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Interstellar (2014)


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They totally had me until, "Love is the one thing that transcends time and space." Even Michael Caine reciting Dylan Thomas couldn't rescue the trailer after that.

 

And to make it easier to view:

 

It's the side effects that save us.
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I can deal with that platitude. I can't deal with the pretentious Dylan Thomas quotation.

 

I always think of pretentiousness as reaching for a sophistication that is unearned. In the trailer I will grant that it sounds pretentious as we don't have the full context for it and it lends the trailer a gravitas that it, and frankly any trailer, has not earned. But it's a great quote. 

 

The real question is whether a film should avoid using well-known musical cues or citations.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I always think of pretentiousness as reaching for a sophistication that is unearned. In the trailer I will grant that it sounds pretentious as we don't have the full context for it and it lends the trailer a gravitas that it, and frankly any trailer, has not earned. But it's a great quote.

The real question is whether a film should avoid using well-known musical cues or citations.

I'm not inclined to give Nolan or the film the benefit of the doubt here. Nolan is notorious for playing almost everything with a heavy hand. I don't mean to be too negative, though. It's a good trailer. The Dylan Thomas quote is just a bit too pompous, even for Nolan.

But to get to what you point out is "the real question," I don't think it's outright wrong to use well-known music cues or literary citations, but it is ill-advised. If I ever hear Barber's "Adagio" appear in another film, my first thought will be, "Do you even listen to classical music, bro?"

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But to get to what you point out is "the real question," I don't think it's outright wrong to use well-known music cues or citations, but it is ill-advised. If I ever hear Barber's "Adagio" appear in another film, my first thought will be, "Do you even listen to classical music, bro?"

And the answer will be "No."

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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But to get to what you point out is "the real question," I don't think it's outright wrong to use well-known music cues or literary citations, but it is ill-advised. If I ever hear Barber's "Adagio" appear in another film, my first thought will be, "Do you even listen to classical music, bro?"

I feel the same away whenever I hear the first movement of Mozart's Requiem for an action scene with many fatalities, usually filmed in slow motion.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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  • 1 month later...

Three Hours Long?

 

According to Australian theater chain Event Cinemas, the Matthew McConaughey-starring cinematic opus of space (and possibly time) travel will be 169 minutes long, which translates to 2 hours, 49 minutes of mind bending meditation on the human condition. It is also Christopher Nolan's longest movie by 4 minutes, beating 2012'sThe Dark Knight Rises for the title. Of course, this is all still unconfirmed by the studios co-producing this film, so this could be subject to change. 

 

 

For comparison, 2001: A Space Odyssey is 160min, and it has an intermission. Somehow I think there won't be one for Interstellar. If it's worth the runtime, I guess it's worth the runtime. But still.

 

Perhaps I'm losing my attention-span, but I'm increasingly of the opinion that anything over 2-2 1/2 hours is pushing it, as far as time I'm willing to commit to watching a movie. Anything longer than that and it should be a miniseries.

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I don't know. I think folks should wait and see. Remember that there's probably nearly 10 min of credits for all the FX artists and stuff.

 

I'm more willing to give a historical or sci-fi epic (not a superhero film, FWIW) more leeway as far as runtime. The fact that Apatow's THIS IS 40 and KNOCKED UP are only 30 min shorter is much more egregious.

 

Also, sometimes longer is better à la ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA or KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

 

Though the long runtime did generate this on Twitter, which SDG retweeted earlier today and gave me a chuckle:

 

 
INTERSTELLAR is actually the missing 18 hours from Ellie's recorder in CONTACT

 

 

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I don't know. I think folks should wait and see. Remember that there's probably nearly 10 min of credits for all the FX artists and stuff.

 

I'm more willing to give a historical or sci-fi epic (not a superhero film, FWIW) more leeway as far as runtime. The fact that Apatow's THIS IS 40 and KNOCKED UP are only 30 min shorter is much more egregious.

 

Also, sometimes longer is better à la ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA or KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

 

Though the long runtime did generate this on Twitter, which SDG retweeted earlier today and gave me a chuckle:

 

 
INTERSTELLAR is actually the missing 18 hours from Ellie's recorder in CONTACT

 

 

 

That's funny, especially given the Matthew McConaughey connection between the two films.

