I finally caught up with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar last night and I’m still working out if I should find where Nolan lives and slap some sense into him or not. For something billed as a genuine bit of intelligent science fiction it’s no smarter than some of the better episodes of the current version of Doctor Who or an average episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
It’s not that it’s a badly made film; it’s not, but the entire script seems to have be rewritten by people wanting to make a bland film that says nothing or really, Christopher Nolan really does think trite platitudes about love that you wouldn’t even slap on a Valentine’s Day card is some sort of massive intellectual bit of honesty. The problem is that after a promising start the film loses it’s bottle in one key scene where Matthew McConaughey’s character Cooper, is at a PTA meeting with his daughter’s teachers. In this meeting we get to know a bit more about the world the story is taking place in as Cooper is told there’s no need for engineers anymore (even though we seen that there’s still combine harvesters and other mechanical things needing to be repaired, so yes, there’s a big fucking need for engineers) but that his daughter should stop bringing textbooks in that say the Moon landings aren’t hoaxed and that now the official US government textbooks say they were a hoax.
At this point I thought this could be a serious film, but no, the ideas and implications of this are dropped for some drivel about love, and endlessly overlong scenes of people speaking really bad dialogue at each other.
We’re not told about this future world apart from hints. Yes it’s dusty as it’s hinted some sort of environmental disaster has taken over the planet (well, the US as the rest of the world isn’t really mentioned apart from a passing mention of India) and it’s probably not global warming because the filmmakers don’t want to piss off mouthbreathers that think man-made climate change isn’t real, so they play round the edges just as they do in the PTA scene that could have made a political point about this new world, yet we find out the US government is still funding NASA only ten minutes or so later, so it all doesn’t add up. Now I’m not talking about making what is essentially a SF adventure film a serious political bit of hard SF (though that would be glorious) but something a bit deeper than this superficiality that Nolan installs in this, and indeed, a lot of his films. He give the impression it’s deep and intellectual but often he avoids the hard questions in order to provide set pieces (and there are some stunning set -pieces in Interstellar) but the entire premise of the film is built upon creating a world where humanity is on it’s last legs, looking inwards, and thanks to a collapsing ecosystem they’re starving, yet nobody looks even remotely starving. Just dusty and moody.
I tried to like Interstellar. I tried to like it. Really, I did but I though it was pompous dumbed down science fiction for people that don’t like SF that makes them think, hence the whole ’emotional’ story arc that hides the fact that Nolan chickened out from making a harder bit of SF than he did. In fact there’s a bit around 20 minutes from the end that had me in tears of laughter because it was just so badly realised not to mention needlessly hilarious.
I do have to admire the idea that Nolan is trying to inspire people that space exploration is a worthy cause at a time when so many want it to stop and for the human race to become inward looking and insular. It’s just that a bad script can’t be hidden behind great special effects and the odd decent performance.
As a footnote, a much better use of some of the same themes can be found in the Warren Ellis book Orbiter.
It too tells the story of an America that’s given up on spaceflight and is struggling with an environmental disaster, but it’s executed more honestly and better than Interstellar.