Friday, November 14, 2014


I tried.  I really tried to love INTERSTELLAR.  I mean, what’s not to love?  Matthew McConaughey and a host of Hollywood A-listers.  A big concept with science at its heart.  Stunning visuals.  Heart-pounding action.   Super-cool robots. Did I mention Matthew McConaughey?

But like a lot of arranged marriages, this one failed despite everyone’s best efforts to match audience and film.  The intended was certainly handsome enough, but the pairing lacked the necessary chemistry.

First of all, you should know I’m not a detail-oriented person.  Really.  I spend my hard-earned cash in an actual movie theater nearly every week because I love completely immersing myself in the film experience for two hours (or, in this case, three), giving myself over to the filmmaker and the world he or she has created.  I often have to see a movie more than once to get the details I need for a review because the first time around I’m too much into the total experience to grab them.  So it takes a lot to yank me out of the story and make me go, “Huh?” in the middle of the film.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan (THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy, MAN OF STEEL) gave me plenty of absolutely incredible moments of wonder in his film—dust storms overwhelming a weary town, Saturn and her rings, a spherical (!) wormhole in black space, distant mountains on a planet far, far away that turn out to be . . . well, I won’t spoil that for you.  But missed details of science or logic just kept grabbing me by the back of the collar and snatching me up out of my comfortable place in the world Nolan had established.

Some examples:  A blight has destroyed all the wheat in the world, we’re told at the beginning of the film.  All that’s left is corn.  (No mention is made of the many other grains humans grow, but okay.)  In one early scene, McConaughey’s character, Cooper, and John Lithgow, who plays his curmudgeonly father-in-law (terrific, even if his character is a cliché) look over to a neighbor’s field, which is on fire.  “Blight?” Cooper asks, referring perhaps to a leftover field of wheat.  “No,” FIL answers.  “They say that’s the last crop of okra.  Ever.”

Okra?  Really??  I mean, how many people who see this film will even know what okra is?  Only those of us here in the South (and quite a few people in Africa, but this film isn’t about them, as we’ll see later) will miss it when it goes, trust me.  And I just spent three minutes thinking about okra when I should have been paying attention to the film.

Okay, I just get over that when, at the end of a tough day, Cooper and FIL sit down on the porch to relax with a nice, cold beer.  Beer.  In a commercial bottle, mind you.  No shortage there, apparently, though the world seems awfully short of other things.  And beer is made of what?  Yeah, wheat.  Yes, it can be made of other things—sorghum, most notably, or millet—but corn not so much.  How about some good ole white lightnin’?  That would make more sense!  And, again, I’ve spent two minutes thinking about beer.

The “secret” agency that sponsors humanity’s last-ditch mission to search out a new planet for colonizing?  NASA.  Right.  When even now, NASA is losing ground to other nations in the space race.  And this is all of humanity we’re talking about.  Shouldn't it be a joint task force of some kind?

They still have computers in this limited future, used mostly to run automated farm equipment, but even so.  Yet the most important intellectual endeavor of our history is undertaken with chalk on a blackboard, with not a computer in sight.  Or is this just the way theoretical physicists work?
I’m no scientist, but even I can tell you what conditions you might find on a planet circling close to a black hole.  Think the moon has an effect on tides?  My decision regarding that planet would be to move on.  But, of course, that would make for a boring movie, wouldn’t it?

As for a scientist found all alone on an ice-bound planet after years in cryo-sleep?  Warning, warning!  Danger, Will Robinson!  Oh, but that’s right.  His robot is ALL BUSTED UP!  If we had any sense we’d be firing all thrusters right now.

Then there is the scientific coup-de-grace.  **SPOILER ALERT** To save the human race, our heroes must enter a black hole and transmit data back out of it.  At first it’s just the robot that must survive long enough to do this (unlikely enough—NOTHING escapes a black hole, not even light), but then, of course, Cooper is drawn in, too.  Instead of certain death, he finds himself in a “three-dimensional construct of five-dimensional space”, according to the robot, who somehow is in there with him.  And what does it adjoin?  His daughter’s bedroom!  So he can communicate with Earth!  Yay!

I’m sorry, I’ll put up with a lot, but not if it’s supposed to be based on science as we know it.  There’s a bunch of stuff here about solving the relationship between gravity and time, and something about the power of love which makes little sense.  I saw the movie twice and I’m still not convinced.  It’s not like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, in which there was plenty of room for interpretation.  Here we’re given a construct in detail.  It just doesn’t hold up. (And if it was the basis of an SFR novel, the author wouldn't survive the savaging she'd receive from SF fans.)

