By John Lee
One of my favorite directors in all of the film industry is undoubtedly Christopher Nolan—the mastermind, the visionary, the expert in psychological thrillers. He was the brain behind “Memento” (2000), a murder story told starting with the end and the beginning, not making much sense until the pieces come together in the middle. He was the genius who came up with “Inception” (2010), the film that left audiences satisfyingly mind-blown, not only by the visual effects but also by the multi-layered story. His film repertoire goes further with several other equally thrilling movies—“Insomnia” (2002), “The Prestige” (2006), and “The Dark Knight” trilogy (2005-2012).
And thus, it pains me to admit that his most recent creation, “Interstellar” (2014), was disappointing.
It’s not that it wasn’t good. The film still has the thought-provoking, visually astounding qualities that make Nolan so famous. But in the eyes of an avid Nolanite, it just didn’t quite meet his usual standards. Movie review website, Rotten Tomatoes, agrees—so far, “Interstellar” has the lowest ratings of all of Nolan’s films.
Before launching right into the negatives of the movie, it’s good to first list out the things the film did well. First of all, it had a great cast, bringing together many critically-acclaimed veteran actors as well as some new faces. Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine all bring their expertise into the story, and it definitely shows through the tense emotion and gripping gravity with which they perform.
Another big plus for the movie is, of course, the music by Hans Zimmer. Having worked with Nolan in “The Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception,” and “Man of Steel” (2013), by now Zimmer already knows what Nolan wants. However, this time was different. In an interview with Collider, Zimmer revealed that he and Nolan agreed to lessen the signature string ostinatos and booming drum explosions that became famous in “Inception.” The difference is definitely noticeable, as a much larger portion of the film’s soundtrack features a calmer synth and organ composition that helps to characterize the stillness of space.
And finally, the most stunning aspect of the film was its realism. For the many science fiction movies that have tried to incorporate something with altering time and space through wormholes and what not, the main concern is how scientifically accurate it is. Nolan, foreseeing this issue, prepared a team of theoretical physicists who worked to make sure the depictions of the black hole and space-time continuum were accurate based on mathematical equations. As a result, the movie’s portrayal of space is as real as it could be, and it doesn’t fail to be visually astounding at the same time. Physicists, most notably Neil DeGrasse Tyson, praised “Interstellar” for this aspect.
With all of these pros, it may seem like I actually really liked the movie. The truth is, any good director with experience should be able to put together a piece with great actors and a stunning score, all tied together with a plot that stays within the boundaries of realism yet still leaves the audience breathless.
So what went wrong with the movie? It simply lacked originality.
Yes, the movie was beautifully put together, but audiences cannot allow that to distract them from the story itself. As a film fanatic, it is easy for me to identify trends in certain movies, common themes and storylines that directors have obviously pulled out of their fellow filmmakers’ butts. This doesn’t necessarily mean Nolan completely plagiarized some other story, which I strongly believe he didn’t. But when a movie is similar to so many others, no matter how thrilling or mind-blowing it is, the lack of originality definitely diminishes its effect.
“Interstellar” tells the story of a team of astronauts, in the future Earth, who have to travel through a wormhole in distant space in order to find a new planet for humans to live on, since Earth’s natural resources have become scarce. Obviously, since the plot involves a wormhole, the crew is taken through a crazy adventure that transcends space and time, weaving together a complex storyline that takes some effort to comprehend, as is Nolan’s trademark.
For people who have yet to watch it, the movie probably sounds extremely enticing. It sure had me on edge as I waited for about a year for it to come out. But as I watched it and reflected on it afterwards, I couldn’t help but think of all the other twisting space thrillers that I love—from the legendary “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), directed by my all-time favorite Stanley Kubrick, to the extremely popular “Alien” franchise (1979-1997).
Then, of course, I turned to the 2007 film “Sunshine,” made by director Danny Boyle. This masterpiece tells the story of a team of astronauts, in the future Earth, who have to travel through distant space in order to reignite the dying Sun, thus providing more sunlight for the deprived humans on Earth. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Yet, again, I know Nolan did not intentionally create a film that seems to be a combination of many others. He is a genius of his own kind, but in an industry where there are so many other geniuses around him, sometimes it is impossible to avoid being influenced by others.
Perhaps my film connoisseurship is just a curse, preventing me from appreciating a movie simply for what it is, instead of subjecting it to a bias manifested by the many films before it. Or, perhaps, what I need to do is simply travel with a crew of astronauts through a wormhole, breaking the space-time continuum to create an alternate universe where I watch “Interstellar” before I watch all of the other legendary space thrillers I know.
But as for this universe we currently live in, “Interstellar” just doesn’t quite reach the stars.