Edited by John Drew

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

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"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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  • 3 weeks later...

Noah Cowan calls it "extraordinary...an angry, Heinlein-influenced rebuttal to Clarke and Kubrick's 2001 & a poem to light and gravity..."

Also apparently Brad Bird and Edgar Wright loved it.

Edited by Justin Hanvey

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

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The Telegraph gives a highly positive review:

 

 

 

The scientific basis of the movie, by a whisker Nolan’s longest ever and certainly his most all-embracing, is challengingly dense, intricately explained, and remarkably codswallop-free. But what pulls you in is its hugely confident architecture as a piece of storytelling – its brave fictitiousness. Nolan comes very close here, one might almost say agonisingly close, to forging his masterpiece.
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James Rocchi at The Playlist give it a "D."
 

While the great complaint about Nolan is that he’s too cold, too clinical, too unemotional, he’s over-corrected here to such a degree than instead of drifting a little from one side to the next, he plows, swiftly, and disastrously, into a ditch of his own making—or, rather, of his and co-writer Jonathan Nolan’s making. A film where any character says “maybe love … transcends time and space …” is not exactly an exciting prospect for a moviegoer interested in characters, ideas, and plot more than, or even as much, as they are in IMAX-sized visual wonder and all of the feels.

 
SPOILERS, but hey, Rocchi earns points for his the term he coins in his punchline:
 

The super-powered entities are both all-powerful enough to make time and space dance but still apparently need McConaughey to act on their behalf as they, for reasons only explainable by lazy writing, cannot. And it's not just that the film's climax requires the sudden appearance of an all-powerful object that can perhaps set the universe right and save the day in a example of deus ex machina, it's that the script makes the lead character himself the all-powerful object that can perhaps set the universe right in the first ever example of deus ex McConaughey.


After all the jaw-dropping cinematography and carefully-buffed CGI, in fact, "Interstellar" winds up fitting into a fairly narrow and deeply tired sub-genre alongside films like "Frequency," "Contact," and even "Field of Dreams": Dad Issues from Dimension X. It's impossible to not admire the technical achievements of "Interstellar," but as Michael Bay and so much more modern moviegoing has proved, rapturous visuals can't make up for a ruptured script. Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" spends hundreds of millions to take the audience on a journey to the farthest parts of the cosmos ... so they can be told sentiments as close, and as cheap, as any of the offerings at your local Hallmark card retailer. [D]

 

Edited by Overstreet

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Yes, that line  'love is the one thing that transcends time and space' is cringe-inducing. Talk about banal on-the-nose writing...

 

 

as Michael Bay and so much more modern moviegoing has proved, rapturous visuals can't make up for a ruptured script.

I don't really agree, because I would never describe Bay's visuals as 'rapturous'. 'Slick' or 'glossy' perhaps. When someone talks of 'rapturous visuals' the first image that springs to my mind is Qorianka Kilcher with her arms spread wide to the heavens in wonder. Now Lubezki and Malick - that's 'rapturous'...

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Some interesting Twitter responses/interaction:

 

Bilge Ebiri (Twitter): "I guess some of you were disappointed by INTERSTELLAR. Your loss. I found it unfathomably beautiful & moving."

 

Farran Nehme responds: "Some clunky sciencebabble aside, for me it was mostly marvelous. Wasn't expecting Walker Evans along with Kubrick."

 

MZS says "Me too" then chimes in: "Without trying to pre-empt anybody: I think people are assuming a lot about what this film is 'supposed' to be." Earlier, he said, "I'm going to need a couple days to really process INTERSTELLAR, but three things I know: it's beautiful, goofy and LOUD."

 

As far as reviews, I think the one that most stands out to me as fine review work that is also interesting in its insights is this piece by David Ehrlich. His opening is very interesting and probably gets at some of the issues people have with Nolan:

 

There are no fucking aliens in Interstellar.

 

That’s not a spoiler. You'd sooner find an explicit sex scene in a Yasujiro Ozu film than an alien in one by Christopher Nolan.

