One of the biggest and most lucrative filmmakers in the world, Christopher Nolan had an enormous canvas to fill with his ninth feature “Interstellar.” He hasn't filled it with anything much.
The three-hour movie moves too fast for anything to sink in; at the same time, it's too slow to prevent viewers from wanting to get up and get popcorn.
Playing more like “Armageddon” than it does “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Gravity,” “Interstellar” packs in big messages about the environment and faith, but wraps them in an assault on the senses that would earn Michael Bay's approval.
It begins with yet another futuristic, cautionary plot. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a brilliant pilot, engineer and farmer working in a world where dust storms regularly wipe out crops.
When his daughter receives a mysterious signal from her bookshelf (don't ask), it leads them to a secret NASA stronghold, where a mission to save mankind is planned. A wormhole has appeared near Saturn that will take travelers to another galaxy, where several potentially life-sustaining planets await. (The pathetic 1998 film “Lost in Space” has roughly the same outline.)
Several problems come up, including the presence of a black hole that changes the flow of time, a lack of fuel, and a pioneering astronaut who has gone mad with loneliness.
Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway co-stars as Cooper's fellow traveler. Jessica Chastain plays his grown-up daughter, and Michael Caine plays the scientist who sets everything in motion.
Yet the cast hardly matters. The film is murky and noisy, and, as evidenced by two IMAX screenings, the dialogue is often buried beneath rumbling and thundering sound effects and music.
What can be heard is merely a mix of regurgitated science- and recycled-movie dialogue.
Lacking a sense of awe or of the astronomic passage of time, “Interstellar” provokes more “huh?” moments than it does “ah!” moments.
Nolan's greatest skill is tackling low material with high style, as in “Memento” or “The Prestige.” He can make a crime film or a noir with the best of them. But when he tries to get profound, it's more like a cover-up than an enhancement.
In the noir-like “The Dark Knight,” which had groundbreaking cross-cut editing and built different storylines at different rates, Nolan created a weird, off-putting tension. “Interstellar” tries the trick again, but it's forced and unfocused.
It seems as if Nolan wanted to take on the universe in this gargantuan space epic, but he forgot the people who live there.
Two and a half stars
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Written by: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Directed by: Christopher Nolan