“Interstellar” is a mess.
It’s a glorious mess, to be sure. But it’s a certifiable mess nonetheless.
It’s full of sound and fury, signifying … something.
Something about the power of love. Something about the nature of wormholes. Something about the fragility of the environment.
Something about the music of the spheres. Swirling, oppressive, uplifting, deafening, dialogue-obliterating music, courtesy of composer Hans Zimmer. His contribution to the picture is as significant as that of writer-director Christopher Nolan and director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema and production designer Nathan Crowley, whose combined talents have rendered outer space with a jaw-dropping grandeur rivaled only by last year’s “Gravity” and Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the granddaddy of all epic space operas.
And “Interstellar” is indeed a picture of epic proportions. With its scenes of humongous waves on a distant planet’s ocean — Offworld, surf’s way, way up! — and the light-show wonderments of voyages through a wormhole, its scale demands it be seen on the biggest IMAX screen you can find.
Regarded with awe by Hollywood thanks to the immense success of his Batman movies, Nolan seems to have been given carte blanche to indulge himself in the making of “Interstellar.” And he’s taken full advantage of studio forbearance to make a highly personal, often undisciplined, overlong (at close to three hours) but ultimately mind-blowing movie experience.
"Interstellar" takes too long to get off the launch pad, spending more than a half hour with Matthew McConaughey playing an astronaut-turned-farmer, trying to scratch out a living on an environmentally ravaged Earth that’s choking on dust and facing the certainty of eventual, humanity-dooming crop failure. Then suddenly, taking a quick pickup truck ride through cornfields and countryside in search of the source of a gravitational anomaly, he stumbles upon a secret space port run by the remnants of NASA. How such a place has been kept secret from everyone is never explained.
Quickly it’s made known that McConaughey’s character is the only person on Earth capable of piloting a spacecraft to a mysterious wormhole out near Saturn that might provide a pathway to worlds that could sustain human life. Abruptly, despite not having been at the controls of a spacecraft in years, he’s immediately fired off into the cosmos with a crew that includes Anne Hathaway, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley and two talking robots unlike any mechanical creatures previously seen in movies (there's great inventiveness in their steely blocklike designs) on the rescue mission to end all rescue missions.
Once in space, the pace picks up. Nolan drowns the dialogue in techspeak (he co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan Nolan), and sometimes drowns out the jargon with Zimmer’s music. He puts science back into sci-fi in a major way.
There is much talk about time variances as the ship is drawn into the wormhole, variances that mean loved ones back on Earth will grow old while time will seem to stand close to still for the spacefarers.
This is a movie bathed in tears, as McConaughey, Hathaway, Nolan favorite Michael Caine (playing a scientist), child actress Mackenzie Foy (playing the McConaughey character’s beloved young daughter) and Jessica Chastain (playing the daughter as a grown-up) give their tear ducts a real workout as worries that loved ones may never see one another again repeatedly overpower their characters.
Nolan is careful to keep things scientific until toward the end when he throws science out the window and propels “Interstellar” into the realm of pure fantasy. During this time, he indulges in a moment that mimics the Star Child sequence in “2001,” overtly acknowledging the debt his movie owes to Kubrick’s.
Far from perfect, “Interstellar” is nevertheless a cinematic trip well worth taking.