Film: Interstellar

interstellar-posterIs there anything more dispiriting than a widely acclaimed movie that’s virtually unwatchable? Interstellar (2014) is the kind of self-involved mess that only a 900-pound auteur can generate, a bloated, pretentious excuse for a science fiction epic that drowns its incoherent story in an ocean of imbalanced noise. What a trial!

On a dying Earth in the future that consists entirely of Midwestern cornfields, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot and frustrated engineer who’s been forced to redirect his talents toward the world’s most pressing problem: food. His farming career is interrupted when a strange gravity anomaly in his house delivers to him, in binary code, the coordinates of a NASA facility hidden in another nearby cornfield. Turns out there’s a secret project underway to send a scientific team into space, through a wormhole in Saturn, to search for a habitable planet—before life on Earth becomes unsustainable. It’s a chance to save humanity, and Cooper jumps at it. With no training whatsoever, he  assumes command to lead the expedition into an interstellar realm full of cosmic mystery.

Christopher and Jonathan Nolan have written good scripts, but oh boy, this isn’t one of them. Full of thin world-building and random scientific babbling, it’s a tedious, unstreamlined blend of quasi-philosophical musing, clumsy exposition, and nauseating love-will-save-all mysticism. As if sensing this, the score drowns the dialogue in thundering sound effects and circular, anesthetizing Hans Zimmer music. In retrospect, this may in fact be a cagey decision, like smothering a recipe’s failings in salt and butter to distract from the iffier ingredients. Alas, Zimmer’s score isn’t salt and butter. It’s full of overblown, grandiose sentimentality that somehow slows the pace of scenes that are already interminable. So, deliberate strategy or otherwise, it’s quite possibly the worst sound design in cinema history.

The cast, which includes Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, and Matt Damon, is full of firepower struggling vainly to bring life to unconvincing dialogue. The tone is one of unrelenting pathos for a dying humanity that I cared less and less about with each passing minute of its three-hour running time.

Yes, there are stunning visual effects and occasional moments that push the old sense-of-wonder buttons. But this is a terrible movie, and worse, it’s a terrible movie that thinks it’s a brilliant one. Simply believing you’re 2001: A Space Odyssey doesn’t make it so.

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