Interstellar Movie Review: Warning! 2001 Space Odyssey swallowed another director!

Hello. This is AKIA Talking now writing from Korea. With all the whoopla about the movie “Interstellar” by Christopher Nolan, I went to see the movie at its midnight opening in Korea. And what was my opinion…?

Well, it is an interesting disaster of the movie that, if you are not a student of film, you may not enjoy seeing. On my part, I enjoyed watching how a renowned director can totally crash and burn chasing the white dragon that is “2001 Space Odyssey”.

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For the last decade or so, the subject of Mars was a huge taboo to the PR departments of Movie studios. This is the results of financial failures of mars based movies such as “Red Planet” (2000) and “Mission to mars” (2000). However, in this case, the PR departments got it wrong! Mars was not the issue. It was not the common denominator that is associated with the movies’ failures.

Other than mars, “Red Planet” (2000) and “Mission to mars” (2000) have another obvious thing in common. They were “2001” clones. I mean “2001 Space Odyssey” (1968).

The two movies are good examples to see how chasing the great while dragon of sci-fi movies, the “2001 Space Odyssey” (1968), do to movies. An extreme case of this is “Interstellar” (2014).

If you have not seen those movies, give them a try. While they may not be great movies, they are interesting enough sci-fi B-movies with decent budgets. And, to be honest, both are better made movies than “Interstellar” (2014).

The plot
The plot of “Interstellar” (2014) has been kept under wraps for a long time prior to its premier. I had almost no information about the plot before going to see the movie and, 30 minutes into a 3 hour movie, I get why they did so.  At its core structurally, “Interstellar” (2014) is a “boo plot twist at the end” movie which foreshadows the ending throughout the whole movie. An excellent example of this type of movie is “Six sense” (1999) by  M. Night Shyamalan. And “Six sense” (1999) did this far better than “Interstellar” (2014) in every way. 

The movie’s basic concept is that a now farmer/former astronaut goes on a mission to another galaxy with others via a mystical space wormhole in order to find a suitable new planet for human kind as the earth is dying. It is a task based movie composed of tasks to complete.

There are 3 acts to this 3 hour movie. The first act is dirt bound with the former astronaut trying to live on a farm with his children. Think the M. Night Shyamalan movie, “Signs” (2002), prior to the aliens actually invading but imagine it was directed by a senile, bitter, and turned republican old Steven Spielberg.  It is full of sound bites about how the ignorant is ruining the world via the head of writer/director Christopher Nolan. This act runs for about 45 minutes and, other than trying to setup the end movie twist, it is not necessary. It is just a ton of ranting and awkward family bonding scenes requiring Steven Spielberg like sentimentality which is impossible for Christopher Nolan to do. The first act could have been replaced by a few flashback scenes.

The second act is “we are traveling the void of space in a tin can movie” a la “Red Planet” (2000) and “Mission to mars” (2000). It could also be called the “
Ark” movie.

Noah’s ark in spaaaceeee!

You have the characters stuck in a spaceship bitching about pseudo-intellectual/philosophical stuff and technobabble broken up with screen saver scenes of space. Also, in order to actually move the story along, you have disasters and people going crazy which is the course for this type of movie.

The final act is a “I think I am way philosophical deeper than I actually am & I’m going to surprise you with this surprise ending” type of movie. This is where the mystical/spiritual tries to meet up with scientific rationality and end up silly. Think the end of “Contact” (1997) with a topping of “Six sense” (1999) a la mode.

What’s wrong with the damn script?
One of the key problems with the movie is the script. It is as if someone used three screenplay writing programs to write three movies but then was extremely ambitious and used another program to combine the three scripts.

Structurally, the base skeleton of the movie is very similar to “Contact” (1997) as the movie is a task completion movie. Something mystical provides a task for the protagonist to complete. Then, at the end of the movie and once the task is complete, the mystical comeback to screw with the logical ending of one’s endeavors.   

As previously stated, the movie’s bloated screen time is a combination of more than 3 types of movies roughly connected by the intellectual façade of the  “2001 Space Odyssey” (1968). Among those movie types, the “Six sense” (1999)-like aspect creates a lot of the structural issues that this movie never solves.  

Movies like “Six sense” (1999) in regard to story structure are somewhat cheap and schlocky since it depends solely on a single twist at the end of the movie. And there is nothing particularly wrong with this movie structure. It just has to take itself not too seriously and put enough interesting elements into the movie that the audience does not notice what you are going to do to them at the end of the movie. This is what  “Six sense” (1999) did. There is enough character stuff put into it that it works even without the big plot twist. The twist just amplifies the emotional responses that were building up in the audience prior to it. 

However, this is not the case for “Interstellar” (2014).  As it is trying to be THE heir to the mystical sci-fi movie submit of  “2001 Space Odyssey” (1968), it takes itself overly seriously.

I mean who are we kidding? It is a Christopher Nolan movie.
He has never done a light movie in his career.

This is a mix between an attempt to be philosophical and trying to be shocking which do not mix. This creates a structural and thematic conflict that the movie cannot handle. As a result, not only does the whole movie gets cheapened by it, but also the first act gets over bloated. It runs for 45 minutes.

Without this plot twist element, “Interstellar” (2014) would have become quite similar to those that came before it mainly “Red Planet” (2000) and “Mission to mars” (2000). There is no shame to this. While they are fun, they are not great. So, seeing a great version of them would not be a waste of digital storage. One should not undervalue the task based movie structure employed in those movies. The focused nature of the narrative provides lot of opportunity for character development which naturally leads to an easy method of examining intellectual and philosophical discussions. Christopher Nolan did this with “Inception” (2010). He failed in “Interstellar” (2014).

