Leon Russell, “A Song for You” (1970)
Review by Ken Burke
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)
Earth, in a not-that-distant-future, faces extinction so a desperate attempt is made to locate an alternative planet, racing against time (and General Relativity’s impact on it)
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I had already made myself a promise to just review one film this time (the intent was to not spend so much time writing and posting this week, as if that goal ever happens) when I got a further reason for doing so—extending the analysis by offering a good number of scientific explanations of some of the complex cosmological aspects presented in Interstellar, to help those who want to better understand the difficult science behind the sci-fi of this story of the quest for a new planet, needed to save our human species from extinction as Earth reaches a climate-changing-climatic-point-of-existence that can no longer sustain us on this unique floating rock. So, I did some Web surfing and came up with the following: (1) a site that helps explain some of the aspects of Einstein's theory of General Relativity which gets us into the challenges our Interstellar intergalactic-astronauts face in the last part of their story regarding such phenomena as black holes with their associated event horizons and singularities; (2) other sites that helps us understand the crucial problem in Interstellar brought on by Relativity concerning aging, given that simple hours spent exploring possible other “escape” planets is multiplied into considerably larger chunks of time—years, actually—back on Earth, raising the fear that even if another human home is found in the deep reaches of space it may already be too late for the short-term-survivors waiting for rescue, so I’ve got one explanation on why acceleration impacts aging (further put into brief video form by Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson) and another that notes the impact of gravity on aging, which is the relevant concern in Interstellar; (3) explanations about the tesseract (Spoiler Alerts are active for this site as well as for my review) which mission Commander Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) encounters when he enters a black hole, as well as many other aspects of the film; and (4) a Discovery Channel episode (41:00) on “The Science of Interstellar,” narrated by McConaughey, containing interviews with Kip Thorne— renowned physicist and consultant on the film—along with others, including astrophysicist Natalie Batalha about actual planets that might be inhabitable by humans; this video is a fascinating exploration of major space-time-concepts that are a bit hard to follow at times but ultimately give a comprehendible picture of the complexities that Nolan was facing in trying to create a fictional tale that has relevance and resonance for the actual universe that we live in (and hope to keep doing so). Of course, when the demands of relatively-easily-understood-fiction butt up against the complex realities of science you’re bound to have some problems, so here’s a somewhat-counterpoint from equally-esteemed-astrobiologist David Grinspoon about some flaws in Interstellar, just to verify that Nolan hasn’t paid me off (Damn it!) to support only his view of the hard-to-comprehend-astrophysics in this film.
(not Ken Burke ... yet)
If you choose to look into all of this above material either before or after reading my review I figure that this one film is enough to keep you occupied this week in my close encounter with it, so let’s just get on to the specifics—after I offer just one more (but very related) diversion, which is the additional relevance of the Leon Russell tune (on the 1970 Leon Russell album) from which I took this post’s title, given both that it speaks to undying love which is a theme-with-variations that fuels Interstellar along with being a favorite song of Nina’s (my wife) which hopefully helps me express my own undying love for her, so I offer up this version at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=2UW4ELmVD9M where in addition to Leon she also gets 2 of her favorite performers, Willie Nelson and Ray Charles (from Willie’s 70th birthday celebration at NYC’s Beacon Theatre in 2003), which further gives Nina a choice of deciding, now that my hair’s about as long as Leon’s and Willie’s, whether she prefers a more trimmed beard such as with Willie or something more like Leon's underbrush because my whiskers are getting to the point of either being shaped up or running amuck; she can ponder that while reading the review, but just remember, Sweetie, for every hour you spend contemplating my face the beard grows another 7 years worth, given how fast your mind travels through the universe. (Of course that’s a compliment, put down that butcher knife! Oh, sorry, you’re just chopping kale for dinner. Never mind ... onward, back to the review.)
