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I have found myself reflecting back on the last two films I watched most recently. The first, Interstellar I watched at the newly opened iMax screen in Cheltenham. The second ‘Begin Again’, I watched at home on a smaller screen. I can usually tell when I’m feeling a bit more open and sensitive because the films I watch seem more poignant, and they repeat on me the following days. Both these two I found quite moving.

In the case of Interstellar, I was struck by the enormous beauty of the film; the film is big and loud and expansive. Some of the themes are so expansive that even  ‘I got an A in A-level physics’ will not help you to get to grips with some of the concepts of relativity presented. It was a refreshing take on space, albeit not one that I wholly agree with. Definitely food for thought though.

Interstellar has a number of things going for it: a dynamic and very watchable main character, a sort of intergalactic crop sprayer called Cooper (a nice solid earthy name : barrel maker) played by Matthew McConaughey.

The supporting cast was a bit odd, but fitted the bill well enough; Wes Bentley who played Seneca Crane, the games maker from the original Hunger Games movie (he of the beautifully crafted facial hair), Anne Hathaway (always very watchable), Matt Damon (always very watchable) Michael Caine as the wise old owl. Cooper’s genius daughter grew up to be quite the looker (Jessica Chastain), who knew?

Apart from the beautifully shot scenes, the element which lifts the movie out of orbit is Hans Zimmer’s haunting score of organ and piano.

It was big and loud and visceral, often overwhelming the dialogue, but I can forgive it for its atmospheric quality. It sounds like the last organist on the planet playing the large and powerful organ in the cathedral which now sits as an empty shell of its former glory, the humans having forsaken their faith, looted all of the gold and silver, and left the place ransacked. It was chillingly spine-tingling in places. I don’t doubt that Nolan and Zimmer had a good chat about the feel of the music. I think it’s fair to say he nailed it.

The movie felt to me like quite a few films I have watched and enjoyed, the dust-bowl farmstead felt like Mel Gibson’s house in the 2002 film Signs, the scenes in space between Hathaway and McConaughey felt a lot like Gravity where the beauty, serenity and cold loneliness of space is evident.

Both Gravity and Interstellar also share the message that it is the Earth which is our playground and not space. As exciting and adventurous as space is, Earth is ultimately where we have chosen to be, not floating up in space zillions of miles (and tens of years) away from our loved ones.

In interstellar we encounter the concept of relativity, and a potential answer to the question on everyone’s lips “What is inside a black hole?” I know, you’re not the only one. I was thinking that too! I also thought nothing espaced from a black hole, but poetic licence still prevails.

The film also raises questions about the earth, sustainability and the “what if?” questions regarding the end of days scenario. Personally, I don’t really like films which paint a picture that the earth is dying and the human race is getting ready to find another place to live. It may sell movies, but it speaks to a deterioration of the planet which just is not evident. It also lacks any kind of awareness of where the planet came from in the first place, and our relationship with it.

But perhaps this is the point. Maybe in putting these concepts out there, Nolan is achieving just this; asking people to question these very notions, and sacrificing his film at the altar of creationism. I doubt it, but you never know.

Christopher Nolan with his iMax Film Camera - what a beast! © Paramount and Warner Bros

Christopher Nolan with his iMax Film Camera – what a beast! © Paramount and Warner Bros

Nature is very much stronger now than it has ever been. It is evolving and growing and adapting to the environment. Life is powerful and while there may be germs and bacteria and all sorts going on out there, life finds a way to prevail anyway.

Disaster theme aside, for a film with such a galactic name, interstellar is remarkably well grounded. It’s primary focus is on human relationships; the love between a father and daughter, the idea of following one’s sense of purpose, the question of survival of life on Earth, and on loneliness and the lengths we will go to avoid it.

Family Man Cooper in his farmstead © Paramount and Warner Bros

Family Man Cooper in his farmstead © Paramount and Warner Bros

The loneliness of space is the major point of contrast in the film, and th director uses it well to build tension, one particular scene was so tense that my palms were clammy and my whole body tense. You know it’s not really happening, but the iMax is such an immersive experience, for a few minutes you forget yourself and you’re there amidst the drama. It’s a highly effective means of storytelling.

As with the space inspired Matt Damon vehicle ‘Elysium’, Interstellar never really takes the opportunity to explore much of the concept of space or its capacity to house future human civilisations, or what any of that might look like.

We get some human-like robot friends, and most of the film is shot inside the spaceships and around space stations and on barren inhospitable planets. There is some frozen human DNA from which the future human race will continue. The film leaves the uncomfortable subject of “relocating planet earth” glowing like a bright star in the night sky, clearly visible, but still very much a mystery.

Some of the feedback on the initial screening of the film commented on the dialogue being overwhelmed by the soundtrack. This may have been the reason that the volume in the Cheltenham iMax cinema was set to ‘bleeding ears’.

I like an immersive cinema experience, it’s the reason I go to the cinema in the first place, but when your audience are putting their fingers in their ears to prevent themselves from suffering physical pain, it’s time to call in the health and safety executive. By the way, do cinemas have SPL monitoring equipment to check that they are not subjecting their customers to permanent ear damage? They should.

Apart from the over the top volume, I liked the fact that the score overrode the dialogue in places, it brought home the overwhelmed sensory experience of the protagonists.

Overall, for a visually captivating film, and for exploring concepts of space in a new an interesting way, Christopher Nolan’s film is to be commended.

Interstellar – Movie Review

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