Monday 10 November 2014

Thoughts on Interstellar

Spoilers definitely ahead.

"So you're the guy who hates films?" - That was the comment I got when I was introduced to a friend of a friend. Perhaps I should start crowing about films I like as much as ranting about films I hate? I'm passionate about my likes and dislikes.

Interstellar though? It's another hate, and let me tell you why.

Although there were a lot of science errors that wasn't the reason I walked out of the cinema with almost an hour left of the film to play. It was down to the implausibility & unbelievability of the plot, the lack of characterisation, the clumsy childish script and it was just plain dull.

It's supposed to be all emotional, but without putting the work in to make us care about the characters all that emotion on screen just leave you cold, seems like annoying whinging rather than pulling at your heartstrings, like Nolan obviously wants to.

The film starts with a Death of Grass plot - although set firmly, and only, in the USA - the situation in the rest of the world is not discussed but the US is a dustbowl with corn being the last viable crop. There is an anti-science thread, the government hide the fact they are spending money on a space program, the world needs "farmers, not engineers" (although it seems McConaughey's character Cooper, as a former astronaut, is the only local who can fix the robotic combine harvesters and everyone still drives everywhere).

Anyway a "ghost" communicates with Cooper's daughter Murph - duh wonder why it was her chosen? a set of co-ordinates which leads Cooper to the remnants of NASA who are about to launch a mission through a wormhole where Twelve brave explorers have previously gone  to find a new home for humanity. Queue an extended homage to Kubrick's 2001 which lasts until they get to the wormhole.

Apparently Cooper is the right man for the job of piloting the spaceship (it's just like riding a bike apparently) and he readily agrees although on the actual mission his fellow crewmates keep giving him the exposition in a "another thing we didn't tell you before we blasted off into space" dialogue. Clumsy. One of the things they didn't bother to tell him was that the potentially habitable planets were orbiting a black hole. Still he's only the pilot.

After all the hype that this was the most accurate black hole in the history of cinema it's a bit odd that this is where the director decided to ignore the science the most. Discarding even basic planetary orbital dynamics and using the theory of relativity was OK until you think about what being so close to that gravity well would actually do to the planet, never mind the people.

There's a plan A - a spaceship that requires a manipulation of gravity to work. And Michael Caine's character has been working on an equation for the last forty years that will get it to work. There's a big reveal later on that the only way to make the equation work would be to get information from beyond the event horizon of the massive black hole around which some of the planets the explorers have found orbit.

There's a plan B which is to seed the new world with frozen embryos and Adam and Eve it. Matt Damon plays a scientist explorer that apparently later turns out to be a bad guy (I left very shortly after his character was introduced) and apparently Cooper is the one who communicates with his daughter, and therefore his own earlier self, the co-ordinates, which send him off to save humanity by communicating with himself in the past to go off and save humanity by communicating with himself  in the past to ... yeah it's a paradox even though this isn't a time travel film. There is a discussion of relativity, because it seems that if you go down to one of the planets each hour on that planet is 7 years back on Earth.

Anyway the plot bollocks isn't the real reason I hated this film, although I'm less likely to excuse it because of the poor scripting and characterisation.

Nolan's agenda was showing, a lot, as he artlessly hammered you with it, again and again. But it's confused, because you know at the same time he's obviously criticising the way NASA is funded he is also telling you that science is dumb (in a death of grass - it's our own fault sort of way) and later in the film basically hitting you over the head with his main message. We shouldn't (apparently) use logic and reasoning because what your gut tells you is much more important, because "love" transcends time and space and is the fifth dimension. Yep that's right at the heart of this film is some seriously woo hippy nonsense.

I'm so glad I walked out whilst he was still setting up this crass message. You see Cooper chooses a rational path at first (there may be other characters in this film but they pretty much have zero agency and it's all about Cooper) which turns out to be wrong.

Apparently after Matt Damon exhibits why "the best of us" is a stupid, cowardly jerk (yes it's another brilliant scientist being dumb trope). The film jettisons any pretence of being scientific, rips off Kubrick's 2001 a bit more and Cooper enters the black hole.

Anyway that's after I left so not sure I can criticise the last hour of the film. I'll concentrate on why I walked.

It was dumb. It was lazy. I failed to engage with any character, although everyone else only existed to orbit Cooper's gravity. It was dull. Nolan spent far too long setting up things that could have been better told in narrative summary and frittered away some interesting stuff in narrative summary which would have been better in immediate scene.

I can cope with the dumb if the movie entertains me. Hell I go to Bad Film Club every month and watch 'aweful' films and enjoy them. However the key difference (apart from sobriety) is entertainment. The film was just boring, as well as nonsensical. And to me, that's unforgivable.

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