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Review: ‘Interstellar’ Is Not Quite the ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ You’re Looking for

Review: 'Interstellar' Is Not Quite the '2001: A Space Odyssey' You're Looking for

I’ll say this for “Interstellar” – after viewing, it makes me want to watch less cerebral films, films that are much easier to comprehend; you know, like “Memento,” “Inception,” and Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“Grapes Of Wrath,” “Gravity,” “The Abyss” and “An Inconvenient Truth” are other films that came to mind as I was watching “Interstellar,” but the majority of it’s DNA is shared with Kubrick’s groundbreaking film in that they both mix loads of science with metaphysical states of consciousness and astounding visuals. However, whereas “2001” leaves the metaphysics more to the viewer’s interpretation, “Interstellar” self-indulgently attempts to explain everything, making the sum total much more confusing. 

Considering “2001,” I can’t say with any degree of certainty what the black monolith was, nor can I say for sure what the space fetus represented, but I have a strong opinion of what both were all about. 

“Interstellar” offers explanations for what it’s presenting to the viewer, but ultimately, they’re just a convoluted means of tying things together neatly. There’s a scene in the third act that brings any comprehension of the narration to a standstill, as it’s a mishmash of flashbacks and multiple timelines. Up until that point, you feel proud that you’ve been able to follow along somewhat, but then all that comes crashing down. 

Nolan has been on a trajectory where his films have increasingly challenged viewers to juggle all the pieces of the puzzle and put them together in order to understand the meaning, and up until now, it’s been a fun ride. Unfortunately, the ride stops here. “Interstellar” is the most beautifully filmed gobbledygook I’ve ever seen, and is Nolan’s most self-indulgent film.

That’s not to say it’s not worth seeing. There are some beautiful visuals in this movie. I won’t give anything away, but in the same way I felt like I was actually transported to another world in 2009’s “Avatar,” I felt as if I had been whisked away to other dangerous and alien worlds in this film. There’s a scene where the crew lands on a planet that is reminiscent of Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld” — I’d rather live on this planet than watch that film again — and it’s one of the most gripping scenes in the movie. There are genuinely emotional themes that run through the narrative: sacrifice, love, family, forgiveness, redemption are all depicted effectively and add a human touch, although there are times the film outright manipulates the viewer. As for the science, well, I enjoy all the technobabble when it’s actually based in real science; it’s why I’m such a huge “Star Trek” fan. Scientifically, there aren’t any new concepts presented here that you haven’t already seen in a science-fiction film. It’s the fiction part of that equation that will leave you scratching your head. Put it this way: this movie is yet another film in a long line of films that disappoints when attempting to reveal what lies within the Great Beyond. And I’m including “Star Trek 5” in that long line of films.

All the performances are top notch. Matthew McConaughey et al are convincing as scientific explorers. Although she does a good job, Anne Hathaway would not have been my first choice to portray an astronaut; during a key moment revealing a secret about her character, the camera moves in close on her, to show the conflict within her. In IMAX, this shot emphasizes her wide saucer eyes and high cheekbones. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Wow, she would’ve made a great elf in The Hobbit.” Some surprising faces make appearances, namely Topher Grace as a NASA scientist, Casey Affleck as Cooper’s adult son, and one other excellently-cast cameo which I shall err on the side of caution and treat as a surprise appearance since I was unable to find this person’s name in any cast listing. 

British actor David Gyasi, as fellow explorer Romilly, is someone I’d like to see more of in Hollywood. And even though she doesn’t get much screen time, Ellen Burstyn steals her scenes, particularly a scene that’s ripped right out of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

I must nitpick a bit and point out that, part of the reason I found the film confusing is that some of the dialogue was overwhelmed by the booming, theater-rattling sound effects; which leads me to another major problem I had with the film: someone needs to tell Hans Zimmer that melodies are not such a bad thing. To describe his score as overwrought would be a huge understatement. And then there’s about a twenty-minute stretch where the film cuts between dire events in space and dire events on Earth, which made this portion of the film disjointed. I also would’ve preferred that a more global lens had been placed on Earth’s terminal situation; the events taking place in Cooper’s small town are meant to echo events around the world, I suppose, but it doesn’t register that the entire globe is dying.

Overall, the visuals, the performances and some of the concepts, both scientific and emotional, make this film worth seeing. I’m already hearing that it will be the “2001: A Space Odyssey” for a new generation. I get that. I just wish “Interstellar” weren’t so much a product of its age, where everything has to be spelled out and wrapped up in a nice little package, making it more muddled. “2001” is a confusing film, but that’s only because Kubrick left things open to our interpretation. “Interstellar” falls short because Nolan wants to beat us over the head to make us understand the message. 

3/5 reels

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