Interstellar is without doubt one of the most anticipated movies of this year, and certainly a controversial one, at least judging from the divergent opinions I’ve read on the subject. After finally seeing it, I feel compelled to add my voice to the discussion.
The story. In a not-so-distant time in our future the Earth is suffering: repeated crop failures have forced the population to rely solely on the cultivation of corn, whose fields extend all over the place. Dust storms plague our planet and there are several indications that even corn might not be long for this world, so that humankind’s prospects of survival look quite bleak. What’s worse, people’s mindset has changed: concentrating on the needs of the planet, they have stopped to look outward, even negating the evidence of the space program and the moon missions – labeled as complicated hoaxes – to keep humanity from wasting energy on anything non directly concerned with immediate survival. NASA, now turned into something of an underground movement, enrolls former astronaut Cooper for a mission through a wormhole located near Saturn, in search of a new home for the human race in one of the three maybe-viable planets located beyond the portal.
I’ll say up front that I liked the movie, even though I think it might have been shorter, tighter and less wordy: my impression is that the creators had been given free rein with the production and they choose to exercise their right not to edit. Nonetheless, I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride despite the drawbacks I mentioned, probably because I went in with low expectations and therefore suffered no disappointment: I’ve often wondered if part of the reason for the negative reactions I’ve read comes from the huge hype mounted around this movie and the equally huge burden of expectations that went unfulfilled.
The movie’s visuals are indeed exceptional, and the soundtrack from Hans Zimmer a perfect complement for them, even in its loudest moments: the choice of respecting the reality of total silence in space contrasts dramatically with enclosed-space scenes where dialogue and music stress the action. The emotional impact provided by the environment of the two visited planets is undeniable: first the water world, with its immense ocean and huge (very huge!) destructive waves that provides both a dramatic twist and a nerve-wracking situation; then the frozen world, with its endless wasteland and the crushing sense of devastating loneliness. The Earth as we know it is indeed the product of a series of serendipitous occurrences, and those visits to extra-terrestrial environments brought more clearly home the awareness of both the uniqueness and the fragility of our home.
Despite these stunning visuals, though, my attention was focused more by the human factor in the story: the four people leaving for the mission are ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of humanity, accepting the heavy burden of separation from their loved ones and the added load of relativity with its accompanying difference in time-flow. When an unforeseen circumstance stretches that time into decades, it’s impossible not to identify with Cooper’s despair at the knowledge of the unsurpassable gulf stretching between himself and his family, or to remain detached when he tries to reach out to them through impossible odds (I know this last sounds cryptic, but to say more would be a spoiler…).
Interstellar, however, is not immune from flaws. The human factor I mentioned above is unfortunately diluted by long-winded speeches that give you little about the person represented on screen, rather favoring a sort of stereotype that clashes with the wide scope of the movie’s story: so we are presented with the bold, selfless astronaut; the great professor’s daughter; the expendable scientists, and so on. While I understand that some tropes are unavoidable, I would have expected more from these characters: in particular I would have expected to be surprised, and not to anticipate a few behavioral patterns even before they appeared… Strange as it might sound, the best developed characters are the two robots assisting the Earth explorers: their role was probably created with light comic relief in mind, and yet at times they come across as more human and relatable than their flesh-and-blood counterparts.
Story-wise, the stated need to maintain scientific accuracy, translates into detailed explanations that often slide into info-dump: one such case is that of the scientist explaining to Cooper (who is an astronaut, for pity’s sake, and should already be aware of the concept!) the theory of wormholes through the classic example of Point A and Point B drawn on a sheet of paper, whose ends are superimposed to exemplify the shortcut offered by the phenomenon. I understand how the creators wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible, but I can’t shake the feeling that one of the factors coming into play was the… lack of faith (for want of a better word) in the viewers’ ability to take mind leaps and accept such wonders without need for extensive footnotes.
The same fate befalls the first part of the movie, where we spend almost an hour on the conditions of planet Earth: again, I gathered the impression that the authors wanted to drive the concept home beyond any possibility for doubt. Even the less sci-fi-oriented spectators would hardly need so much time devoted to the subject, and therefore those scenes seem to slow the pace of the story, making it appear unnecessarily heavy and heavy-handed.
Authors – no matter the medium they chose to express themselves – should have more faith in their audience and its inherent ability to reach out and fill the gaps, because that kind of exercise is fun and entertaining. It’s extremely gratifying when viewers/readers become aware of the author’s trust in their powers of understanding, as is equally frustrating when they realize they are being spoon-fed.
These flaws notwithstanding, I can honestly say that Interstellar is not a total waste of time: if nothing else, it’s worth watching to build your own opinion about it, considering the highly diverging reviews expressed on the subject. It could have been better, granted, but it could have been much worse…
My Rating: 7,5/10