What Happens: (This is a fairly complex film so be prepared for a necessarily-long-exposition here, filled with the usual hearty-helping-of-Spoilers, which I redundantly overemphasize because screenings of Interstellar have been sold out in my area so you may not have even had a chance to see it yet.) In some unspecified (but could easily be the mid-21st century) period on Earth, the future of the human species is dire indeed as crops are failing (from a nitrogen-fed-blight)—only corn seems to survive at this point—the population has already been severely reduced as have social services (there are no armies anymore, taxes are still collected but don’t support higher education because farmers are the needed workforce), and regular. massive dust storms make what life is left a daily difficulty. Then, a 10-year-old farm girl, Murph Cooper (Mackenzie Foy), senses a ghost in her bedroom, dismissed by her former-pilot-now-farmer-father, known only as Cooper or Coop (McConaughey), until one day a cluster of dust forms itself into a decipherable pattern that he understands to be geographic coordinates, leading him and Murph to discover the hidden remnants of NASA, where Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter, Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) are working feverishly on a plan to locate an other-worldly-home for the remaining humans before Earth becomes completely unlivable. They’re convinced that they’re getting help from some distant higher-level-beings who’ve opened a wormhole near Saturn (but close enough to Jupiter to conjure up associations with 2001: A Space Odyssey [Stanley Kubrick, 1968], a stated influence by Nolan on his present film; there are many references to 2001 in Interstellar, due to Nolan’s respect for this masterpiece, one of Interstellar’s few predecessors to take a more “sci” than “fi” approach to the physics of space exploration), providing an accessible path to another galaxy where 12 possibly-hospitable-planets have been located by deep-space-probes (this clandestine exploration has been going on for years, hidden from a public that objects to speculative science when the focus needs to be on providing a food supply—not that such a dietary-salvation has yet been discovered; why the helpful aliens, if they're powerful enough to open up a wormhole, weren’t able to just guide the desperate scientists to which of these 12 might be the 1 they need is never asked nor answered), to which previous astronaut teams from this NASA Lazarus Mission have been sent to seek out what’s there.
Only 3 of the 12 Lazarus teams have sent back signals for potential-life-sustenance so a final expedition needs to go forth, with Cooper in command, Amelia (the probable reference to famous-but-long-lost-aviator Amelia Earhart has been noted in other reviews but it’s hard to not take note of it again here so I will) on board along with 2 other crew members, and a couple of programmed-distinct-personality-ex-military-robots that can move in a simple-but-efficient-form of locomotion but generally look like the monoliths from 2001 with text screens for “faces.” Coop’s dedicated to making this last-ditch-effort to find a “new home in the sun” for his fellow-planetary-dwellers (a reference which just forces me to diverge into one of my most-favorite-but-also-very-appropriate-in-this-context-songs, Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” [from the 1970 album of the same name] at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOMaqe0LOmo&list=RDNOMaqe0LOmo& index=1 [this video shot at the Farm Aid concert, Tinley Park, IL, October 3, 1998—by coincidence, Nina’s birthday; in that year, it was back in the days when neither of us was in orbit around the planet Medicare; I chose this link because it then leads you into a large collection of other Neil Young music videos if you want to pursue any/all of them, although if you love him as much as Nina does this may add yet another hour to your attempts to get through this review) but at the expense of horror-stricken-Murph, convinced that her ghost spelled out “stay” in a Morse code pattern on her bookshelves as a warning that Dad would never return so she begs him not to go.
