It’s safe to say that expectations for Christopher Nolan’s newest film Interstellar are pretty high. Not only does it follow one of the most commercially and critically successful trilogies of all time (The Dark Knight films) but it also comes a couple of years after one of the most imaginative, intelligent and unique blockbusters ever made (Inception). Early buzz looked set to ignite the internet on fire with speculation but little was done to fan the flames by the notoriously secretive Christopher Nolan.
But, at a preview screening last Wednesday, The Evans Review had the opportunity to see Interstellar before it hits cinemas this week. Does it live up to the hype?
Interstellar throws us into a not so distant future in which humanity’s chances on earth are running slim. Crops are dying out, dust sweeps across the land and children – judged to have no future other than as farmers – are sent from school if they get worse than A grades. The hopeless, joyless existence is weighing heavily on Matthew McConaughey’s ex-shuttle pilot Cooper, so when he’s given the opportunity to take a team through a wormhole to find a new earth (and secure a future for his children), he embraces it.
It is these early moments of the film which Nolan (who reworked the script from one written by his brother Johnathan) executes so extraordinarily. The world he creates is spellbinding – even if it is somewhat mundane – mainly because the characters are so well written and performed. McConaughey is playing the role he was born for; Cooper is a perfect mixture of wit, charm and “everyman” emotional brevity and is brought to life wonderfully. It’s a world which feels tangible and realistic down to every detail; perhaps it’s that the story of a world slowly turned to dust is believable or simply because the locations, cars and costumes are so well designed, but it all just feels right. The story takes place in the future but it is so lacking in Sci-Fi that the fantastical never replaces the reality. It’s a clever move.
One pivotal scene is not a space ship battle or a gunfight with some rubber aliens but a simple punch up between two humans. The drama in Interstellar always hits home because it is always character driven; although an explosion, a tidal wave or a spaceship crash can be exhilarating (and are definitely that in Interstellar) Nolan knows that when mixed with human interaction they make a far more potent dramatic mixture. Yet again, that real life conflict elevates what could be a simplistic smashing, blasting Sci-Fi into something far more magnificent.
When Cooper does lift off into space (about an hour in) we aren’t in some sort of ultra clean, white, Star Trek style spacecraft, but a real shuttle, buttons are everywhere and everything looks suitably low-tech for it to be believable. The special effects are absolutely extraordinary. The lines between reality and fiction are so blurred it is impossible to guess which shots might actually be physical or computer generated. By grounding everything so perfectly in reality, the audience is never distracted from the core themes of the film which make Interstellar so good. The story’s various strands touch on lofty themes like survival instincts, the afterlife, what it means to be human, love, and why we have such an insatiable desire to progress and explore. These are no passing references either – the way some films allude to high minded topics – these are brought right to the fore in the same way Stanley Kubrick once did in the seminal Sci Fi film 2001: A Space Oddyssey. Although the references and similarities are undeniably there, the great tool Interstellar has in its arsenal is its accessibility; the impenetrable philosophy of Kubrick’s masterpiece can be off-putting but here – like in Inception - we are led through a labyrinthine tunnel of narrative and thematics which though complex are also incredibly exciting. You don’t just watch Interstellar, you experience it and you work at it so it becomes one of the most rewarding pieces of cinema to hit screens in a very long time.
It will demand repeat viewings for its sheer audacity and gorgeous majesty but Interstellar isn’t just a visual spectacle, it’s an introspective and extraordinary story about what it is to be human. It is Nolan’s most spellbinding film yet – and that, is a massive compliment.
Image Rights; Warner Bros. Interstellar is Out on Wednesday in Cinemas everywhere.