 

Nolan is fascinated by the speculative, but he abhors the supernatural. This is, after all, the same guy who made a trilogy of superhero movies in which 'powers' were almost exclusively expressed through societal influence. Over the course of nine feature films, only one Nolan character has openly dared to violate the laws of nature, a transgression he paid for by dying several dozen agonising deaths before ultimately being left to rot in an oversized dunk tank.

 

In a time when budgets have grown bottomless due to the cost of conjuring artifice, Nolan makes films which are intoxicated by the real. While that philosophy extends to his preference for practical effects and his enduring commitment to shooting on film, his hard-nosed rationalism is most explicitly seen in his singular approach to narrative structure, which has less in common with traditional storytelling than it does with scientific experimentation.

 

The films of Christopher Nolan generate emotion in much the same way that a supercollider generates particles, accelerating until they achieve a velocity that allows the abstract concept at their core to be seen and confirmed. Nolan may not be looking for the Higgs boson, but he uses a similar approach to distil and demystify the subatomic elements of narrative fiction. His films feverishly cross-cut between parallel planes of action until the tension generated between the temporal gamesmanship of their structure and the emotional stress of their characters synthesises into a quicksilver snapshot of a single idea — memory (Memento), sacrifice (The Prestige), justice (the Batman films), and dreams (Inception). His films don’t begin with a character, they begin with a word.

 

But then follows up with: "If Interstellar is Nolan’s most ambitious film, it’s not because of its cost or its intergalactic sweep, but rather because "love" is the most speculative and unscientific force that he’s ever tried to prove."

 

One more interesting bit, particularly the reference to Zimmer's soundtrack:

 

Leveraging the ambition of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the pathos of The Right Stuff, the graphics of Gravity, and the fever dreams of modern physicists, Interstellar produces some of the most exhilarating illustrations of space travel since A Trip to the Moon. Augmented by Hans Zimmer’s exceptional and uncharacteristically measured score (some of which sounds like Philip Glass if he were sedated and launched into orbit), the scenes set in the final frontier are astounding. While the various planets are convincingly realised — though limited by their barrenness — Nolan conceives of the void between them with a practical and painterly approach. In that regard, Interstellar has the feeling of a film that was built to last, particularly when contrasted against the glossy pyrotechnics of Alfonso Cuarón’s weightless suspense saga.

 

On the other hand, Interstellar benefits from its epic length just as much as Gravity did from its brevity. The story hinges on being able to make the years that slip through its cracks feel genuinely palpable, an effect it accomplishes through sheer duration.

"What is inside is also outside." -Goethe via Merleau-Ponty, in conclusion to the latter's one extended rumination on film
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First clip.

 

So apparently this story starts in a time when children are being taught that the moon landings were faked in order to trick the Soviet Union into bankrupting itself by trying to keep up with the Americans. That right there tells me this movie takes place further into the future than I thought.

 

Also, the school administrator speaking to McConaughey speaks with a fair bit of vocal fry, which I'm noticing more and more these days, especially among women (but occasionally among men, too). It's kind of annoying.

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David Denby:
 

Black holes, relativity, singularity, the fifth dimension! The talk is grand. There’s a problem, however. Delivered in rushed colloquial style, much of this fabulous arcana, central to the plot, is hard to understand, and some of it is hard to hear. The composer Hans Zimmer produces monstrous swells of organ music that occasionally smother the words like lava. The actors seem overmatched by the production. 

 

Nolan, who made the recent trilogy of night-city Batman movies, must love the dark. In “Interstellar,” he and the designer, Nathan Crowley, and the cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema, send Cooper’s ship, the Endurance, hurtling through the star-dotted atmosphere, or whirling past seething and shimmering clouds of intergalactic stuff. The basic color scheme of the space-travel segments is white and silver-gray on black, and much of it is stirringly beautiful. There’s no doubting Nolan’s craft. Throughout “Interstellar,” the camera remains active, pursuing a truck across a cornfield or barrelling through sections of the Endurance. All this buffeting—in particular, the crew’s rough-ride stress—is exciting from moment to moment, but, over all, “Interstellar,” a spectacular, redundant puzzle, a hundred and sixty-seven minutes long, makes you feel virtuous for having sat through it rather than happy that you saw it. The Nolans provide a pair of querulous robots, the more amusing of which is voiced by Bill Irwin, but George Lucas’s boffo jokiness and Stanley Kubrick’s impish metaphysical wit live in a galaxy far, far away.
Edited by Overstreet

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Just to balance out all the negative reviews that Jeff is sharing, here's MZS's full three-and-a-half star review at rogerebert.com.

