Sunday, November 16, 2014

Day 327: Interstellar

"Love is the one thing that transcends time and space."

It seems appropriate that Interstellar began life as a Steven Spielberg movie, because nobody does big budget big idea movies quite like Spielberg. Except for Christopher Nolan. Nolan has become the 21st century's Spielberg, and it started with The Dark Knight. Much like Jaws did 33 years earlier, The Dark Knight reinvented the blockbuster and sent studios scrambling to copy its formula without ever really understanding it. And much like Spielberg, as Nolan's success grew, so too did his ambition.

This brings us to Interstellar, Nolan's most ambitious movie by a mile, and unquestionably his least successful. Inspired by everyone from Georges Mèliés and Jules Verne to Stanley Kubrick and Stephen Hawking, Nolan backdoors his most personal film inside an enormous special effects bonanza, designed to simultaneously appeal to everyone. Unfortunately the film ends up appealing only to a very select audience. Nolan wants to take big ideas like the meaning of life and meld them with even bigger ideas like the infinity of our universe, but the film is so horrendously unfocused that it ultimately ends up feeling hollow and meaningless.

As a matter of fact, the film it actually has the most in common with isn't 2001: A Space Odyssey or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. One simply cannot deal with a topic as vast as that in a single film, and to do so is folly. The Meaning of Life is arguably the weakest big screen effort by The Pythons, though it does have moments of sheer genius. Interstellar is in the exact same boat. It works in fits and spurts, but never really gels as a movie, and feels like so much less than the sum of its parts.

The most obvious problem with the film is its script. It's truly lousy and doesn't work as science fiction, mainly because it's so concerned with delivering too much science, it loses sight of the fiction. The human drama falls flat at almost every single turn, and that's due to a major problem with the ending that I will get to in a moment. It also suffers from a problem that a large majority of Nolan's films suffer from which is the need for a character or characters to over-explain everything. His concepts are often so complicated and convoluted that they require lengthy explanations by a character in order to make sense.

Joe Pantoliano's character in Memento does this in his final scene, DiCaprio & JGL both do it, a lot, in Inception. Good lord does Bane ever do this in The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, the one time he did this masterfully, i.e. pulling off an incredibly complex plot and/or twist without a ton of explanation, was The Prestige. It happens again in this film, twice actually, and both times it drags the film down to an absurd extent. The film does not move at a fast enough pace to not grind to a halt when a character decides to explain him or herself, and until Nolan figures out how to write a script without doing this, his films will continue to go down in quality.

Spoiler Alert

I cannot truly discuss why I disliked the film without going into spoilers, so skip these two paragraphs if you haven't seen the film. For me, the film really went off the rails when Matt Damon showed up. It wasn't necessarily his character or what his character does. It was incredibly obvious that he was going to throw a wrench into the plans because they hadn't come up against any real threats to their mission at that point. The issue was that he had to explain his entire plot as he was attempting to kill McConaughey's character. This is Bond villain 101 level, "allow me to explain the entire plot to you," villainy and it felt horrendously out of place.

The much, much bigger issue, however, was the fact that at the end, when McConaughey finally reunites with his—much older—daughter, he talks to her for all of ten seconds before deciding to go see Anne Hathaway. What the actual fuck? All of his bluster and speechifying about the love between a parent and a child being the only pure form of love, and now he's gonna throw that all away and go fly off to lay some intergalactic pipe in his fellow Oscar winner? That's the point at which the movie lost me entirely, and actually made me angry. It rendered everything that came before utterly meaningless, and that's the biggest tragedy of all.

End Spoiler Alert

Maybe one day I will reconsider my position on the film. Perhaps I will look as foolish 40 years from now as the critics who panned 2001 upon its first release. I don't think that will be the case, however. I saw this the way the filmmaker intended it to be seen, and it still failed to awe me in the way he hoped. One of the things that makes 2001 so great is the lack of a need to explain things. This film spends its third act explaining absolutely everything in the most hackneyed ways imaginable, whether it's via a villain explaining every facet of their plot or a hero explaining the moral lesson he's finally come to terms with. That's bad screenwriting, any way you slice it, and all the special effects in the world can't make up for a script as deeply flawed as this one.

A wise man (or woman) one said that sometimes the simplest fix is also the best fix. How easy it would have been to fix this script before it ever got in front of a camera, let alone had millions of dollars worth of after effects added to it in an attempt to compensate for the fact that it's just not that great of an idea? I admire Nolan for reaching for the stars, but I shake my head in disbelief over the fact that he failed to do such a basic thing as delivering a competent script.

[Photos via Box Office Mojo]

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