Sunday, November 9, 2014

Not an SF masterpiece

Interstellar is receiving a lot of hype about being an SF masterpiece. I think a threshold requirement for something to be a masterpiece is for all the elements it comprises to work together in order to create something great. While Interstellar certainly has excellent special effects and uses some scientific ideas in a good way, it falls down in a couple of key areas, which means, on my definition, that it's not a masterpiece.

**Spoilers Ahead**

There's a lot of good stuff in Interstellar. The crop blight and the terrible fate being faced by humanity is well done, and works well in tandem with a loss of faith in the space program and the revisionist history about the moon landing 'fakery' being taught in schools. There's a great line delivered by Matthew McConaughey (who is spectacular in the movie) about how we used to look at the stars and wonder about our place out there, but now we look at the dirt and worry about how we're going to survive. Interstellar could have done with a few more pithy lines like that to really convey the emotion and the conceptual weight of the movie. Unfortunately we got more than a few very leaden scenes with characters expending lots of words to explain relativity or gravitational effects or - the least effective of all - talking about love as a cosmic force. Those beats felt very contrived and would have benefited from a lighter hand.

And in the middle of all this scientific verisimilitude we also got acts of scientific stupidity, like setting down on a water planet without scanning it properly on approach. I can only imagine that's what happened. How else can one mistake a tidal wave for a mountain range?

Story wise, Matt Damon's treachery on the next planet felt like a whole other story that was just cobbled on and did little to strengthen the themes of the main narrative.

Meanwhile there was scant attention paid to the plan to save the inhabitants of Earth, including McConaughey's children. Scientist Michael Caine explained his (hopefully soon to be completed) gravity equation would allow a depleted Earth to ferry 7 billion people through the wormhole to a new Earth. Given the parlous state of civilisation at that point, it's not at all clear that everyone can or will be saved, but McConaughey (and everyone else) just accepted it.

And McConaughey's daughter's entreaty for him to go back through the wormhole at the end of the movie to seek out Anne Hathaway even though she's in love with another explorer on a planet we last saw here heading for, doesn't make sense either. He's going to feel like a third wheel if he makes it and intrudes on the lovebirds in their new Eden.

I did love the robots, TARS and CASE though, and I appreciated the time-travelly tesseract and how the mystery of McConaughey finding the location of the secret NASA base was resolved. But there were too many elements that didn't support the whole for me to really love Interstellar as much as I wanted to. Or to declare it a masterpiece.
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