So you're sitting in the kitchen of master chef, Wolfgang Puck. The man himself is standing right there, ready to cook you a meal. You've had many of his signature dishes and you've almost always loved them. You thought the last dish he served you was a little undercooked, but you still give him the benefit of the doubt. You trust him. He is Wolfgang Puck, after all. He asks you what you'd like, and you reply with, "Surprise me." Puck now goes around his kitchen, grabbing the finest ingredients and preparing a meal for you from scratch.
He decides to make you a bologna sandwich.
Puck grabs a loaf of freshly baked, toasted on the outside, warm and soft on the inside bread. He slices up some vegetables grown in his personal garden and cultivated to be in the perfect state for consumption today. He pulls out a block of bologna, cut from the jolliest grass-fed cows, pigs, and whatever other animal parts are grounded into bologna. He carefully, and meticulously, slices the meat, and you can clearly see the care and attention that he places into every step as he constructs your sandwich. He even uses his own, personal, gourmet special sauce. He serves it to you. You take a bite.
It's still just a bologna sandwich.
That's Interstellar, in a nut shell- The most artfully crafted, finely made, gorgeous looking crappy movie you'll see this year.
I should point out that this movie had everything going for it, in terms of winning me over. I'm a huge fan of Nolan's. I'm a big supporter of Matthew McConnaughey, and I've been tracking his self-dubbed "McConnaissance" since 2011's The Lincoln Lawyer. I love the space setting. I'm a huge sucker for anything that has to do with a father and his kids, often needing a few hankies to get through films that wax sentimental about fatherhood. The cast looked dynamite. The director seemed inspired. I was ready to go in there and give this movie every opportunity to rock my world.
It just didn't happen.
The dialogue felt ham-fisted and on-the-nose. Within 3 minutes, we have Cooper (McConnaughey) telling his son that he'd better figure out how to fix a flat because "I won't be always be around." This very early, very obvious bit of foreshadowing felt too direct for a filmmaker that could get such ideas across with more subtlety and tact set off a tiny alarm. As the film wore on, though, I couldn't shake the feeling that the script just wasn't strong. Between characters making highly illogical decisions, certain things falling into place way too conveniently, heady ideas being introduced but left unexplored, the whole thing just felt overcooked and underprepared.
But it's beautiful.
Nolan has crafted a sumptuous feast for the eyes. You can see and feel his touch on every aspect of the film, and he undeniably knows how to tell a visual story. The problem is, it's the humanity that he brings his films that has always elevated them. It's what separates him from other directors that do incredible work with visuals but can't tell a story worth a damn. Nolan is a storyteller, yet it's his storytelling here that seems to be lacking. So while you can just sit there and take in everything with your eyes and let yourself be transported, you might find that your heart is left cold- which wouldn't be a problem if the overarching theme of the film wasn't love and human connection.
Your ears, on the other hand, won't have so great a time. Hans Zimmer's score is certainly loud, and not just during the action packed portions of the film. In Man of Steel, Zimmer explored bringing electric guitars and steel strings into his orchestral compositions. In Interstellar, Zimmer seems interested in bringing organs in to play. There's a bombastic, church-organ-on-steroids sound used to accentuate certain emotional bits that manages to drown out the drama as opposed to heightening it. The music itself is pretty strong, but the way that it's used in the mix can be mind-numbing at times.
Nolan likes to explore very cerebral themes and ideas in his films. He uses the premises and situations in them as metaphors and allegories for ideas he's interested in exploring. That's what elevated his Batman films. It's what made Inception resonate with fans and critics alike. He makes blockbusters for the thinking man. Yet, with Interstellar, I can't help but feel that he threw a bunch of high-minded concepts into a blender, took out a handful, threw them at a wall, and is asking the audience to figure out what sticks.
The half-baked deepness of the film would be a total disaster if not for his game cast. Everyone shows up ready to work, and everyone tries their best to sell us on how important everything is. Without the pedigree of his cast, this film would go nowhere fast. As it stands, people will likely buy into Nolan's lofty ideas, subconsciously, because they're stated with sagely authority by McConnaughey, Michael Caine, and Anne Hathaway- each with their "Gravitas Voices" turned up to 11.
Performance wise, the only real letdown is in the chemistry department- and that kills a film like this. McConnaughey and Hathaway's Dr. Brand have this antagonistic relationship that just feels forced and phony. Early on, they bicker and snipe at each other like unlikely romantic leads in a screwball love story. Then they really butt heads. Then they're suddenly thick as thieves. The ending of the film damn near counts on you being invested in their relationship- yet through a combination of the flimsy script and two actors that share no spark together whatsoever, it just doesn't land. Cooper's ties to all of the supporting players, really, feel under-developed.
It almost feels like McConnaughey would rather have just been in a one man show set in the cosmos. Too bad Sandra Bullock beat him to that last year.
The film clocks in at 13 minutes short of three hours. Nolan, as much as I love him, has never been the most efficient filmmaker. He'll use 5 quick scenes to make a point that could've been established in one, well-written scene. So Interstellar is long, but it doesn't always justify its length. There are sequences that feel like they go on forever with countless jump shots of close-ups of screaming actors. The length wouldn't feel as bad if it all lead up to an epic conclusion. But the ending, without spoiling anything, is the antithesis of epic. On the contrary, Nolan whips out a deus ex machina that completely unravels the tension.
When the film ends, with a sudden cut to black, all I felt was a sense of, "Really?" Unlike Inception, where the sudden fadeout lead me into a feverish discussion with my wife about what it all could mean, the final moments of Interstellar left me cold. I'd spent nearly three hours building up to something that ended up never really resonating in a real way.
If you're going to see Interstellar at all, it has to be in theaters. The screening I attended was in an IMAX theater, and I can't imagine experiencing this film any other way- let alone a TV or a computer screen. It's a technological powerhouse. So if you're going to bother seeing this thing at all, you should at least do it right. But do so with lowered expectations. This isn't Nolan at his thoughtful best. It's a frustratingly hollow story with gorgeous trappings.