Interstellar (vs Gravity)

There’s a lot to like in Interstellar, and much of it has been caught by professional reviewers. I think there are several dimensions (oops) one needs to reckon with. One: is the story a convincing human – personal – drama? Two: is it a good morality tale? Three: is it a good cinematic theme park ride? Four: is its science robust? If you’ve the patience here’s my unpick of some of those, below the fold.

I think the stories of Cooper’s relatonship with his daughter, his old NASA professor and his female co-pilot are pretty enticing. The film has one main moral dilemma: can people extend their moral horizons beyond selfishness, through the love of people close to them, and on out into wider empathy and altruism? This is well and quite richly handled. By the way: the way that Cooper can set the degree of honesty and humour of the robots around him is a nice play on the mindsets we human dicker with all the time. And it is one of the few funny riffs in the film.

One good test of the morality of a Hollywood scifi movie is to frame it as a Western. In this take, Cooper is a cowboy who has become a farmer: he has grown out of being a willing loner, and is now a grieiving widower. He must get into the saddle one more time, but for love, both of family and humanity – since he is a proper chivalric knight (to mix in another troped metaphor) – not thrills. It is his daughter who can manage abstract philosophies, though of course she remains all-woman. At the end of the movie, he heads off into the sunset, and for a woman.

On the sexism score: of the two women, the Hathaway character is pretty much old-style love and sex interest, with a nice dash of toughness. But the Murph character is a nice mix of ancient and modern: the brainy girl, up bit messed-up maybe, but able to out-think everyone. Modern, but also classic: she is spunky as only a Hollywood kid can be.

Curiously, the film didn’t need IMAX. Unlike Gravity, the Interstellar worlds we had to reckon with were mostly imaginative and intellectual. So whilst Gravity took us on a scary and realistic ride into pretty workaday space on pretty workaday bits of space kit, Interstellar had tons more acting and much less a sense that we were reliving an actual space experience. Of a piece with this difference, Interstellar takes us to really other-worldly places here on earth, as simulacra of space, and to a tsunami (admittedly in space), just as any disaster movie from the last fifty years might have done. And all the better for it, I say.

I have great difficulty working out how the British twice-yearly clock-changing routine works, so you won’t expect me to understand (or even really believe in) all this business about multiple dimensions. Nonetheless, I gather that Insterstellar‘s science is far better on the physics of dimensionality than it is on the properties of black or worm holes. I couldn’t care less. I accepted that I had to try to keep up with the vagaries of time-shifts (a genuine and interesting exercise).  As to the mechancis of worm holes and space-travellers popping themselves in sealed jacuzzi’s for prolonged naps, well I could more or less go with the flow.

So for me, the film really came alive on the ice-slopes of Mann’s planet, and in the later multi-dimensional library scenes.

On the serious downside: the sound was truly awful in the sense that great tracts of script were sucked into an auditory Black Hole. Oddly, in all the deafening roar of the shed cinema’s IMAX, it was amazing how insistent was the sussuration of the sweet wrappers and all the other detritus that young and old now insist on. I imagine we will soon be able to opt for earphones which give us the sound of the film. They could have equalisers so we can pick the quality of sound. Cooper, in Interstellar, very sensibly had such kit.


The Hodge
The biggest difference in quality, between Gravity and Interstellar, was the script, which in Gravity was truely appalling. I have also heard one comparison to Gravity as "Ghost in space". I enjoyed Interstellar, but found the ending too much like 2001. Personally, the greastest film set in space over the last 10 years is Moon. I like your comparison with the Western. You could also argue, most space films, stem from the Iliad or Odyssey.

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Publication date

11 November 2014


Mind & body; On movies