Features Top — 10 November 2014 » Written by
How To Fix <i>Interstellar</i>

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.

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*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??

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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!

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Jeff Piotrowski is a fanatic movie buff and self-appointed critic living in Center City Philly. He enjoys a good beer, a sunny day, and has a beautiful girlfriend whose favorite past time is disagreeing with him.

(7) Readers Comments

  1. Jeff, I disagree with you almost 100% on each and every point., but mostly on the score. The gothic organ is perfect, and this is one of Zimmer’s best scores.

    • Ryan,

      I’d love to hear your counterpoints.

      Re: Hans Zimmer, now you have me interested to check out the soundtrack. Maybe I was just more captivated by the silent parts upon first viewing though.

      • While the film is jam-packed with ideas, I don’t think it needs to be expanded. If anything, i thought the first hour or so worked really well, and the relationship between Cooper and Murph is probably the most emotional Nolan has ever shown on screen.

        As for the final act explanations, the approach of 2001 is vastly different than this film. Kubrick’s film has a mystical quality to it, with the monolith never being explained and jump starting human evolution. The tesseract in the final act of Interstellar is meant to be understood by the audience at least in function. Was the explanation completely necessary? Probably not, but to me it is a minor flaw in the grand scheme of the film.

        As for Dr. Amelia Brand, I thought her character was perfectly fine. Any mistake she made was fully in support of trying to complete the mission. It’s also important to remember that this is her first time doing any “field work” and it’s a new experience for her. People can be very smart, and also make mistakes. And everyone agrees that both Mann’s planet and Edmond’s planet look viable, but Cooper sides with Mann’s reputation and proximity. So it’s not like she was wrong at all.

        Casey Affleck doesn’t get a whole lot to do with Jessica Chastain, but i thought his videos to Cooper was practically the most emotionally arresting part of the film.

        I loved the use of silence, but I think using both silence and the score creates something even more powerful than either alone.

        • Ryan– sorry for the late reply, didn’t see your response until now. I really appreciate the counterpoints, especially the ones I disagree with :) makes for good discussion.

          1) Disagree entirely with you on this point. The first hour rushed in all the wrong places and certain plot points make no sense to me… Cooper happens to uncover this secret NASA base, which is within driving distance from his house, mere days before the launch? And Michael Caine’s character claims that Cooper is the only one that can lead this mission? If that’s the case, why wouldn’t they have brought him into the fold way earlier, regardless of the fact that he was the only pilot with a family?

          I also know I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t buy the child actress playing Murph. Regardless of that fact, Nolan’s attempt at emotion felt like melodrama to me which could have been more effective if I had more time with the characters. Also, I felt more during the final scene of Inception and several parts of The Prestige, but that’s another story…

          2) Agree with you in that these were different choices made by different directors. Nolan’s approach was to make it clear to the audience what they were watching… I would have preferred more room for interpretation.

          3) I’ll concede that this is her first time doing “field work”, though that makes me question whether she is truly one of the 4 most qualified people on the planet to lead a mission to save humanity. I could argue against myself in that it becomes apparent that her father selfishly just wanted to give his daughter an opportunity to survive.

          4) I agree, the videos were the most heartwrenching part for me too, largely due to Affleck. Just really enjoy him as an actor and wish he was given more to do.

          5) You have me interested in the soundtrack now. I usually love Zimmer, so could also be a case of the mix being off, as I’ve heard happened at other theaters.

          Thanks again for the thoughts!

  2. FINALLY!!! A critic who points out EXACTLY what I was thinking!! This article perfectly explains everything I was thinking. I really really think this should’ve been a miniseries. It would’ve been drop dead perfect. There would’ve been time to explore earth, this different earth, we as an audience would’ve had time to connect to the family more, while understanding Coopers reasons for leaving and feeling like he has no other choice. They could’ve added way more of the story at home, with the children feeling forgotten and isolated. They could’ve spent WAY more time in space and a lot more time in the fifth dimension. A miniseries would literally have made this idea PERFECT. I lived the music, but I do agree that at parts, it just was too much. It would’ve packed a better punch in a miniseries. I loved this movie, I really did. But a HUGE problem with movies is we don’t have enough time with the story, the characters, with anything really. I think TV is the new medium. Lastly, I think (my own opinion) the ending was not satisfying, and with a movie so maddeningly heartbreaking, I think a great ending wouldve been Cooper exploring “beyond the horizon” of the black hole and somehow changing the past, so that at the end of the movie, he was awakened to a book dropping in his room, him having woken up in his daughters room, she being a little girl again, essentially where we started, like the one night Cooper stayed awake in Murphs room all night observing the ghost. He could wake up in her bed, having actually fallen asleep, and was woken up by a book falling down or something, and maybe he realizes that “they” the fifth dimension, or his future self, found the formula and now his present self doesn’t have to leave, but can “stay” and be with his daughter and save the world. Thus showing how Cooper beat the odds and saved everyone, got to be with his daughter, went “beyond the horizon” of the black hole, and the movie could end with a book falling off of a bookcase, and it could have an ambiguous ending or soemthjng from there, leaving the audience to guess whether the present Cooper, back where he started, changes his decision, and finds out the code. Those are some changes I suggest. Great article.

    • Garrett– thanks for the thoughts. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought this could have been mind blowing as a mini-series.

      Regarding the ending, I’m conflicted about what I would have wanted from Interstellar. I’m more of a fan of open endings and ones that aren’t necessarily happy in the traditional sense, but in this case, I think you can “have your cake and eat it too”. I guess what I’m saying is that I wanted the ending of Inception haha.

  3. Pingback: Jeff's Top Ten of 2014 | Cinedelphia

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