The dialogue
So, the script of “Interstellar” (2014) feels like an overly ambitious first draft which is just a collage of ideas from different movies. I mean, so early that most of the dialogue are just place holders for after when the writers have the narrative fixed and have time to spare writing the actual dialogue. In the first act, most of the dialogue is between family members but written in a manner that you may guess that the writers were orphans and had never experienced family life before.

I cringe whenever the family talked.

However, I think that the second act is worse. You can forgive a lot when you are working with kid actors. You cannot say the same thing with good or even great actors are talking. The dialogue in the second act is just a combination of technobabble and pseudo-intellectual/philosophical ponderings. I have seen enough sci-fi movies and TV to not be bothered much with this. However, in  “Interstellar” (2014), the dialogue feels like a program just searched the internet for quotes and references that vaguely fit the situation in the script and just copy/pasted them in the scenes of the screen play. It is so bad that none of the characters in the movie have any chemistry with each other because the dialogue is bad enough to cripple any performances.

In the third act, the dialogue is cliché but not as bad as before. However, at this point, it does not matter since the information conveyed by the dialogue is a glorified information dump of just wild conjecture and leaps of logic in order to reach the end of the movie without another 2 hours.

The performances
There are a lot of cases where there are notable performance within a bad movie. Sadly, no one in “Interstellar” (2014) will be call out for his or her performances. Most of the cast of “Interstellar” (2014) have done great work before but even they cannot break through the horrible dialogue.

In addition, seeing the movie, it feels like no one was on set directing the actors’ performances. The performances in this movie do not feel cohesive as a whole. It is like the actors got their scripts and the director said to just do what they want with their lines and left to do other more important stuff. So, the actors either did their usual shtick without considerations of their roles or had weird interpretations of the role that just got filmed. This sense of incohesiveness of performance is not helped by the fact that you have a lot of cameos of random recognizable actors pop up throughout the movie.

 The direction
The direction of this movie is not what you would expect from a director like Christopher Nolan. Movies are a visual medium in which a considerable amount of information is conveyed via visuals. This is more important for “Interstellar” (2014) since the dialogue is so horrible.

The visuals you get in the first and third act is not bad although somewhat boring as there is not much on screen. It is the second act when you get into space is where you see a lot of problems. Christopher Nolan films the second act very tight on the characters within the spaceship which hinders the clear conveying of information. Characters are doing or saying important stuff but they are commonly out of focus or located in an off position of the scene. You cannot clearly understand the scene. Thus, the visual language of the film just becomes messy like its dialogue.

As a consequence of this, you barely understanding what is going on.  Some people say it is because of the science in the scenes but it is not it. Rather, the movie is failing to provide sufficient information to the audience either via dialogue or visuals.  The movie does not even give you a spaceship glamour shot which tends to be used to provide context to the environment the characters are in. If you compare this to “Gravity” (2013), the difference is drastic. Even with few lines of dialogue “Gravity” (2013) coveys so much more information clearly than “Interstellar” (2014).

I mean I did not really get that there were two of those weird robots in the movie until almost the end of the movie. They were never really properly introduced and there are no clear methods of differentiation.  This lack of information is amplified by the fact that the choice of voice actors for those robots are the most generic and unrecognizable possible choices. However, this is not the first time that  Christopher Nolan had problems with sound design.

Anyone remember “Dark Knight rises”?

“Interstellar” (2014) also has several instances in which the sound of the dialogue was buried bellow the sound effects making it almost mute.

What did I like?
“Interstellar” (2014) is a case of missed opportunities. It has some interesting thematic elements that have not been touched in movies much before. The strong theme of the movie is the how the relative flow of time caused by space travel affects both those in space and those left back at home. This is where the movie is the strongest but this theme is not well integrated within the narrative. If the movie was just a task based narrative focusing on this theme, “Interstellar” (2014) may have been pretty great.

This would mean throwing most of the first and third act into the trash. Since the second act alone takes about 90 minutes, I do not think there would have been much problem doing so. That is a movie I wished to see from Christopher Nolan who is renowned for his cold but oddly entertaining analytic approach to a narrative.

At the end
In the pages of Cinema history,  “2001 Space Odyssey” (1968) is an oddity that could be said to do more harm than good. It is one of those movies that is a miracle that it exists since it is a big budget movie that is even difficult to categorize as a narrative movie. 

Have you actually seen the movie?

It is more of an experimental art movie made by a director who walked that tight line between art piece and narrative movie. Because of this nature, “2001 Space Odyssey” (1968) has become this touchstone for this mystical peak of artistic achievement a commercial movie director could possibly reach within the commercial movie making system. However, while many have attempted to climb that mountain, none have reached its peak. And, to be clear, I think no one will.

“Interstellar” (2014) will be remembered not fondly by anyone. It is a mess of a movie and shows what may happen when one is trying to make one’s own “2001 Space Odyssey” (1968). The only question waiting to be answered is whether this signals a downward turning point for Christopher Nolan’s career or this is just a bump in the road. Many directors have not recovered from their failed attempts to climb the “2001” mountain. I wish it is the latter case for Christopher Nolan. As you may know if you read me a lot that I also tend to be more analytical than not and I enjoy being so.

Grade: C-


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