 

And yet "Interstellar" is still an impressive, at times astonishing work, and one of a handful by Nolan that overwhelmed me to the point where my usual objections to his work melted away. I’ve packed the first paragraph of this review with those objections (they could apply to any Nolan picture post "Batman Begins"; he is who he is) so that people know that he’s still doing the things that Nolan always does. Whether you find those things endearing or irritating will depend on your affinity for Nolan's style. 

 

In any case, there’s something unusually pure and powerful about this movie. I can’t recall a science fiction film hard-sold to a director’s fans as multiplex-“awesome” in which so many major characters wept openly in close-up, voices breaking, tears streaming down their cheeks. Matthew McConaughey’s widowed astronaut Cooper and his colleague Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) pour on the waterworks in multiple scenes, with justification: like everyone on the crew of the Endurance, the starship sent to a black hole near Jupiter that will slingshot the heroes towards colonize-able worlds, they’re separated from everything that defines them: their loved ones, their personal histories, their culture, the planet itself.

[snip]

 

With the possible exception of the last act of "Memento" and the pit sequence in "The Dark Knight Rises"—a knife-twisting hour that was all about suffering and transcendence—I can’t think of a Nolan film that ladles on misery and valorizes gut feeling (faith) the way this one does; not from start to finish, anyway.  The most stirring sequences are less about driving the plot forward than contemplating what the characters' actions mean to them, and to us.

 

Anyway, the comments that MZS makes about "time" toward the end are the first thing that has me really interested about the film beyond my favourable opinion of Nolan as a director. Especially since, like David Bordwell, I think Nolan's greatest innovations come in his formal interest in subjectivity and crosscutting: both things that a film that plays with the theory of relativity could have a great deal of "fun" with.

 

Also, Bordwell has fleshed out his posts on Nolan in a nifty e-book that is only $1.99! I recommend it for both fans and detractors of Nolan's work.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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All of the negative reviews I'm sharing? I've shared two, I think. Mostly because they surprised me as a contrast to the overwhelming majority of positive reviews I've been reading. For the record, I have high hopes for the film.

Edited by Overstreet

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Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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All of the negative reviews I'm sharing? I've shared two, I think. Mostly because they surprised me as a contrast to the overwhelming majority of positive reviews I've been reading.

 

Fair enough, that was probably an ungenerous characterization. I'm always curious about what reviews people choose to share about a film, and whether they only share reviews from particular critics or whether there are other patterns that reveal their thoughts about a film.

 

For my part, I'm sensing a backlash to the film from a lot of the critical community I follow on Twitter, even folks who haven't seen it, so I guess I didn't see the overwhelming majority of reviews as positive. Though, as I've said to others, I can't really fault them since many of Nolan's fans (myself included?) can be insufferable in their praise. The over-zealous fans, quick to declare something a masterpiece have brought this down on themselves. Plus, as I said on Twitter, I think we should stop using terms like "masterpiece" altogether in initial response to films. I link to the Bordwell piece to offer a more rounded view of what I see as his strengths. And as Bordwell says in his piece I linked to above, I find it striking that Nolan has drawn such a strong reaction from his detractors:

 

Yet many critics fiercely dislike his work. They regard it as intellectually shallow, dramatically clumsy, and technically inept. As far as I can tell, no popular filmmaker’s work of recent years has received the sort of harsh, meticulous dissection Jim Emerson and A. D. Jameson have applied to Nolan’s films. (See the codicil for numerous links.) People who shrug at continuity errors and patchy plots in ordinary productions have dwelt on them in Nolan’s movies. The attack is probably a response to his elevated reputation. Having been raised so high, he has farther to fall.

 

For the record, I have high hopes for the film.

 

Really? I thought you were a Nolan skeptic?

Edited by Anders

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I was a big Nolan fan all the way up through The Dark Knight. Since then, I've been frustrated with him. Hoping he'll veer away from his increasingly overbearing tendencies. But he's still got more hits than misses for me.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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