portray one of the pioneer Lazarus astronauts, Dr. Mann. This was more than a mere cameo appearance, as his character had a critical role to play in one of the many twisting episodes of this story.

From "Memento", then "The Prestige", his "Batman" films to "Inception", Nolan had gone for the extremes in terms of plot development. His work is not always easily comprehended on first watch. They are thought-provoking and demanding in terms of a viewer's patience, concentration and post-viewing rumination. "Interstellar" joins this remarkable list. This film definitely has the Oscar Best Picture prize well in sight. 10/10.

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