Go he does, though, then after spending 2 years in suspended animation, Cooper and crew aboard the spaceship Endurance revive (although Amelia isn’t being very respectful of his command) to pass through the globe-shaped-wormhole, where they must contend with the situation that their nearest planet to be explored is in orbit around Gargantua, a massive rotating black hole which will expose them to a strong gravitational pull that, through General Relativity operations (see links noted above if you need more clarification), causes an aging anomaly so that 1 hour spent on these planets for our astronauts will be equivalent to 7 years back on Earth, putting additional pressure on them to complete their mission quickly so that whatever they discover won’t be too late for their left-behind-fellow-humans, forcing the space crew to resort to Plan B where they activate hundreds of frozen fertilized eggs on an acceptable planet, with these becoming the new survivors as all traces of their ancestors will be lost. On the first planet, named Miller for the mission leader to this planet who came before them, they find a surface of shallow water but with surges of enormous waves; Amelia insists on gathering up the wreckage of Miller’s data recordings, causing her to barely get back into their small transport as the next wave hits, with crew member Doyle (Wes Bentley) dying in the process because of her actions. By the time Cooper and Brand return to the mothership their lone companion, Romilly (David Gyasi), has aged 23 years even though his fellow-crew-members were in the super-gravitational-field for only about 3 hours (Nina noted to me how his makeup supported that aging in some scenes and not in others, so I guess that Nolan needed more than scientific consultants for this massive project) and their fuel will allow them only 1 other stop before a return to Earth. Amelia argues for planet Edmunds but is overruled by Cooper because she admits that she’s in love with Edmunds, hoping against hope to see him again; her counter-argument is that love is not just a primitive emotion but a primal experience that transcends space and time (we can still love someone who’s physically separated from us, just as we can maintain love for someone who is dead) so maybe this is the cosmos’ indirect way of telling them to go to planet Edmunds.
However, Cooper goes for planet Mann instead, hoping to find the “best” of the previous explorers, which they do; after being revived from deep sleep brought on from being desperately lonely out there for years Mann convinces his rescuers that despite the ice-and-ammonia-atmospheric-conditions of their current camp there are more livable areas elsewhere on the planet; however, before they can explore it a video transmission comes in—for whatever unexplained reasons they can receive such messages (another allusion back to 2001) but can’t send their own replies so no one on Earth’s heard from them since they entered the wormhole—from Murph (played by Jessica Chastain as an adult), now an advanced-physicist in her own right at NASA (she was too smart for the university to turn her away), telling them that the elder Brand has died, after he admitted that Plan B was always the only viable option because he had no way of solving the anti-gravity-formula needed to lift a huge space station full of people off of the dying planet; Murph’s furious and heart-broken, assuming that both Amelia and Coop knew this and simply abandoned all of them, even though Mann’s the only one aware of this long-known-reality within the inner NASA circle. This creates great tension in Interstellar, propelling it to the final, frantic conflicts.
A startled Cooper decides to take the Endurance back home to spend what time he can with his daughter and son, Tom (now played by Casey Affleck, Timothée Chalamet as a boy, although at either age he’s always a minor character compared to Murph), but Mann objects, determined to get to planet Edmunds in hopes of activating the frozen eggs to save the species. After attempting to kill Coop (Brand rescues him just in time), Mann pilots a shuttle up to Endurance but fails to dock properly with it so he attempts to enter the airlock manually (just like astronaut Dave Bowman [Keir Dullea] in 2001); however, unlike in 2001, the airlock explodes, Mann dies (bad pun considering the storyline here, but I’m just working with what I’m given, Mr. Nolan), the Endurance is damaged and goes spinning off into the void (shades of multi-Oscar-winning Gravity [Alfonso Cuarón—last year's Best Director—2013]; review in our October 9, 2013 posting) until Cooper, Brand, and the robots manage to catch up with it in their shuttle, perform the difficult manual docking while both ships are spinning around, and make final plans. (Unfortunately, Romilly also died when he tried to extract data from Mann’s disabled robot, because it was booby-trapped in case anyone should find the truth that planet Mann was inhospitable for life [with its day and night cycles of 67 hours each, plus the constant bitter cold and unbreathable air], yet he transmitted optimistic signals so that someone might someday come to his rescue—this part isn’t specified, but we have to assume that whatever vehicles were used to get the initial Lazarus Mission crew to their planets weren’t capable of bringing them back, but I guess explaining/ justifying all that was just too much else to consider for a film that runs almost 3 hours already.)
