Friday, October 10, 2014

INTERSTELLAR can't come too soon

I don't usually write about films I haven't seen yet, but I'm so excited about Christopher Nolan's upcoming film Interstellar that I just couldn't help myself. While I'm not a card-carrying member of the Christopher Nolan Fan Club, that's only because they apparently don't issue cards. I am an enormous admirer of Mr. Nolan's films, and it's safe to say that I've enjoyed everything he's done to a greater or lesser degree (with the exception of his debut, Following, which I have yet to see). He is, of course, best known for his Dark Knight trilogy of Batman movies, which brought a new level of seriousness to the ever-expanding genre of comic book adaptations. In addition to those films, which broke box office records and garnered a good deal of critical acclaim to boot, he's delivered a series of standalone features that seem determined to provoke more thought in their audiences than the average Hollywood blockbuster. Inception made close to a billion dollars worldwide while presenting a highly complex, layered story of dreams within dreams, capped of by a maddeningly ambiguous ending (significantly, it was an original story and not a sequel, remake, spinoff or adaptation); his earlier film, Memento, went so far as to present its storyline in reverse order. His other films, The Prestige and Insomnia (a remake of a Norwegian film), also went above and beyond the usual Hollywood fare with respect to intelligent, nuanced storytelling.

Given Nolan's sterling track record, his followers reacted with predictable glee when it was announced his first post-Batman project would be the serious space travel drama Interstellar. The film, which will be released in early November, concerns the plight of near-future earthlings who have determined that our planet's capacity to support life is quickly and irreversibly running out. If the human race is to continue, a new home world will have to be found. To that end, a team of astronauts embark upon an epic journey through a wormhole that takes them beyond the borders of our galaxy on a quest for a habitable planet, making the painful decision to leave loved ones behind, uncertain if they'll ever make it back.

There are a number of reasons I feel that Interstellar is poised to become not only one of the best films of the year, if not the decade, but another big hit for Nolan as well, starting with the man himself. In addition to being an incredibly gifted filmmaker, Nolan is a film purist; he's one of the few directors left who insists on shooting his pictures on honest-to-God celluloid film, something I feel is to be applauded. Interstellar is actually being released to selected theaters on film, in both 35mm and 70mm formats, a few days ahead of its digital release date. In addition to that, he's one of the only directors who uses the large IMAX format to its full benefit. Increasingly large portions of several of his previous films have been filmed with IMAX cameras (and not just blown up after the fact), and Interstellar is no exception; Nolan truly understands the immersive capability of the format. He also shuns the disappointingly ubiquitous gimmick of 3D, and he's devoted to the use of practical effects over CGI whenever possible, which can't help but make his movies more realistically engaging in a tactile sense.

Then there's the, ahem, stellar cast (sorry), led by Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway (who worked with Nolan previously on The Dark Knight Rises). McConaughey couldn't be more of a hot property right now, coming off his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club and with his sterling work on HBO's True Detective still fresh in everyone's mind. Nolan tends to work with certain actors repeatedly, and true to form, he's brought back both Hathaway and veteran Michael Caine, who's been in nearly all of Nolan's films to date (some of his other regulars, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy are absent this time). Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow and Matt Damon are some of the other members of the impressive cast.

There's also the fact that true, or "hard" science fiction films seem few and far between nowadays. Most of what passes for sci-fi lately is really more along the lines of futuristic action, more concerned with big explosions and special effects than big ideas (not that there isn't a place for that type of film). True science fiction is about discovery, about mankind using technology to overcome adversity and charge forward into new eras of human existence. The only recent big-budget film I can think of that fits this mold is Danny Boyle's Sunshine, and even that film, as good as it was, drew criticism for lapsing into horror film tropes near its climax. (I'm tempted to mention Gravity, but it's really more of a personal survival story that happens to take place in space.) The granddaddy of modern, sober science fiction cinema is, of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and there are rumblings that Interstellar could take its place alongside Kubrick's landmark. It's ironic that Matthew McConaughey's character in True Detective was fond of ruminating on the universe's indifference, if not downright hostility to humanity, while his character in Interstellar will be plunging headlong into that cold, desolate void in a desperate struggle to keep the human race from vanishing into oblivion. In these uncertain times, a film that reminds us of what we're capable of as human beings is more than welcome.

The trailers for Interstellar have been nothing short of stunning. The best examples of science fiction walk a tightrope between intelligence and emotion; it's fine to be cerebral, but to really reach people, you have to engage their hearts as well as their heads. It could be argued that some of Nolan's earlier films might have skimped a bit on the emotional side of things, but that does not appear to be the case with this one. The first teaser consisted of not much more than McConaughey driving away from a farm with tears in his eyes. Later iterations of the trailer revealed the reason for his distress - the fact that he is leaving his young, motherless children behind on Earth and may never see them again; he has to abandon them in order to try and save them. As a parent, these scenes have, quite frankly, overwhelmed me emotionally, even in trailer-sized segments, and I have a feeling that I'm going to be awash in tears by the end of the actual film. Of course, the other thing we expect from sci-fi is a sense of wonder and awe, and the glimpses we've been given in the trailers of the space travel technology and the alien worlds our travelers ultimately reach indicate that Interstellar will deliver this in spades.

I think it's fairly obvious that I'm eagerly anticipating this film, perhaps more than any other film in recent memory. I plan on seeing it as soon as humanly possible (I'm even considering driving 2.5 hours to Seattle to see it in 70mm). I hope it lives up to my expectations, and I have every reason to believe it will.