Combustible Celluloid
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With: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Mackenzie Foy, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Collette Wolfe, Bill Irwin (voice), Josh Stewart (voice)
Written by: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language
Running Time: 169
Date: 11/07/2014

Interstellar (2014)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Empty Space

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the biggest and most lucrative filmmakers in the world, Christopher Nolan had an enormous canvas to fill with his ninth feature Interstellar, and he hasn't filled it with anything much. It's a three-hour movie that moves too fast for anything to really sink in, but too slow to prevent viewers from wanting to get up and get popcorn.

It packs in big messages about the environment and faith, but wraps them in an assault on the senses that would earn Michael Bay's approval. (Interstellar plays more like Armageddon than it does 2001: A Space Odyssey or Gravity.)

It begins with yet another futuristic, cautionary plot. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a brilliant pilot and engineer who works as a farmer in a world where dust storms regularly wipe out crops. When his daughter receives a mysterious signal from her bookshelf (don't ask), it leads them to a secret NASA stronghold, where a mission to save mankind is planned.

A wormhole has appeared near Saturn that will take travelers to another galaxy, where several potentially life-sustaining planets await. (The pathetic 1998 Lost in Space film had roughly the same outline.) Several problems come up, including the presence of a black hole that changes the flow of time, a lack of fuel, and a pioneering astronaut that has gone mad with loneliness.

Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway co-stars as Cooper's fellow traveler. Jessica Chastain plays his grown-up daughter, and Michael Caine plays the scientist that sets it all in motion.

Yet the cast hardly matters. The film is murky and noisy, and, as evidenced by two IMAX screenings, the dialogue is often buried beneath rumbling and thundering sound effects and music. What can be heard is a merely mix of regurgitated science and recycled movie dialogue.

The film lacks a sense of awe, a sense of astronomic passage of time, and it more often results in "huh?" moments than it does in "ah!" moments. Nolan's greatest skill is tackling low material with high style (i.e. Memento or The Prestige). He can make a crime film or a noir like nobody's business. But when he tries to get profound, it's more like a cover-up than an enhancement. It's not clear what Interstellar is really about, except maybe a father longing to see his kids.

A few years back, Nolan's noir-like The Dark Knight featured groundbreaking cross-cut editing, building different storylines at different rates, creating a weird, off-putting tension. "Interstellar" tries the trick again, but it now feels forced and unfocused. Shots that cut between a fight on a distant planet and crops burning on earth are frustrating; they're misplaced pieces.

It seems as if Nolan wanted to take on the entire universe with his gargantuan space epic, but he has forgotten the people that live there.

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