Interstellar may be the best space movie ever. In terms of size, scope and ambition it certainly is. While it's definitely not the best movie of the year, it's one damn amazing film and easily Christopher Nolan's (Inception, Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight Trilogy) most ambitious film to date.
Interstellar takes place in a future, dystopian Earth where mankind is on the brink of extinction due to the lack of sustainable soil and resources. We open on Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) after he dreams of a crash (one of the many important motifs of the film) and learn that his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) thinks that there is a ghost in her room. For the sake of the preservation of the movie-going experience, I won't go too far into the story but Cooper soon learns that in order for humanity to survive, he and a team of three must venture into the deep, intergalactic unknown to search for another planet sustainable of life. What ensues is an epic space voyage that investigates the concepts of love and loyalty and questions the theories of time, gravity and above all, relativity.
To those afraid that the trailers gave away too much or that the film seems to be a simple "run-of-the-mill" space trek story, don't be fooled. Running at nearly three hours (2hrs49mins to be exact) every single scene is compressed with information and exposition and important sequences and every single frame is compacted to the T. There is no wiggle room and every second is necessary. With that said, nearly the last hour of the film is comprised of twists, turns and completely extravagant story points not shown or hinted at in any trailer. Here is a better way of saying it. The first hour and a half provides what we expect with some occasional thought provoking sequences and perfect tension/action. It's the last hour where the film completely diverges from what you expect it to and asks some incredibly powerful questions.
Nolan's made it clear that he makes films not simply for pure entertainment, but to spark conversation and to engage audiences in an intellectual level that most films don't and Interstellar is the clearest example of that belief. You will be required to think and follow every scene for if you miss one tiny detail you'll be lost. The film ventures into many unforeseeable locations and circumstances that the smallest fraction of losing focus will only come to harm you. However, does it harm the movie? Some may think so because at times its intellectual reach will exceed an audience's grasp and that's understandable considering not everyone is a professional at quantum physics and relativity. But the movie is structured in such a way and the dialogue written in such a way that for the most part, explanations are prevalent.
Visually, like every previous Nolan film, Interstellar is phenomenal. In fact I will go so far to say that it will probably take home the Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. If you thought Gravity looked photo-real and breathtaking, watch this film in 70MM IMAX. The color palettes and angle choices are really something else. There are sequences of Saturn, black holes, intergalactic destruction and deep space flying that were really a spectacle to behold. Nolan's use of both the top and bottom of the frame also hearken back to the era of classical filmmaking. Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her, The Fighter) worked very intimately with the IMAX cameras. Both him and Nolan wanted to shoot the film documentary style, making audiences feel as if they were in the environments with the characters. They strapped camera to actors' back and helmets and vehicles, giving it that feel, and it pays off.
When Hans Zimmer was asked to score the film, he wasn't even provided with a script. Nolan merely gave him a rough description of the film and told him to create whatever popped up into his mind. Somehow that little spark of inspiration transpired into something monumental because this score is revolutionary. With a simple little melody that carries the entire film, the score gives the environment so much character and "feel". It's such a tangible and real component of the film that you just want to reach out and grab it. It's beautiful, majestic, boasting and epic, everything you expect from Zimmer and more.
On an acting standpoint, is it really a surprise to say that everyone is great? Nolan is capable of bringing out such raw and genuine performances out of all his actors. Just think about everyone who's worked with him, from Scarlett Johansson to Andy Serkis, Robin Williams to Ellen Page, Christian Bale to Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy to Michael Caine. He acquires such different and special performances from everyone he recruits. A director's main job is grabbing the perfect performances out of his actors and Nolan manages to do that once again. With an ensemble of this scale (McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow and more) the task is daunting but is tackled with skill.
Like every past Nolan film, anything that can be done on a practical level is done so. On camera effects are the only way to make a film feel genuinely real because they're something captured on camera rather than elements added in digitally in post. The spacecrafts were built to scale in sound-stages and images of space were projected outside of the windows to give actors something to interact with. The Jenga-esque robot named TARS was a puppet on set. A variety of rigs were constructed for different sequences to create the sense of zero-gravity. Although it's a film that takes place far beyond our reach, it certainly looks as real as it can get.
Although Nolan does get a lot right in the film, there are some slight downfalls. A major cameo in the film and this character's intentions seemed very forced and out of context. The pacing is rapid, beat after beat after beat but some of the sequences may have been improved had they been trimmed down by a minute or two. Some of the dialogue is too handy and metaphorical for an audience's grasp but the poetic nature does lend a hand into the overall themes and messages.
Simply put, interstellar is a massive film achievement. While it's flawed and imperfect, it's still an experience worth having over and over again. It will spark discussion and there will be those who side differently with me but it is gargantuan and deserves to be seen. This is Nolan's most personal and ambitious film. It's emotional and raw to the core and will make you tear up several times. McConaughey's chemistry with his children Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and Murph is touching and believable. It's the ultimate film that utilizes time and gravity. Interstellar proves that Nolan is a filmmaker of class and immense skill.