Earth’s soil is turning to dust, destroying crops and choking the people left trying to hew a living from a land disintegrating beneath their feet. But NASA, literally as well as metaphorically underground due to political expediency, has secretly sent ten astronauts through a recently discovered wormhole near Saturn to jump to another galaxy with planets (and a black hole). Ten years later, little has been heard from them, so a mission sets off after the explorers led by ex-ace astro Cooper (a curiously often inaudible Matthew McConaughey). He leaves behind his super-bright daughter Murph after a bitter parting and strikes out for the sake of humanity.
Christopher Nolan’s epic, intelligent and beautiful new film is wonderful to look at, unafraid of dealing with hard science and a fine addition to the dystopian film / novel (as it acknowledges with a prominently displayed copy of Stephen King’s The Stand on a bookshelf). But it’s (bafflingly) both too long and too short – too long in introducing an obvious villain and too brief in rushing to its set-up of an inevitable feelgood ending. Having invested so much exposition on gravity, time, black holes and relativity in the first 120 minutes, all kinds of stuff just seems to happen in the last 40 or so as time and space are suddenly malleable even to us flesh and blood humans. (And, as ever in this type of science fiction, it’s never quite explained why intelligence so superior to our own can’t just make things easy for us poor saps so in thrall to them).
There’s lots of talk about how it’s impossible to visualise a black hole – ironically much of it while Anne Hathaway’s enormous saucer eyes are onscreen – and an endearingly “human” computer (thanks due to Nolan here for resisting the temptation to make its voice camp, as so many have done in the past), but there are very few laughs in a relentlessly earnest warning tale that might not go down too well in the American Midwest. Michael Caine delivers a pleasing cameo: but do watch out – you know what an English accent signifies in a Hollywood movie don’t you?
So does it work? In a cinema, I’d say yes. The photography pleases the eye, a limited pallet of greys, browns and monochrome black and white lit to allow the eye to rest on the colours shifting on the screen if the brain fancies a timeout from the exposition. The CGI (for once) complements rather than overpowers the action, the servant rather than the master of the director (and there’s plenty of adverts for forthcoming features to show how rare that is these days). McConaughey makes a passable hero, though I couldn’t help but think of Sam Shepard’s dazzling performance in The Right Stuff, the definitive “pilot as hero” in my time – he’s good, but not that good. Jessica Chastain does the pent-up anger and intensity well as adult Murphy Cooper, but she’s outshone by Mackenzie Foy as young Murph, who has to deliver almost all the emotional thrust of the film and does so brilliantly – surely a nomination for Best Supporting Actress should follow.
So, if you’re a Nolan fan or enjoy mass entertainment that doesn’t treat its audience as a group of five-year-olds in their first science class, go see the movie now, in a cinema, with no distractons. If you’re thinking about waiting for the DVD – don’t. Shorn of the spectacle on the big screen, there probably isn’t enough drama nor romance nor plotting to carry 169 minutes in your own living room. Few films could stretch that far – maybe, few films should.