Christopher Nolan high up on that list. The director of the most recent Batman trilogy, Nolan is a big old talent so I was more than curious when I first saw the trailer for his Batman follow-up, 2014's Interstellar. Where does it come down?
It's sometime in the not too distant future and Earth is in trouble as a crop blight is causing the planet to slowly but surely run out of food. Society has changed in countless ways with those people still alive forced to become farmers in hopes of continuing to provide food, among them a former NASA pilot, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his family. Something needs to be done if humanity has any hope of surviving long-term, and Cooper and his daughter may unknowingly hold the key to it all. The former pilot begins to work with NASA on quite the alternate solution. A wormhole has been discovered around Saturn that can transport a spaceship and its crew into far-off galaxies that otherwise would have been impossible to reach. Could there be an alternate galaxy that offers a planet that can sustain human life? Can it be reached? Knowing that the trip will take years to complete, will Cooper go along? The depths and mysteries of the universe await through the wormhole.
In the same way I loved the Batman movies, Inception, The Prestige, I loved Interstellar. This most recent Nolan film has flaws -- no doubt about it -- but there's a sense of what movies could and should be. Even those who are critical of Nolan should be able to admit that this talented director tries something different. He aspires to direct something more, something bigger and something you can't look away from. The story is obviously pretty big (can't do much bigger than the end of Earth) with stunning visuals, solid casting, a memorable score from composer Hans Zimmer, and overall, just something different that I thought worked so smoothly and ridiculously well together. It's a long movie at 169 minutes and could have been trimmed here and there but this is an excellent movie. Highly recommend this one.
Say what you want about Nolan as a storyteller, but I think he's at his best as a big picture sort of guy. Unique ideas, scope and scale, the bigger the better. Where better to bring that to life than the science fiction genre? Nolan tweaks the world we know, adding a few years but a world that seems pretty inevitable for our planet. The plight that ravaged crops worldwide is never addressed head-on. It happened. Let's try and fix it. Humanity's time on Earth is running out with the end fast approaching. With a few quick scenes, some dialogue here and there, we're introduced to this world. What does our future hold? That's the beauty of Nolan's vision. We see future technologies, including robot assistants (voiced by Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart) with unique movements. We see a world far less populated where the accepted ways of living have changed. That's what Nolan does so well. He creates a world with broad strokes laying out the groundwork. He aspires to do something different, something better.
Before I delve into some technical "analysis" (or at least as much as I can imagine), let's deal with some casting. McConaughey makes the most of his first film with Nolan, his Cooper a kind of wild-eyed dreamer with an inventive streak and intellect that makes him seemed destined for bigger and better. I wish McConaughey didn't mumble so much, but the performance itself is very strong, especially his relationship with his 10-year old daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy). There's a human side that works really well here, a single father who makes an impossibly difficult decision that could take years away from his time with his daughter and son (Timothee Chamalet) but could potentially preserve mankind's existence. That question pervades much of the second half of Nolan's film. With so much on the line, do you think selfishly or do you think for the bigger good?
There's plenty more in the old casting department. Anne Hathaway plays Brand, a scientist who travels with Cooper into the Saturn wormhole, another intellectual trying to wrap her head around their situation, about making decisions that could cost years and millions of lives. Michael Caine plays her brilliant scientist father with Wes Bentley and David Gyasi playing the other two members of the Saturn wormhole. Now who else to look for? Here's some semi-SPOILERS for you. SPOILERS I don't want to explain much about the rest of the cast in terms of characterization, as in who and what the roles are. That's the fun of where this story goes with some unexpected appearances and characters twists. Those names include Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo, William Devane, Topher Grace, and with some big old-fashioned star power, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon and Casey Affleck. Chastain and Damon especially leave the best lasting impressions. END OF semi-SPOILERS.
It's hard not to watch Interstellar and not see influences from previous sci-fi movies, most notably Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey but also including Contact (also starring McConaughey), Planet of the Apes and Armageddon among many others I'm probably forgetting. With the openness of our galaxy and beyond, Nolan is like a kid in the candy store. Much like last year's Gravity, the spacial visual is a stunning backdrop as we see the spaceship Endurance heading into deep space, unexplored space to find something, anything. We're introduced to two quasi-Earth like planets -- one as frightening as the other -- in a galaxy centered around an immense black hole dubbed Gargantua. You get a sense of the immensity of space, of the vastness of what surrounds us and the time it would and does take to get there and back. The screenplay has some fun in the department, time in one dimension moving far slower than someone close by. What's an hour for one character in real-time is several years for another. It's a unique, thought-provoking technique that's used well throughout Nolan's film.
I'm writing this review almost a week after seeing it in theaters. I definitely needed some time to process it, to really think things out. What was my conclusion? There are some plotholes, some issues in storytelling that I thought could have been tightened. As many other far better writers than me have written -- check out Chris' review HERE over at Nothing is Written -- Nolan has a knack for long scenes of exposition that explain everything that's going on. For me, I appreciated these scenes because I wasn't always sure what was actually going on. So yeah, there are issues but none of them did me in to the point where I couldn't take anymore. I loved the idea and thought behind the film, I loved the execution from the spectacle to the visual to the musical score to the cast to a mind-bending story and a moving ending.
Highly recommended. Definitely worth seeing in theaters if you get a chance. It feels like a movie where it will lose some of its impact on a TV.
Interstellar (2014): ****/****