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Review: Interstellar Is the Reason Movie Theaters Exist


If you have any interest in this movie, do yourself a favor and head on over to the Interstellar website and grab yourself a ticket to see it, preferably in 70mm IMAX if you can. Right now. You won’t be disappointed, which says a lot considering the expectations surrounding the movie. Not only does Interstellar amount to a nearly three-hour argument for why movie theaters and crazy-big film should still exist in today’s world, but its emotional, human component somehow manages to match up to the size and scope of the special effects bonanza to make it one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.

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That doesn’t mean it was perfect, of course, and I’ll keep this spoiler-free to let you know what was great about it and what could’ve maybe been a bit better if you’re not run-right-out-and-buy-a-ticket sold on it yet.

If you’re not up to speed, Interstellar is the story of the human race’s survival following a food shortage that decimated the population. The situation appears to have been resolved when the movie picks up, but the Earth will not remain hospitable much longer. So, Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper must leave his planet and two children behind and take off in the spaceship Endurance, along with Anne Hathaway as Amelia Brand and two other scientists, in the hope of securing a new home world and a future for the human race.

And I suspect that the special effects of that big space journey being unobtrusive is a big part of why I like Interstellar so much. How you shoot a movie set in the deep reaches of space with black holes, wormholes, and crazy alien planets and keep the effects from looking like special effects is beyond me, but director Christopher Nolan somehow pulls it off here. Maybe it’s the original Star Wars trilogy-esque “used future” aesthetic that makes it work, but it’s not often that a sci-fi movie about humanity’s future in space feels this real.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. The outer space scenes just look a lot more like NASA footage of what space would look like through the lens of a real camera—and the ships more like actual NASA spacecraft—than they look like a sci-fi epic, and that feeling of realism is amazing on a towering IMAX screen. The effects themselves may be unobtrusive, but the unparalleled visuals they create are extremely powerful. That’s why you should not just see Interstellar in a movie theater, but see it in the most impressive, immersive format you have available to you.

That will only serve to make the emotional impact higher. When you really feel like you’re out there with the crew of the Endurance in the vast, cold reaches of space and its bleak, uninhabited worlds, your ability to empathize with the characters becomes enhanced. As for that human element, it’s rare anymore that a movie’s plot doesn’t center around two people falling in love—and the male lead suddenly having the capacity to save the day either because he and the female lead finally got together or so that they can get together—so Interstellar felt like a breath of fresh air to me. The plot is actually about the plot for once, and the emotional anchor is Matthew McConaughey’s love for his children and desire to save the human race, not in general or for himself personally, but for them.

Of course, that’s probably because the singular story of a person trying to ensure the future of his own children perfectly compliments the overall plot of humanity’s sacrifices to ensure its own future. There’s a scene where it’s mentioned that humanity’s survival instinct generally extends to the people we know on a personal level and not much farther when it really comes down to it, and that’s as true of the audience as it is in the film. When you can place yourself in Cooper’s shoes and empathize with that personal struggle, the idea of saving humanity as a whole becomes surprisingly personal and emotional rather than simply logical and scientifically important.

So is there anything about the movie that I don’t like? Of course there is. Interstellar has two minor problems: it tells more than it shows, and it’s not nearly as subtle about its foreshadowing as the audience hand-holding on some of its bigger reveals would suggest. Where the space epic’s visual impact is great for the emotion of the story, most of its plot details and main story points are conveyed through expositional dialogue. A little more subtlety would have gone a long way towards making some of the eventual payoffs on story points that were planted earlier feel more weighty and justify the time spent on them.

I’d normally consider 2 hours and 50 minutes—the film’s runtime—way too long, but that’s only because most movies that clock in around the three-hour mark don’t have any good reason to be that long. Interstellar rarely drags, but when it does, it’s because the movie spends too long confirming a reveal that the audience was already expecting.

But those are minor gripes of “maybe it would’ve been even better if they’d tweaked this a bit” rather than “these are huge, movie ruining problems.” I’ll also give it bonus points for not going gentle into that good night and actually taking the time to have an ending and show the aftermath of the main plot events, which a lot of movies cut out under the guise of being “open ended” and “leaving it to the audience’s imagination.” While that’s a valid approach at times, at others it just reads as lazy after what the audience has gone through to get that payoff, and I’m glad Interstellar didn’t go down that route.

But my overall opinion of Interstellar for anyone who has any interest in a movie about humanity’s push to colonize space remains the same. Short version: Go see it. Long version: Ggggggggooooo sssssssseeeeeee iiiiiiiitttttttt. This is not a movie you wait to catch on Netflix. This is meant to be an experience, and it succeeds.

Previously in Interstellar

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Dan Van Winkle
Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct <em>Geekosystem</em> (RIP), and then at <em>The Mary Sue</em> starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at <em>Smash Bros.</em>

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