“Interstellar” (2014)

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★★☆☆☆
What are you doing, Dave? Get back into the theatre, Dave.

Wow. After all the great ratings for this movie I actually expected this to be, you know, a good movie. How anyone who’s seen “2001: A Space Odyssey” can give this four stars or more is absolutely beyond me. But the critics for some reason raved about this thing.

The plot is that the Earth is running out of food and crops keep failing due to some kind of Nitrogen-loving blight. There are dust storms and things are looking bad. And then … somehow … a worm-hole in space is opened up near Saturn by “them.” Who ever “them” are. And, golly gee, there’s habitable worlds on the other side of the wormhole. How convenient. So Michael Caine (who plays the chief NASA scientist) sends some spaceships through to check it out and the next step is to try to set up base to get the rest of the people through.

Enter our hero, Matthew McConaughey. A former NASA pilot who now works on a farm. The first sign of trouble with this movie is the amount of attention spent on The Children. Children and Sci-Fi or action movies equals death. Sure enough, McConaughey spends what feels like a quarter of the movie whining about missing his kids and so on and so forth. It’s Acting!

And so they go through the wormhole and a bunch of stuff happens. I don’t want to give the plot away, but see if some of this sounds familiar. The robots who help man the ship have warm, mellifluous voices. An astronaut travels through a tunnel of flashing lights. Said astronaut arrives in a strange room where he can see past and future. Oh … and the robots who help run the ship … they look like monoliths … articulated, walking monoliths.

Then some of the technical stuff that goes on is just impossible to believe. The most bizarre is the thrilling docking scene when the mother ship is in an uncontrolled spin, and so the shuttle not only matches the spin, but then manages to dock with the hatch which runs down the central axis of the mother ship. But that’s not the stupid part. The shuttle then uses it’s engines to stop the spin of the much, much bigger mother ship to which it is connected by a long, slim docking boom. And none of the metal buckles or shears away.

Some of the physics about how gravity can pass through worm holes and the time relativity shifts that occur simply by landing on a planet are a bit tough to swallow. The crap the film goes into about time travel is even harder to swallow. Note that “2001” also had similar elements, but Kubrick’s genius was that he didn’t try to explain what was going on. He let the viewer interpret it in whatever way it struck them. This movie insists on explaining everything – and it does so quite stupidly.

Visually, this is a striking film. The scenes on the other planets are really well done. The dust-storm effects are also nicely done – it does really look like the documentary footage from The Dust Bowl. And the actual story is pretty decent … if only they did a good job telling it.

And it’s not like they didn’t have time to tell the story. This film is almost three hours long. But they spend a lot of time on McConaughey emoting about not seeing his damn kids again – or giving soliloquies about the destiny of mankind (which sound an awful lot like those car commercials he just did). His accent and delivery work great when he’s playing a lawyer … but it doesn’t work for a dashing, daring space pilot.

If your standards aren’t too high, you don’t want to actually think, and you want to see a good-looking sci-fi movie – and you have three stinking hours to kill – then you may as well see this movie. Otherwise don’t waste your money. Wait for it to come to Netflix, and then wait for a night when you’re having trouble getting to sleep to watch “Interstellar.”