With fuel now in even shorter supply, Cooper’s plan is to sling Endurance around Gargantua to pick up a propulsion thrust to help them reach planet Edmunds while jettisoning TARS (one of the robots, voiced by Bill Erwin) into the black hole in hopes it can find the quantum data available only at the singularity point (again, check the links above if needed for explanations), then hopefully transmit that back to Earth so that maybe the needed liftoff could occur to get the intended survivors off of our expiring planet. But as the slingshot-effect is in process, Cooper ejects himself in a shuttle to cut down on Endurance’s weight (shades of Gravity again, with Hathaway now being given the help that George Clooney provided to Sandra Bullock in last year’s sci-fi-spectacular), falling into Gargantua where instead of being crushed by the massive gravity he finds himself in a strange-architectural-tesseract—where space and time are fluid—constructed by the extraterrestrial “guiding forces” that are now manifesting themselves again. Cooper finds he’s in telepathic contact with TARS, who explains all of this to him, only to be trumped in revelation when Coop realizes that the multi-dimensional “aliens” who are helping the Earthlings are in fact future-evolved-Earth-ancestry-humans who can now flow freely in space and time but can’t manifest themselves physically in our 3 (4, really)-dimensional spatial existence (space-time, actually, another point of debate for those who want to abandon the fiction-base of this story to challenge Nolan on points of scientific accuracy, as if a narrative film has to follow more than its own logic). While in this newest anomaly, Cooper realizes that he’s got access to 10-year-old Murph in her bedroom so he’s the one pushing the books off their shelves to spell out “stay,” in a frantic attempt to convince her to convince his younger self (slightly, relative to his own body, not to elapsed time on Earth) to stay with his daughter, rather than go on this doomed trip to begin with, but nothing of the event changes (raising the age-old-question of whether time-travelers can alter the past that has already occurred—Back to the Future [Robert Zemeckis, 1985] and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines [Jonathan Mostow, 2003] offer different responses to this), although we simultaneously see images of current-day (if you can figure out when that is anymore) Murph in that same bedroom looking for answers to the anti-gravity-problem, finally realizing that Dad was the “ghost,” as she looks at the watch he gave her just before he left (which she tossed aside in the room, angry at his departure), realizing that the odd-patterned-ticks from the second hand are a signal from him (relayed by his Morse code-tapping from the tesseract, with information fed to him by TARS) that gives her the needed understanding of how to solve the gravity problem to mass-lift humans in a huge space station to reach the wormhole for transport to the last remaining hope for a salvation planet. By this point in Interstellar, the “fi” is clearly surpassing the “sci,” so you just have to flow with it if you’re going to appreciate Nolan’s optimism (and needed dramatic scenes to give a theoretical-physics-lecture some punch so that it will play as an engaging movie experience rather than just a treatise on possibilities of deep-space-exploration).
