There are things to respect about Interstellar, from its attempted depiction of and contribution to scientifically accurate yet captivating visual effects, to laying out the settings which could tell a heartbreaking story of purpose, sacrifice, love and humanity. It is a more ambitious film than Christopher Nolan's other works, but tragically it is a flawed execution. It was like he put 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, Gravity and Inception into a blender and pressed the puree button, and simply expecting what comes out to be a wonderful experience without any thought on character design, pacing and (ironically) logic.
The story of mankind's journey into space to find a new home has been done many times, and every good one shares two traits: strong characters and focus on one thing. This one thing could be an experience (Gravity), philosophy (Contact) or moral dilemmas (old Star Trek films). This film felt like it wanted to be remembered for being all of the above, but ends up an incomplete mess with an over-sentimental ending that completely undermines its opening premise.
Without spoiling the film, my overall opinion is that this is a film worth checking out if only for the premise and the visual effects, but I leave you to decide for yourself whether Interstellar contains greatness or is merely its roommate trying to piggyback off the truly influential. Also remember to pee before you go in; this film really does feel a lot longer than its near 3 hours running time.
Overall rating: 6.5/10.0
I only have three points I wanted to cover to qualify why I thought Interstellar didn't work for me, and I would have honestly scored it even lower if not for its contribution to real science and the fact that this is a non-franchise film (by default I give an extra point for independent stories).
I would have been happy if this film only consisted of 6 characters: the four astronauts, Cooper (McConaughey), Amelia (Hathaway), Romilly (Gyasi) and Doyle (Bentley), that make the journey, Professor Brand from NASA (Caine), and Cooper's daughter Murph (Chastain). But for some reason the film spends a considerable amount of time in the second and third acts dealing with characters that are introduced much later actually undermined the decent start with the film.
To be precise, I was enjoying with the film up till the astronauts returned from their failed attempt at doing reconnaissance with the first planet (the water world). This first third was what I was hoping for. It was emotional, tragic, and you feel genuinely sorry for the characters who had to continually make sacrifice in abandoning their families, or spending years in the isolation of space with limited hope and will to go on, and I was invested in their journey.
Then when we arrive at the second planet and meet Mann who was supposedly the leader of the first wave of expeditions, and this is where the film began to fall apart for me. Not only did they backstab this supposedly courageous pioneer by making him a coward who forged the data to be rescued, he even attempts to murder Cooper and Romilly to conceal his escape. I guess you could argue that this is an accurate depiction of humanity, but it really wasn't necessary. I think the conflict between Cooper and Amelia was strong enough.
I also didn't favour the grown up version of Cooper's son, who just ended up becoming an uncaring jerk, and whose whole family didn't really need to be in this film. It would have worked just as well if Murph (the daughter) just revisits their family house which has been abandoned due to the blight ravaging their entire sector, and have the brother die in the 23 intervening years due to blight. I think that would've been both a stronger motivator for Murph to help Professor Brand in his research since her only hope of family is her father.
The other conflict I had trouble digesting is all the subterfuge around the NASA program. I'm okay with the need to keep their mission top secret, and even with rewriting the textbooks to encourage more farmers than engineers, but I am NOT okay with all the astronauts not being told that their Plan A was a dud from the start, and that Plan B was the only intention all along. This really bites them in the buttocks when it is revealed that both Professor Brand and Mann knew about this, which means that decades of top secret NASA research was just a wasted effort to keep people suffering happily till their demise. Honestly if that's the case why not just offer voluntary suicide so people can die in peace rather than through years of slow suffocation?
While I appreciate the film's attempt to be as scientifically accurate as possible about things, there was far too much technical details about how things work, and while certain aspects of it was important (such as the time dilation effect of visiting the first planet), it was embedded in tons and tons of going through the mechanics of their trip and decision making that was really hard to follow, even for a sci-fi addict such as myself. Also it doesn't help that half of their techno-babble is spoken under the shadow of the excessively loud sound effects during 'action' scenes, which is as annoying as the alarm clock after a night of unsatisfying sleep.
I think the ending is where people will be split on the film. Some might say it was a clever way to resolve the mystery and supernatural elements of the earlier half of the film, some others might think it's a very lazy and cheap way out. I'm in the latter camp.
Now like most people, I am not a physicist, so all I really know about black holes is that they suck everything within their event horizon so strongly that nothing ever escapes and we can never learn about the internal mechanics. So I'm happy for them to be liberal with what's inside.
Let's suppose you accept the fact that Cooper and TARS both survive the trip into the blackhole while his ship was violently torn apart, and also accept the fact that inside the black hole is an extra-dimensional space that Cooper can physically travel around in order to interact with various points in the past, thus becoming the 'ghost' of Murph's past. This means that he is a self-fulfilling prophecy (they brought themselves here). Then they make the speculation that the origin of this extra-dimensional space was future humans who have transcended time and space, created in order to ensure the survival of their past. And this is where I couldn't take the film seriously any more even though the depiction of the extra dimensional space is pretty neat.
Firstly, if future humans will eventually become a species that transcends time and space, why did they decide to provide the gravity equations to help humanity escape earth so damn late in the history of Earth, after decades of suffering has already happened? Why not provide it near the start of the NASA program 50 years earlier? Since we will eventually transcend space and time anyway it doesn't matter how early you disrupt the continuum as you can interact with them through gravity anywhere, any time.
Secondly, how did Cooper ever escape from the black hole? I mean I'm okay with him explaining complex physics equation with his daughter through morse code (since he did have TARS with him), but they never explained how he got expelled from the black hole, which given the scientific accuracy of this film, dictates that he should've just been stuck in there forever, and honestly that would've been a fine place and time to end the film. But for some contrived reason the writers decided we want they wanted a bittersweet face to face farewell, and so he ends up floating in space on the OTHER side of the wormhole near Saturn, and it is apparently 120 years in the future relative to his last contact with his now elderly daughter on her deathbed.
Third and finally (a major nitpick), why does Murph ask Cooper to go see Amelia by stealing a spacecraft in the epilogue? Just go with the migration ship! I thought the fact that there is a NASA ship next to the wormhole as a waypoint implies that Amelia had successfully made contact back to Earth announcing a life-sustaining planet has been found, which is why NASA is beginning to send people over there.
On that note, the final scene depicts Amelia as still being young and having established a base on the new planet, which makes some sense given she slingshot around the blackhole with Cooper, so their experience of time dilation was largely in sync. But if that's the case it means when she finally did get to the planet, it would have been at most a few years earlier than Cooper's re-emergence from the black hole, this would place first contact around, say, 100-110 years after Professor Brand's time of death? And according to Professor Brand in the first half, Earth could only sustain life for another generation after Murph, and if that is true, then Amelia's first transimission back to Earth would have taken place when Murph was 140-150 years old. In other words, a dead planet.
So that ending scene of Amelia was showing either an earlier point of time before Cooper's re-emergence, in which case it's misleading, or implies that Cooper provided information that helped undo some of the damage to Earth, allowing for 3 more generations of humans to live there. I know this is extremely nitpicky on something that was probably intended to be more symbolic of love, but it does bother me a lot because it undermines the sacrifices all the astronauts and the people of Earth had to make in order to reach this next stage of humanity.
I would like to end this rant in loving memory of the 11 pioneering astronauts who had nothing named after them, Doyle and Romilly who both died unnecessarily and with little emotional impact on the main two characters, and Murph's partner whose name you probably can't remember (played by Justin Timberlake lookalike Topher Grace) that had zero impact on the story and characters other than sharing one celebratory kiss with Murph, and Tom's wife and kid, who doesn't even get a name mention.
To paraphrase that quote in the film: