Saturday, August 1, 2015

Interstellar Overdrive

Followers of this blog who have been following this blog may have noticed that there's been a bit of a lull. This partly because we've been watching a little less. Our dog has decided that ~6:00-8:00PM is outdoor playtime, even if we think it's movie watching time. But also, there has been kind of an obstacle to my progress: Interstellar (2014).

It starts in a near-future dystopia where all the food crops on Earth are gradually falling to Blight. As a result, humanity has retreated from technology and concentrated on farming as hard as possible. Our hero is Matthew McConaughey, who used to be an astronaut, but is now a farmer and single dad to stolid Tom and live-wire daughter Murph (somehow, I kept wanting to call her Scout), raising them with the help of curmudgeonly old Granddad John Lithgow.

This part of the movie irritated me for some reason. It was solid world-building, with no voice-overs or info-dumps, letting you figure out the problems of this world yourself. But I felt that someone, maybe director Christopher Nolan, wanted you to identify with these good hard-working country folk. It wasn't as bad as a truck commercial, but maybe like a solid country song that you know was written by a New Yorker.

Anyway, McConaughey gets recruited by rump-NASA to fly through the wormhole around Saturn to a distant galaxy and bring back the secret of gravity and/or find a new planet to colonize. This part does require an info-dump. Kindly old Dr. Michael Caine sends McC. with his daughter Jane Hathaway, a small crew and a robot into space. This pisses off Murph to no end.

But it does lead to some beautiful filmmaking. Really - J.J. Abrams wishes he could make space look so beautiful. It might even beat Jupiter Ascending, and even people who didn't like it had to admit it was beautiful. After all, they picked Saturn as a locale, even more picturesque than Jupiter. The following sections include a trip through a wormhole, orbiting a black hole and an almost 2001-esque metaphysical climax. They got physicist Kip Thorne to vet the physics, including the black hole visualization, but it all still had an oddly bogus quality. Possibly because so many of the astronauts decisions seemed really dumb.

I remember I had a similar problem with Contact - another movie with an Earth-bound first section, a second section in space and a famous scientist contributing. I had the same feeling that I should love it, but didn't. Maybe it was all the discussion of faith and love as being just as important as science and knowledge. That doesn't usually bother me, though. But there's something about the tone that bugs me.

Still, very beautiful movie, very well made. I was a little annoyed by the Murph character arc: She stayed pissed at her father for a long time, but not, in my opinion, long enough. I liked the robot a lot - a collection of rectangles that can look like the 2001 monlith with HAL's front panel. It tuns out that he was voiced (and puppeteered) by Bill Irwin, one of our favorite clowns from the New Vaudeville movement. But the movie just bugs me, and I'm not really sure why.

In conclusion, Matthew McConaughey was in Contact too. Huh.

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