If you’d made it this far, then you can go all the way and not question how it was that Cooper managed to exit the black hole (TARS got out too, although damaged, but as we’ve seen in Star Wars movies robots can be repaired), return through the wormhole, and get picked up, just as his oxygen was about to run out, by a roving shuttle from the huge artificial-planet-space-station that now is parked by Saturn, awaiting transport to planet Edmunds, the long-awaited new home in the (new) sun. As his rescuers explain to Coop, he’s now 124 in Earth years (although his body hasn’t aged to that stage; earlier we learned that Murph was 33 when she made that last transmission to the Endurance, making him 35 because he was her “present” [an ever-shifting-concept here] age when he left Earth, then spent 2 years in suspended animation prior to the more active events of the film in that distant galaxy, but another 89 years must have elapsed in Earth time while he was in the extreme [inescapable?] gravity of Gargantua, explaining how enough years have passed for all these Earthlings to now be living near Saturn in a sort of tube-shaped-home [another reference to Bowman’s jogging on what could be momentarily be perceived as a “ceiling” in 2001, although in a departure from his predecessor Nolan doesn’t give us majestic exterior shots of this space-station] where every surface has a gravitational pull so you can hit a baseball into the “air” over your ground plane but it will crash into a window in a house on another ground plane “above” you) but still will be able to visit with his elderly daughter (now played by Ellen Burstyn), at age 122 by my calculations, although she’s been in her own deep sleep at times awaiting her father’s promised return. Rather than staying with her in her dying days, though, she encourages him to fly on to planet Edmunds to be with Amelia, so we must assume that she’s been in contact with the space station, even as we see her alone on the distant planet with the grave of her former lover. (However, if those 89 Earth years passed while Cooper was in Gargantua, then the same amount of time should have passed on planet Edmunds because it wasn’t explained as being within that same fierce gravitational pull; if that’s the case then Brand would also be extremely old [I’d say about 119 in actual Earth years, not the 35/pseudo-124 of Cooper, so unless planet Edmunds does have Krypton-level-gravity [a major explanation as to why Superman can fly on our puny (but lovable) planet] or Amelia’s been in one of those hibernation tanks for decades awaiting the new arrivals, I think that screenwriter brothers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan need one last anomaly-explanation to keep Coop from wishing he’d stayed on the space station to hit on one of his great-grandchildren rather than making an early flight to rejoin Amelia in a bit of a script-slip.)
So What? While a good number of other reviews of Interstellar have found fault with a variety of its elements—the overall length, what’s perceived as too much melodrama in the final hour with the fistfight-clash between Coop and Mann, the desperate attempts of Cooper to make contact with Murph as a child to convince his younger self to not go on the mission (a decision, which even if it had been possible, would have sealed the fate of humankind in that his piloting/engineering skills were needed to finally get someone to planet Edmunds to verify that a new world for humans was available [even if the only ones who lived there were from the fertilized eggs], just as his transmissions to adult Murph’s watch were the necessary factor in getting the marooned humans away from Earth), the intensified Hans Zimmer score that even overwhelms Richard Strauss’ “Also (Thus) sprach (spoke) Zarathustra” used in 2001 (an 1896 musical work inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None [1883-1885], even though it’s just the dramatic opening fanfare that’s become so famous outside the world of classic music aficionados)—the bulk of them have also been quite complimentary of both the scope of the project, the superb acting of all involved (including John Lithgow as Don, Cooper’s father-in-law, functioning as the voice of resigned humanity trying to accommodate to the restrictions of their “new world order” [disdainful of Coop’s desire of keeping the explorer spirit alive, not so bothered by the reduction in global population as the harsh conditions have prevented the remaining strugglers from “wanting it all”; he’s also representative of how American society has changed its priorities, with schools teaching the Apollo program was about faked moon landings in an attempt to bankrupt the Soviet Union as they tried unsuccessfully to catch up [a strategy to refocus this society’s children on maintenance and stability instead of expensive-resource-driven-ambitions], an attitude that disgusts Cooper and has little traction with rebellious Murph), and the ambitious vision of the Nolan brothers to offer praise for the human will in our current time of divisive political turmoil, encroaching climate change, and growing cynicism in 2014 society. Still, the film has garnered only a 73% positive response from Rotten Tomatoes, with a rare matching number from Metacritc (theirs in usually lower, as their included critics seem to be generally more demanding); details can be found in the appropriate links far below.
