Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy
Director: Christopher Nolan
'Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'
It is a rather morbid line to open a review with, but then, it does justice to Christopher Nolan's (Inception, Memento) space odyssey, Interstellar.
The film is set in future and Earth is close to an apocalypse.
Pioneers are frowned upon and space exploration (read Apollo voyage to Moon) is dismissed in school textbooks as America's propaganda to bankrupt USSR.
Humans have a more important task at hand than looking for worlds beyond: to grow food in face of a blight which has finished off all crops other than corn. Dust bowls loom on the horizon and threaten to suffocate the planet.
Interstellar review: A visual treat that doesn't add up to much
Talking about this death-by-dust scenario, Matthew McConaughey's ace NASA test pilot-turned-reluctant farmer Cooper says, "We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, and now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt."
Father to Tom and Murph (named after Murphy's law), Cooper is interested in all things technical and refuses to bend to the theory that space travel is waste of time. To press this point, we see him chasing after an India Air Force drone which seems to have lost its way in the countryside America.
Their 'normal' existence of breakfast and shelves laden with books goes for a toss when Cooper is asked to join a space mission, which is humanity's last chance of survival. Cooper finds this ultra-secret NASA facility (the last ever) with help of certain encrypted signals and his precocious daughter's sleuthing. Here they meet Dr Brand (Michael Caine), an ageing scientist who believes the only way humans can survive is by not saving the world, but by leaving it.
Elysium and After Earth in the recent past have suggested a colony in space as a viable alternative but Interstellar adds a human touch to the idea. That will also be a first for Nolan who is known for skirting emotions for intellect.
Cooper has to leave behind his family, especially his daughter who may never forgive him for abandoning her. Nolan has described this film as the story of fathers and daughters and probably that's where its strength lies.
As he takes off for the stars along with three other scientists, we meet another daughter -- Brand's daughter also referred to as Brand (Anne Hathaway). An analogy on fathers and daughters leaving each other with promises and regret, this will count as one of Nolan's most emotional films.
There's humour too - in form of an R2D2-like prsonality-infused robot Tars.
Will these intergalactic explorers find an alternative universe which is habitable? Who are the God-like alien beings who are allegedly pushing the humanity along with coded signs? Will Cooper ever meet his daughter again? Will humanity be saved and what kind of world awaits it? Nolan deals with these questions with Nolan-like magnitude and scale.
Where others might have used shiny CGI, Nolan uses real locations and props (Iceland as two alien planets). Hollywood needs to understand there can be too much of computer-generated effects and this visual spectacle of film can act as a textbook case of how to do it.
McConaughey is perfectly cast as a man who knows this mission is his destiny but cannot come to terms with leaving his family. A balanced mix of determination and vulnerability, he makes this cinematic expedition worthwhile. Hathaway is forceful despite getting rather trite dialogues; a special mention being her 'love conquers all' speech aboard the spaceship. Another inspired performance is Mackenzie Foy as the young Murph.
An enjoyable and exacting journey filled with quantum mechanics, wormholes, black holes, theory of relativity, singularity and space-time continuum, the trouble of this one lies in its climax where the director out-Nolans himself.
One goes to a Nolan film expecting intellectual grandeur, philosophy and a belief that cinema can challenge your mind. The film delivers all of that largely but fails near the climax. Too much scientific mumbo-jumbo competes with too much mushiness and we come up with one big naught.
In a quest to tie up so many plot lines in a neat little ending, the film loses its sense of impending doom and nerve-wracking suspense. One would have thought that a director like Nolan could have ended this rather long and dazzling film (167 minutes) with a big bang. Instead, it gets too tangled up in the web of its own aspirations and ends with a whimper.
Despite the complaints, this is one intergalactic trip the audience needs to take. It may not match up to those touchstones of sci-fi cinema - Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey but it finds its place in pantheon of films which dare to dream.