Now here’s a movie I look back on fondly. I was in tenth grade when Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar came out, and in the months leading up to its release I excitedly reposted the trailers to Google+ (anyone else remember Google+? May it rest in peace). Five of my friends went with me to see it in theaters. When we left, we were all blown away by a film that still holds up as a monumental work of science fiction, a space exploration epic that succeeded where Ad Astra later failed. Today I will be taking a trip down memory lane and revisiting what is still one of my favorite movies.
Our story begins at an unspecified time in the future, somewhere in the Midwest. Governments as we know them have largely disappeared, due to a recent collapse in the food supply, but society has rebounded a little and some sense of normalcy has returned, at least enough for schools and baseball games to still be a thing. The protagonist is Joseph Cooper, a farmer and former astronaut who used to fly missions for NASA before the agency was disbanded. On his farm he grows corn, the last major crop that hasn’t yet been consumed by blight, and he lives with his son, Tom, his daughter, Murph, and his ageing father-in-law. Dust storms are common and human civilization seems to be slowly, quietly fading away.
Then, weird things begin to happen. Physical anomalies surround the Cooper farm, culminating in an invisible force that organizes dust into a set of coordinates on a bedroom floor. Determined to find out where the coordinates lead, Cooper ventures off on a road trip, and eventually stumbles across a surprise—the hidden headquarters of NASA.
NASA is undertaking a mission to save the human species from extinction. Under the leadership of one Professor Brand, it has sent manned expeditions through a wormhole near Saturn, exploring potential habitable worlds so that humanity may move beyond the dying Earth. The next step is to send the spacecraft Endurance to follow up on the earlier missions, and for that Brand needs a pilot. Cooper fits the bill perfectly.
Thus, the adventure begins. Murph and Cooper bid a tearful farewell, unsure when or if they will ever see each other again, and if it sounds like I’ve forgotten Cooper’s other child, Tom, that’s because the movie did too. The parental favoritism is strong with this one.
Anyway, Cooper departs Earth with three other astronauts, including the professor’s daughter, Amelia. The Endurance flies out to Saturn, where the wormhole is located, and ventures to the other side, winding up in a system where three potentially habitable worlds orbit a black hole. Astronauts have already traveled to these worlds on one-way expeditions—but little is known about what happened to them. The mission soon becomes a race against time to find humanity’s future home…
The plot after this point is a planet-hopping roller coaster, presenting numerous fascinating locations, death-defying feats, and dramatic events, as well as egregious mutilations of space and time (that’s what you get when you try to incorporate special relativity into your story). This is how Ad Astra should have been done. There are several different set pieces, but they are all connected and justified by a (fairly) coherent storyline, not strung together by a series of idiotic MacGuffins. This movie does not feature Brad Pitt facing off attacks by moon pirates and space baboons.
It does feature stunning, realistic visuals, which feel almost like footage from an actual space mission:
And that is where Interstellar really succeeds: it creates a plausible space exploration atmosphere. The ships feel used and cramped—the interior of the Endurance really calls to mind the ISS—and the science is just accurate enough to rend a certain gravitas to the film, though it does have its breaks from reality. Is space populated by shockwaves and fireballs in this film? No, thankfully. Does the Endurance zip around a star system with no visible propellant tanks? Yes, but at least they keep the crew in stasis for what is a years-long trip.
Other positives: A+ visual design, gripping character development, great acting from Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, and others, and perhaps most importantly, a superb soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. He absolutely killed it with this one. Never would I have expected organs to be an appropriate instrument for a space movie, but here we are.
Interstellar has its fair share of flaws, though. Without getting into spoilers, the plot is kind of silly, but it’s at least more plausible than Ad Astra, which I will continue trashing on for as long as I feel like (the movie was a letdown, dangit!). The ending stretches credibility, featuring a gratuitous number of space- and time-warps. At times the movie feels too sentimental. Nevertheless, it is an ambitious, competently written, supremely good-looking film—I recommend it highly.
Rating: 9/10. I bumped the rating up because I absolutely adore the way this movie looks, feels, and sounds, even though it is a little nonsensical at times.