After having seen Interstellar twice (mainly to compare projection formats but also to just enjoy its grandeur again; however, I admit that puts the many other films I review after a single screening at an unfair disadvantage so maybe Nolan can front me some cash to pacify their creators), I’m more of the supportive opinion that director Nolan overcomes his occasionally-questionable-choices to produce a film that on the whole is a dynamic triumph, overcoming the weakness of any of its parts. To explain the difficulty of moving our species off-planet without streamlining the complexities involved (Star Wars: “Prepare for the jump to hyperspace.”) requires a lot of set-up (speeded up in some places such as the smoothly-conceived-and-executed-cut—with overlaid countdown-sound—from Cooper driving away from his farm on the way to becoming a NASA pilot to the rocket’s liftoff, paralleling the famous cut in 2001 of the weapon-bone tossed by a newly-intelligent-ape into the air transitioning to an orbiting space station as millennia of human technological progress are implied in 1/24 of a second), which wasn’t burdened by further explanations of how the Earth has become so devastated; even the clumsy-schoolyard-level-attack of Mann on Cooper feeds into to the essential conflict being raised about what our ultimate purpose should be: to bring closure to our personal needs (Cooper wanting to return to Earth to be with Murph as the planet’s ecosystem collapses, Brand wanting to get to planet Edmunds not so much to find a new home for humanity but more for some last moments with her long-lost-lover) or to sacrifice whatever obstacles might be in the way—including resistant colleagues—to find an answer for the assumed greater good (Mann is brutal, possibly addled from his long isolation, in just physically attacking Cooper rather than discussing any options with him; Cooper proves both braver and more focused than Mann in finding a way to transfer needed data from TARS to Murph that does ultimately result in the hoped-for-species-salvation—which probably has to take on undetailed-Ark-like-aspects on those stations orbiting Saturn, given that we need a lot more of other plant and animal species to fully repopulate our heritage and continuance on another planet).
This “pronouncement” on my part of how the value of Interstellar transcends any of its flaws reminds me of my similar-4-star-decision with Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013; review in our August 16, 2013 posting), where I found the astounding performance of Kate Blanchett (Oscar winner for Best Actress that year) to override any other failings of the film in question (in regard to this concept, you might be interested in the opening comments of that review in which I offer some opinions on what makes a film a masterpiece—not that I’d put Interstellar in that rarified league [taken as a whole it’s no 2001, despite the many homages Nolan pays to his inspiration from Kubrick]—because that’s what helps me define when even a somewhat-flawed-film such as Interstellar or Blue Jasmine earns one of my normally-highest-marks of 4 stars, as opposed to the superb-but-difficult-to-emulate-accomplishments that set my 5-star-standard, such as 2001, Citizen Kane [Orson Welles, 1941], Casablanca [Michael Curtiz, 1942], The Godfather [Francis Ford Coppola, 1972], Chinatown [Roman Polanski, 1974], and others of such lasting quality). One thing that helps elevate any film, though, is its ability to polish all of its surfaces and articulate tiny details so that repeat viewings will continue to reveal previously unnoticed forethought on the part of the filmmakers (I still find marvelous details in Citizen Kane, even though I’ve seen it dozens of times); Nolan does that in Interstellar with an opening tactic of old women and men talking directly to the camera about the crisis Earth was enduring at the time of the film’s main actions (a device that reminded me of the inserted testimonies of various actual people noting their memories of John Reed and Louise Bryant’s fascination with/involvement in the Russian Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in Reds [Warren Beatty, 1981]). Upon my second viewing I realized that the first of Interstellar’s testifiers was indeed the very old Murph (Burstyn), which helps tie the whole experience together when Coop is shown the replica (Or was it actually brought from his farm?) of his home, housed on the space station but with added video screens where our "witnesses" are now shown in their actual future-museum-context (the other recollections come from people actually talking about the desolation of the American Midwest in the 1930s, footage taken from Ken Burns’ PBS documentary miniseries The Dust Bowl ), all as a part of celebrating Murph’s “solving” of the anti-gravity-problem, which she had always felt was in some manner connected to her father even though everyone else gave her all of the credit for saving the human race.
