Christopher Nolan has been released from his Batman contract, done and dusted with the franchise, and given the key to the city of cinema. His first step out of the shadow of the bat-cowel and the last gasp of Legacy Pictures and Warner Bros' team-up is Interstellar, a grand science fiction epic about Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway sitting in a spaceship comparing the greatness of having surnames ending in 'ay' sounds, whilst Earth starves from a lack of crop, constant dust-storms and Michael Caine doing sad-eyes. Oh, and robots. For comedy. Daring to run 170 minutes long, Interstellar takes on everything, from Ben Affleck's beard being part of Casey Affleck's face to Topher Grace trying out a new career as a featured extra, and then you get 'nods' which is what we call unsophisticated copy-and-pastes from 2001 all over the shop because Nolan wants us to know he's seen that film.
There's an utterly bizarre realisation to be had with Interstellar, where two robots are thrown into dialogue moments to alleviate the spoon-fed tedious/pandering science talk for laughs, and then appear on planets for a mix of deus ex act-two-machina and further jokes, and then you notice that every planet they go to has one single geographic identity, be it the frozen planet or the planet covered entirely in water. Are you starting to sense a familiar element here? Interstellar takes from Star Wars. Kamino, Hoth, C3PO and the battle droids. Nolan has taken elements from Star Wars and shoved them into his turgid, super-serious science fiction feature film, and then made them all look and feel as devoid of imagination as one could be. No mean feat.
Let's get to Interstellar. Properly get to it. The rumblings of the plot, the first act that chooses to put everything talky up front like Nolan did with Inception, sees a future Earth dying, as people take up farming for the sake of getting enough food for humanity. McConaughey's former NASA pilot is now one o' them farmers, living with his father-in-law, the drastically unused John Lithgow, his son and his daughter, the latter with whom he shares his education, even if it deviates from the path led by the school systems. They find a gravitational anomaly in her bedroom that offers out co-ordinates to a location that is a secret NASA base, where Michael Caine is sitting around, making things happen. Soon, McConaughey is kicked into space to look at some planets in a wormhole that may be habitable for humanity. They check them out. Credits. The single good thing about watching a film on film over the digital projection is being able to watch cigarette burns appear and do the math over how many reels it takes to set anything up (2 & 1/2) and then count-down how many more reels there are left before the film is over (too many) whilst wondering why they put so much information in act one if act two is going to aggressively do nothing out of the ordinary. Why were we forced to sit in a lecture about science if the film isn't going to do anything interesting or different? District 9 never did that, Armageddon never did that, is Interstellar so sure that it is better than Armageddon that it has to pony up so mid-range science spoon-fed in the most pandering way that it makes anyone smart enough to see through the awful writing question why they feel the need to do the wormhole pencil pushing through paper image again?
The awfully handled science monologues are only made worse when Anne Hathaway's 'woman' character (That's her defining aspect, alas) gives a monologue on the science of love. Love. Science. Love.
The driving force of the film is McConaughey's love of his daughter - who grows up to be Jessica Chastain during a forced and wasted sequence set on a planet where every hour is 7 years that should be fascinating, well-played, super-cool and exciting but only raises hair on the back of your neck in boredom and anger - everything he does is for her, and everything she does is in the fervent belief that she can save McConaughey, and so that should be a huge emotional crux, with them sending video messages across the universe, but never truly talking ever again, but by golly does Nolan fail to find the heart to his story. Whenever it gets even warmer by a degree centigrade Zimmer's score comes crashing in, organ and horns blaring, sometimes dominating the soundscape until you cannot hear any actor as they scream. A bizarre choice that only goes to make Interstellar even more desolate, cold, colourless and devoid of life than the vacuum of space it is set in.
The problem is, had Interstellar been an enjoyable film, all of its flaws would be forgivable because the journey was so fun. But Nolan's fervent push to make his films oh-so-serious to the point where no one is allowed to have fun watching in a cinema mean every flaw is excruciatingly amplified, as one sits around, twiddling thumbs, wondering why cinema needs science fiction that is neither entertaining nor imaginative, and why do we need films shot in ways that lack any spatial awareness, where sequences of going through a wormhole lack any shots that take your breath away because the visualisation of the director is limited at the best of times. It is aggravating to sit in a cinema for almost 3 hours, just thinking 'well, this is awful, but I can't wait to see how they visualise travelling into there, or going past here' and then when they get to every key moment it neither focuses on the event nor the paper-thin characters, just on the shakiness that comes from being in the shuttle. I don't want to be in the shuttle, I want to see what is happening, why not use this opportunity to turn out something amazing, eye-opening, gloriously realised, something new and fresh and exciting? Nolan is in the position where he can do anything as a director, but he doesn't have any interest in truly pushing boundaries, everything he does in Interstellar is safe, easy, from visuals to plot, nothing is remotely engaging or shocking or iconic or defining. It is all bland, dull, empty. Interstellar makes the greatest, most stunningly gorgeous, awe-inspiring part of our universe, space, into the complete opposite, and treats it without reverence or intrigue.
It is annoying that the performers put in quality work despite a script that stops anyone having their day, and the set design and location work is incredible, because it is all for nought when Nolan's vision comes around, and nothing can connect or feel visible in the mess of camera-work, soundtrack and stodgy script/editing. Interstellar suffers from a pilot who would rather take the safe route as far away from the black hole as possible, but conserve all fuel by going as slow as possible, whilst there are thousands of pilots out there willing to be a little more reckless, possibly too dangerous, but would get to the destination faster, for much less, and if they fail, sure it'll be sad, but they tried. Nolan is the pilot that is comfortable in not trying. And Interstellar is the prime example of this new, lazier Nolan.