Judging from its $50 million dollar opening weekend, Interstellar is enjoying blockbuster success. But is the movie any good? Critics seem polarized to love or hate Christopher Nolan’s space epic. Most criticism stems from classic Nolan pitfalls, such as lack of emotion, ridiculous amounts of exposition, and pretentious complexity. Being a Nolan fan, I have never really felt those thoughts to be valid in the director’s previous work, but that criticism rings true for Interstellar. Even now, almost a full week removed from having seen it, I’m conflicted on how I feel about the film.
I definitely fall on the negative side of the bandwagon, but for different reasons than my counterparts. Where some have trouble reconciling the film as a whole, I believe it to have been a wasted opportunity to achieve something that changes the way stories are told. Because Interstellar didn’t seize that opportunity, it’s a decent if semi-preposterous film, which disappoints me, but rather than pick apart what I didn’t like, here is the scope for how big Interstellar could have been.
*SPOILER ALERT: These points will go into detail and assume that you have seen the film.*
Make Interstellar a mini-series event. At almost three hours, the film is still too short. Nolan’s story is so rich with big ideas that are ripe for exploration that they suffocate and cannibalize each other. First, he paints a dystopian world where everyone is a farmer, all we can grow is corn, children don’t go to college, and the space race never happened. Interesting… but Nolan’s also cramming in establishing Cooper’s relationship with his daughter, the crux of the entire film, in an effort to get McConaughey into space as quickly as possible, as if to say, “you guys have seen this all before, so just go with it and let me show you the cool stuff.” This is an egregious offense; Cooper’s relationship with his daughter falls flat early in the film and cannot recover, even with phenomenal performances from Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn.
By making Interstellar a mini-series, Nolan could have spent more time on Earth, illustrating the dire consequences of inaction when Cooper has to leave his daughter in an effort to save her. This would have packed a hell of a lot more of an emotional punch in the third act when the morse code bookshelf scene and denouement with Ellen Burstyn pay off the film’s early mysteries.
Some will argue that the IMAX experience was one of the film’s largest strengths that a small-screen adaptation would have ruined. But by turning the film into a mini-series event, you could have had theaters sell “season passes” and release the chapters in 2-3 week increments, accomplishing the same grandeur while making a killing in the process. A 3-act trilogy would have better served the story Nolan was trying to tell, while also providing his ideas with room to breathe. It would have also allowed Nolan to…
Remove the laugh worthy exposition. Nolan’s obvious inspiration for Interstellar was Stanley Kubrick’s2001: A Space Odyssey, a true masterpiece in every sense of the word that still holds up by today’s standards. The reason 2001 was and is so great is because Kubrick doesn’t explain everything, especially the more puzzling sequences. He realized that applying reason and logic to something beyond the grasp of human understanding would hurt more than help. Nolan doesn’t understand this, therefore assigning characters to explain every last aspect of the science and the fiction behind Interstellar. The climax of the film, when McConaughey enters the 5th dimension, actually garnered laughter from the audience I saw it with. When TARS, Cooper’s robot companion, explains everything that is happening just to ensure that the audience has caught up to Nolan before he unveils his next clever idea, it’s downright embarrassing. Speaking of embarrassing…
Overhaul Anne Hathaway’s character. In her current form, she is intolerable at best. We are to believe that she is one of the smartest people on the planet and someone that should know the mission and stakes better than anyone else. But as soon as the stakes are high, she completely falls on her face, making every mistake possible on behalf of the crew. Then, Hathaway’s moment to shine, the conversation about whether love is quantifiable, becomes one long eye roll because of the motivations behind her character’s beliefs, which boil down to a love she had for someone she hasn’t seen in over 10 years. Umm, what??
Give Casey Affleck more to do. This is another example of a rocky foundation eroding great performances later in the movie. What is the reason for Cooper to have a son? So we don’t think he’s a terrible person for leaving his daughter? Because otherwise, Cooper’s relationship with his son is nonexistent, which gives Casey Affleck absolutely no reason to be in this movie. Utilizing an actor like Affleck as mere set-dressing is an unforgivable trespass and could be easily rectified if more time was spent in setting up his character earlier in the film. Finally…
Tranquilize Hans Zimmer. Zimmer’s score for Inception was phenomenal and became the new blueprint for music in a blockbuster movie. In Interstellar, it’s almost as if Nolan said to Zimmer, “it’s a space opera,” and Zimmer ran out of the room to compose organ music without hearing anything else. The score is loud and pervasive throughout the film, when I actually enjoyed the moments of pure silence so much more. By dialing back Hans Zimmer, Nolan could have created an even more effective mood: one of loneliness and isolation. Plus, I could hear the film projector during the quiet moments; a nice touch when you’re paying $22 per ticket to see 70mm IMAX.
Taking these strides would have changed my experience and subsequent verdict on Interstellar, a good but extremely flawed movie that could have been a truly great film. What were your opinions on Interstellar? Could you see it as a mini-series or multi-movie story? Let me know in the comments!