Where Christopher Nolan overreaches, though, is his fascination with Dylan Thomas’ 1951 poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night” (here’s Thomas reading this haunting statement about life’s final stage), the never-accept-defeat-philosophy of the elder Dr. Brand, so that we get multiple renditions of it in Interstellar (again, though, even my masterpieces usually have some flaws; we get the “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” bit once too often in The Godfather, but fortunately Michael Corleone doesn’t resort to it when he’s setting up plans for his massacre of the other Mafia family heads at the climax). Nolan does get a bit bombastic and preachy at times (surprising, considering the restrained tone and organic cynicism of his Dark Knight Batman films [2005, 2008, 2012 (review of this last one in our August 5, 2012 posting)—with Caine in the cast, Zimmer composing the soundtracks for each of them], as well as in Following , Memento , Insomnia , The Prestige , and Inception ), but considering all that he was trying to tackle regarding cosmic themes rarely approached since 2001—along with the need to provide some pulse-pounding-entertainment to balance the heady philosophical stuff in order to sell this costly behemoth to a paying public—he would likely have needed 1 or 2 hours more to explore everything he hoped to accomplish in complete detail and resolution, even though such an investment on the part of audiences (and distributors) wouldn’t be any better embraced now than were the unreleased versions of Intolerance (D.W. Griffith, 1916; a reported 9 hours) and Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924; a reported 8 hours) back in their long-ago-silent-film-days, even before we'd settled into the rigid expectations of present-day-movie-industry-practices.
Bottom Line Final Comments: The most convenient time for me to see Interstellar last week happened to coincide with a screening of a 35mm print, being used in a few theaters along with the standard digital projection and some 70mm, both in standard theatrical and huge IMAX formats. The film was shot in anamorphic 35mm and IMAX 70mm (not sure if that means certain scenes were shot only in one mode or if the entire story shot in both; I guess I'd better renew my subscription to American Cinematographer—with its marvelous insights into filmic production) so I was curious anyway as to what 35mm projection would look like these days after my brain’s become so conditioned to seeing digital images on the screen, no matter what the production medium was (I’m still not really sure why there was even a release option in 35mm celluloid for Interstellar unless it’s for cinephiles who prefer the original medium, just as some audiophiles prefer vinyl to CD—as long as it’s a pristine pressing not cluttered up with scratches and dirt in either of those 19th century-media-configurations). Unfortunately, the print I saw appeared to be overly-contrasty and dark, except in the most brightly-lit-situations, which proved to be quite a distraction (in that same theater there was a digital version showing at another time so I slipped in for a couple of minutes to see how it looked—much clearer and saturation-balanced, so I have to say that I’d recommend the now-standard-digital-option if you have the choice unless you think that this material demands an Expressionistic tonality, in which case the 35mm print would likely be what you’d prefer, but please note that some of the dialogue, especially in Caine’s dying admission to Murph, is almost inaudible in that 35mm print so you’d have to accept that as part of your Expressionism-embrace as well). With my curiosity peaked (as well as Nina’s hope of hearing some of that muffled soundtrack better to compensate for her partial hearing loss [I said, "Please put down the butcher knife! Please put down ..."]), we also caught an IMAX showing, which was better soundwise, certainly bigger which contributes even more impact to the outer space and distant planet shots, but still a bit murky and in stark contrast in many of the farmhouse interiors (reminding me of similar lighting clashes from backlit sources in Unforgiven [Clint Eastwood, 1992], where I attributed it to a use of actual [or seemingly-so]-natural-lighting to illustrate the stark moral situations of the characters, but I guess the same could be said of Interstellar). I also noticed an oddity in that some of the IMAX scenes were in full-screen-floor-to-ceiling-format while others were in standard-wide-screen-letterboxing, blacking out part of the screen at top and bottom, a choice I couldn’t relate to the scenes’ content or composition nor to my limited exposure to IMAX fiction features so I’m not sure if this happens frequently or was just a structural anomaly for whatever reason in Interstellar (I’ll speculate it’s based on only certain scenes having been originally shot in IMAX format but I don’t know that for sure)—for me, I’d have preferred the overwhelming impact of constant-full-screen in IMAX, but until such time as I land an interview with Christopher Nolan (about when we all take off for Saturn) I’ll just have to leave this oddity to his artistic license.
