One of the more welcome cinematic surprises of last year — for this writer, anyway — turned out to be Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” As a fair- weather fan of the director who is more often then not put off by his need to explain everything to his audience, I found “Interstellar” operatic, appropriately grand, packing a surprising emotional wallop.
Not everyone is such a fan, though. The narrator of a new video essay titled “Interstellar: When Spectacle Eclipses Story” argues that Nolan — whom he calls a “warrior for stylistic purity,” which is certainly a title we’d all like to put on our business card — has become more divorced from compelling, original content and more reliant on scale and size as his budgets have grown to mammoth amounts in the wake of the success of his gloomy Batman trilogy (a point that does have some degree of validity). The video uses the lucrative, game-changing success of James Cameron’s “Avatar” as a jump-off point, arguing that both “Avatar” and “Interstellar” sacrifice potentially involving storylines in favor of brainless, but cool-looking CGI and 3D chicanery. While I agree that both films are certified crowd-pleasing blockbusters, I would also argue that Cameron’s “Avatar” is a goofier, ultimately less ambitious film than Nolan’s epic, and ultimately a far less successful one (the narrator goes on to argue that “Avatar” is the worst film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, which seems dubious when you consider that “Chicago” and “Crash” were also nominated in that category).
The comparison is made, yet again, to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” This is due, I would guess, to the British director’s perceived lack of humanity, although Kubrick was undoubtedly a more punishing and transgressive filmmaker than the comparatively more mainstream Mr. Nolan. I don’t exactly agree with the narrator’s assessment of Nolan’s impressive and mind-bending film, but I do agree that we, as a moviegoing audience, have to stand by the paradigms of what constitutes an original and compelling narrative — regardless of genre. Without that, what do we have?
What do you folks think? Is “Interstellar” a bloated behemoth that rests on a flimsy narrative axis, or is it one of Nolan’s more daring cinematic excursions? Sound off in the comments section below and check out the video here: