In every sense of the phrase, Interstellar is Hollywood at it’s best. At once a throwback to the imaginative, exciting, technically groundbreaking popcorn movies that we seemed to get every summer in the 80’s, a master class in 21st century filmmaking—utilizing the latest technological marvels in visual effects, sound design, and IMAX photography, and a story that manages to successfully balance the awe and wonder of deep space exploration with a touching human drama about the parent/children dynamic and just how far we’re willing to go to protect and provide for the ones we love. It’s a big budget, studio backed, ORIGINAL story brought to the screen by a gifted director and his team of amazing artists. It’s everything people complain Hollywood doesn’t do enough of.
Sweeping in both scope and emotional resonance, Interstellar stands out both for what it does well, but also what it doesn’t do. The majority of the exterior shots in space are either static and wide, harking back to Kubrick whose influence is clearly seen throughout the film, or in a fixed position on the ship, as if they shot it with an IMAX GoPro camera. There are hardly any shots where the ship is swooping in and out of frame, as we’re accustomed to seeing with movies like Star Wars or Star Trek. Nolan chose to shoot this movie differently and it stands out, even if you don’t notice it at first.
It plays out in a perfect three act arc and feels like a Crichton novel, putting together the top experts in their field and sending them on an impossible scientific mission. They find ways to explain complex scientific theories and phenomena in ways the audience can understand. The movie is just shy of three hours, but it doesn’t feel like it at all. The story never drags and I can’t remember the last time I went on such an emotional journey in a film. The ground covered from the beginning to the end is so varied, filled with genuine surprises and shocks, visual awe, and two particular touching moments that had me tearing up. The performances are fantastic across the board, and Matthew McConaughey is particularly strong as the movie’s protagonist and emotional anchor.
An always crucial element to any great movie is one of the standouts here, and that’s the score. Hans Zimmer has already established himself as the premier Hollywood composer of our time, just as John Williams was from the late 70’s to the 90’s, and with Nolan, he’s already contributed some iconic, singular music with the Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel; but he outdoes himself here. Interstellar’s score is both colossal and amazing in its simplicity. There aren’t any sweeping themes or fanfares, but when it needs to resonate, a cathedral organ’s chimes bellow through the speakers with astounding power. A simple four note repeating motif sets the tone in varied ways depending on the scene and is used with particular effectiveness as a count down timer during a race against the clock sequence. The score forgoes melody for tone in many places and it works as it matches the movie’s journey into the unknown. One of my favorite cues is when the movie jump cuts to a wide angle shot of Saturn. We see the spaceship floating in the vastness of space, a white speck against Saturn’s massive circumference and distinctive rings. A single, echoing piano chord plays, both beautiful and lonely, perfectly complimenting the impressive visuals we’re witnessing. It’s a masterful and powerful score.
Will Hollywood recognize such an achievement in filmmaking? Will it bestow awards to the people responsible for such exciting and memorable storytelling? Probably not, as Hollywood these days thinks that the only movies that deserve recognition are period pieces and biopics, but that doesn’t change how incredible and moving Interstellar is. If you haven’t had the chance to yet, go and see it in a theater, preferably IMAX, so you can appreciate the scale of the movie in the way it was meant to be seen. You’re going to enjoy it.