Projection choices aside, though, and accepting that the architectural oddities of that tesseract inside of Gargantua can be explained if we assume that the future humans constructing that weird space for Cooper’s reference inside of their own 5th-dimensional (whatever that is; in the Sight Sound Motion textbook I’ve used in my Visual Communication classes for decades, author Herb Zettl tried to pass off motion [on screen or created by editing] as the 5th dimension but that’s just metaphorical in describing essential cinematic components because motion is inherently interwoven with the 4th dimension of time, which itself is interwoven with space—again, explained way above in those opening Einstein-based-links) existence wouldn’t have that clear a concept of what a 3-D space looks like, I found Interstellar to be well worth a second trip (maybe not for the added IMAX price, though; save that for when 2001 might be re-released in IMAX format, especially because Kubrick wanted his films to be in 4 [wide] x 3 [high] full-frame-composition anyway, which, ironically, is what you get in IMAX with this huge 70mm filmstrip running horizontally rather than the standard vertical direction through the projector), the overall impact to be quite compelling, and the concepts that underlie it to be well worth many a post-screening-dinner-and/or-drinks-discussion. Early in the film, Coop's daughter expresses her disgust with being named for Murphy's Law, with her connotations of bad results following her like a dark cloud; Dad explains that he and his deceased wife were looking at it more optimistically, as implying a full range of possibilities (especially in their time of planetary crisis). Nolan does the same with Interstellar, offering us a range of possibilities for hope and encouragement in his storyline, just as he wants to encourage such optimism for our species both now and in whatever future may come. As for my concluding Musical Metaphor to wrap up these various exploratory strands, this time as applied to Interstellar, I’ll begin with the obvious Kubrick link by sending you to the opening of 2001 for the “Also Sprake Zarathustra” fanfare that accompanies that film’s title images at https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=e-QFj59PON4 but then I’ll repeat it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrFVU3wQySs with a version illustrated by a quick collage of shots from Kubrick’s masterpiece that summarize its story (as best you can call it that). However, to be more direct with Interstellar’s themes let me also suggest John Lennon’s “Starting Over” (from the 1980 Double Fantasy album, sadly John's last original release [I know Yoko's on there too; do we have to bring that up?], with no salvation from the Earthly-horror of a demented fan who chose to send Lennon’s existence to another dimension rather than through a wormhole to merely another planet) at https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAJ2AoEwDvY&list= RDiAJ2AoEwDvY. Once again, I chose this site because it also offers you links to a good many other Lennon later-career-music-videos in case you want to get into a post-Beatle-revelry for awhile with a lot of mostly low-fi-imagery, although if you flow away with these—as with the Neil Young ones above—you may find that your investment in this review will parallel how long it would take you to watch Interstellar (especially if you delved into that 20 min. version of Young’s “Down by the River,” another of my absolute favorites [originally from the 1969 Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere album, performed here at the 1998 Farm Aid concert by Young, accompanied by Phish).
Once you’ve digested all (or any part thereof) that’s been offered to you in this lengthy episode of Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark we’ll get back down to Earth (if it’s still here) next week with something possibly much more ordinary—although my possibilities are an open question as well—at least until The Hunger Games come intruding into our collective consciousness again.
Once you’ve digested all (or any part thereof) that’s been offered to you in this lengthy episode of Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark we’ll get back down to Earth (if it’s still here) next week with something possibly much more ordinary—although my possibilities are an open question as well—at least until The Hunger Games come intruding into our collective consciousness again.
If you’d like to know more about Interstellar here are some suggested links:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fc4i7-9-4e8 (42:06 press conference in London with writer-director Christopher Nolan, producer Emma Thomas [also Nolan’s wife, not that I’m implying any nepotism], and actors Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, and Mackenzie Foy; unnecessary observation on my part—after seeing many of these interview situations from festivals at Sundance, Toronto, New York, etc. it seems that British journalists ask considerably more lengthy and complicated questions [maybe I should move to London], however only the panelists have microphones so it’s hard to hear in detail what's being asked)
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P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.