Lest you miss this film thinking there’s nothing of worth to be seen, let me just say there is much that touches the heart in INTERSTELLAR.  Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper is wonderful—conflicted, complex, wearing his emotions on his weather-beaten face for all to see, and yet yearning for the stars.  He’s the perfect metaphor for our human aspirations.  Jessica Chastain, as his grown daughter, Murphy, captures her anger and drive as well as her lingering hope.  All of the supporting cast is stellar, and the human part of the story works well when Nolan is not busy lecturing.  Then there's the scene which gives "taking a flying @#@#$ at a rolling donut" a whole new meaning--worth the price of admission in and of itself.

If Christopher Nolan had let an editor have a bit more time with his ungainly giant of a film, INTERSTELLAR might yet have found a way into my heart despite its many flaws.

Cheers, Donna


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  2. They lost me when I found they're headed for another galaxy. We can get to another GALAXY, but we can't solve problems here on Earth? I can't buy it.

    I may watch it when it comes out on DVD, but I'm not paying money to see it in theaters. Not when the basic science is that flawed. I don't care how many astronauts and whoever is talking about how great the science is. When you're talking going to another galaxy in a near-future setting you've lost all credibility with me.

  3. This is a tough one for me. Two friends of mine whose opinions I respect (one a scientist!) highly recommended it. But I read a technical critique of it, and oh my heavens. It seems they had a physicist on the team but didn't actually use him. (Habitable planets with no source of heat or light was the biggest one I got stuck on.)

    The okra thing is hilarious! I'm not a beer expert (except I like to drink it), but is ALL beer made with wheat? There are the German wheat beers. But a lot of it is made with barley malt I think? Still the bottled beer is pretty funny. Priorities!

    Anyhoo! I'll probably see it just for Matthew. ;)

  4. LOL, Sharon! You're right,barley is a large component of beer, along with wheat. I think the darker the brew, the more barley there is. It's one of those grains not mentioned in INTERSTELLAR. We're just told "the only thing left is corn." But here we are talking about BEER, when this is supposed to be a movie about the stars. And, I completely agree, Rachel. Did we really need to go to another galaxy? No, especially when the wormhole was "placed" here for us. Surely some of the planets we've already identified in our own galaxy would do just as well.

  5. LOL Donna, the beer issue never occurred to me, and I do normally catch such anomalies.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the themes-emotions-science that went into the production. The only element I wasn't particularly pleased with was the sound track that blared on endlessly while the characters were executing important lines of dialogue, some of which I missed because of the booming noise level.

    The "rolling donut" scene was--in particular--pretty spectacular!

    But that isn't to say I found the movie flawless.

    You said: "Instead of certain death, he finds himself in a “three-dimensional construct of five-dimensional space”, according to the robot, who somehow is in there with him. And what does it adjoin? His daughter’s bedroom! So he can communicate with Earth! Yay!"

    I don't know how to address your thoughts without spoilers so I'll just have at it. I didn't have an issue with the 3D construct in 5D space "adjoining" the daughters bedroom because this was explained as his future (smarter, wiser, more genius) descendants who had learned to exist in 5D who built this weird mote in time and space so he COULD communicate with his daughter and essentially send a message to himself back through time.

    What MY problem is with the whole scenario is that the message he transmitted to himself through his daughter was "STAY." If he had heeded that message and withdrawn from the mission, mankind would have never reached this 3D-in-5D-hidey-hole technology and would have also gone extinct either from starvation or asphyxiation as the nitrogen content in our atmosphere crowded out the oxygen. The things mankind was able to accomplish in the future was a direct result of his voyage, so that left me wondering why his evolved descendants would allow him to send this message to himself.

    Did I miss some basic element, or wasn't that extremely illogical? As an analogy, it would be like Columbus arriving on the new world and sending a message to himself not to make the journey to begin with. Huh?

  6. Oh yes, the "wormhole to another galaxy" thing really ruffled my retros, too. Why not a wormhole to another part of this huge, expansive, diverse galaxy we call the Milky Way? Or even a parallel universe? (Oh wait. Then it would sound frightening close to one of my premises. LOL)

  7. You can make beer from corn. It has a higher starch content that makes it harder to mash and would have a different flavor profile than wheat/barley beer, but homebrewers do it often enough that comercial breweries could switch with little difficulty if all the wheat went extinct.

    Heck, I made a "beer" out of red cabbage that I just finished bottle conditioning. So…


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