Review: INTERSTELLAR (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Review: INTERSTELLAR (2014)

4 stars
INTERSTELLAR is flawed, but captivating enough as a visionary sci-fi epic and a strong character-driven drama.


Once attached as Steven Spielberg's project back in 2006 before he backed out and Christopher Nolan took over instead, INTERSTELLAR marks the acclaimed British director's first "true" foray into sci-fi territory. The result is a thought-provoking and highly ambitious sci-fi epic that combined the brain, heart and spectacle. It's not entirely perfect, but likewise, Nolan knows well how to blend fantastical elements with his signature realism.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

INTERSTELLAR takes place in a near future where Earth is suffering from the massive dust storm that evokes the American Dust Bowl of the 1930s, while humanity is at stake due to the shortage of food sources. At the heart of the story is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA test pilot and engineer-turned-corn farmer, who lives with his 10-year-old daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), 15-year-old son Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). And then one day a certain phenomena leads Cooper and Murphy to someplace, which happens to be an underground facility. Apparently NASA is still exists, except it has become a top-secret agency instead. From there, Cooper's former mentor, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) particularly wanted him to pilot a space shuttle for an all-important interstellar mission through a mysterious wormhole in order to save mankind by locating a possible new home planet. Joining Cooper in the mission is Brand's daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi) and an angular-shaped robot named TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin).

THE GOOD STUFF
 
Christopher Nolan paid tribute to some of the greatest sci-fi masterpieces of the yesteryears, notably on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and Steven Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977), and molded them altogether into an epic cinematic journey filled with fascinating big ideas such as time travel, space-time continuum, gravity, black holes and quantum physics. Although the combination of these ideas isn't entirely successful, Nolan and co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan managed to pull them off considerably well into something accessible that I'm sure will leaves many viewers debating about them after watching the movie. I'm also particularly delighted with Nolan's creative decision to make his sci-fi epic as believable and realistic as possible, such as the fact he refrains from using sound during the outer space sequence and embraces the sheer silence of the vast blackness instead.

Beneath all the huge scale of the movie's sci-fi elements is a touching drama that touches on the themes of family values, love and sacrifice. In fact, this is easily the most emotionally-penetrating movie Nolan has ever done throughout his career.

Technically speaking, the reported budget of US$165 million is certainly well-spent with kudos goes to Nathan Crowley's grand production design of the countryside setting of a corn farm as well as the surrealistic alien landscapes featuring a water planet and an ice planet, while Hoyte Van Hoytema's cinematography delivers some of the most stunning visuals ever seen in a space-related movie. The special effects, which is supervised by Paul Franklin, are visually impeccable yet seamless enough for all the scenes involving the outer space. Hans Zimmer, who has been Nolan's regular collaborator since BATMAN BEGINS (2005), once again shines with another inventive musical composition that is different from his usual brass-heavy scores he had done for THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy and INCEPTION (2010) and replaced with piano arrangements, church organs and strings that immediately echoes the 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY-like orchestral score.

After making a career comeback with acclaimed performances from independent movies such as KILLER JOE (2011), MUD (2012) and of course, his Oscar-winning role for DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, it's nice to see Matthew McConaughey finally back into A-list status. Here, the always-charismatic McConaughey gives a remarkably heartfelt performance as Cooper, a dedicated father who is forced to leave his family behind in order to embark on a space voyage to save humanity. This is the kind of inspiring performance worthy of award recognition. Anne Hathaway, who previously collaborated with Nolan in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, delivers a soulful performance as Amelia. Jessica Chastain is equally fine as the adult Murphy, while the rest of the supporting cast including John Lithgow, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi and Nolan regular Michael Caine are all provided strong support. Bill Irwin, in the meantime, often steals the show with his hilariously sarcastic voice performance as the robotic TARS.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)
 
The first moment where Cooper and his crew journeys deep into a wormhole; the pulse-pounding scene involving a near-death escape against a gigantic wave; the heartbreaking scene involving a tearful Cooper watches his kids already grown up via video messages; the riveting space-docking sequence; and the 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY-like psychedelic finale.

THE BAD STUFF
  
If there is a weakness about this movie, the first act which focuses on the father-and-daughter relationship drama between Cooper and Murphy does suffer from a lengthy pace that could use some trimming.

FINAL WORDS


Despite its minor shortcomings, INTERSTELLAR is one of the best movies of the year where it is particularly a must-see on the large-format IMAX screen to enjoy the maximum cinematic experience.

* This review is written courtesy from Warner Bros Malaysia IMAX press screening *

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