Christopher Nolan's much-hyped "Interstellar" blasted off this weekend, collecting an estimated $50 million at the box office, fueling sharp responses from moviegoers and igniting a galaxy's worth of "2001: A Space Odyssey" comparisons. The tale of a widowed astronaut (Matthew McConaughey) recruited to pilot a mission in hopes of finding an alternate planet that humans can inhabit, "Interstellar" is still sending ripples through the moviegoing cosmos on this Monday morning. Whether or not you've already seen it, here's what we mere Earthlings are wondering about this massive space-time epic.
Is it "Gravity" 2.0?
Two blockbuster space adventures from prestige directors (Alfonso Cuarón, in the case of "Gravity") headlining consecutive Oscar seasons can feel like seeing double. But outside of their interplanetary backdrops, the movies have little in common. In "Gravity," a rookie astronaut (Sandra Bullock) is on a routine spacewalk when debris from a Russian anti-satellite missile strike destroys her shuttle and leaves her spiraling through space. It's a survival story that centers solely on one individual. "Interstellar" is a survival story, too, but the mission is an effort to save all of mankind from an Earth that will soon become uninhabitable because of dust clouds threatening the atmosphere. There's a teeny bit more at stake here, though both lead characters are desperate to return to Earth. "Interstellar" has wormholes, black holes, planets with colossal tidal waves, five-dimensional space, "ghosts" and a lot of other scientific entities that "Gravity" didn't. The visual effects also owe much more to "2001: A Space Odyssey" than they do to Cuarón's movie.
So is it "2001: A Space Odyssey" 2.0?
Nolan's Kubrick discipleship is no secret. In 2011, he told Entertainment Weekly that the Kubrickian quality he's surest to emulate is the serenity of "2001." “There is such an inherent calm and inherent trust of the one powerful image, that he makes me embarrassed with my own work, in terms of how many different shots, how many different sound effects, how many different things we’ll throw at an audience to make an impression," Nolan said. "But with Kubrick, there is such a great trust of the one correct image to calmly explain something to the audience." In the same breath, Nolan has ensured he is not attempting to channel a redux "2001" in his own work -- and, for the most part, he's right. But "2001" has become the monolith for films about space exploration, and dissertations could be written about the similarities in both movies' philosophical musings as well as their treatment of a future with sassy sentient computers. (Human-like robots named TARS and CASE aboard the mission are obvious HAL updates.) The movies have explicit visual overlaps and they use silence to make outer space seem especially haunting, but Hans Zimmer's score is much more urgent than that of "2001" and they take wildly different stances on the value of human relationships. The basic plot is more like "Armageddon" meets "Signs" (yes, the Michael Bay and M. Night Shyamalan movies), and you can also detect hat tips to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Solaris," "Contact" and others.
I keep hearing a lot about some wormhole. What is it exactly?
All we'll say is that it's a side door to the other planets Coop (McConaughey) and the crew (which includes Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley and David Gyasi) visit.
I don't like science. Can anyone follow along?
"Interstellar" is not a fluffy affair. It's overflowing with highfalutin scientific polemic, and some of the details about the distorted space-time continuum and the data the crew must collect while traversing other planets gets muddied along the way, at least for anyone who doesn't count astrophysics among his or her hobbies. You can tally the unanswered questions and minor plot holes throughout. But therein lies another "2001" similarity: The scientific minutiae is secondary to whatever philosophy the film wants to promote -- and, unlike "2001," it's also secondary to the characters and the father-daughter love stories at its heart (Coop and his daughter Murph; NASA mastermind Professor Brand, played by Michael Caine, and his daughter, played by Hathaway). Which is to say that if your brain gets overloaded with all this speculation about the state of the cosmos, don't give up. It's not really that mind-numbing, even if it is a lot of mumbo jumbo. You'll be okay.
(UPDATE: In an interview with The Daily Beast published Monday, Nolan said, "My films are always held to a weirdly high standard for those issues that isn’t applied to everybody else’s films—which I’m fine with. People are always accusing my films of having plot holes, and I’m very aware of the plot holes in my films and very aware of when people spot them, but they generally don’t.")
But is the science even accurate?Oh boy. You've opened a can of mystical worms here. First, we'll point out that prominent theoretical physicist Kip Thorne had a hand in conceiving the premise and then served as an executive producer. That said, many have taken issue with the film's science. We'll defer to these three pieces for more on that:
- The Science Behind The Wormholes, Time Travel Of 'Interstellar' (USA Today)
- 'Interstellar' Science (Slate)
- What 'Interstellar' Got Right And Wrong About Science (TIME)
What does Neil deGrasse Tyson think?The popular astrophysicist, who questioned the accuracy of "Gravity" last year, seems relatively happy with the science in "Interstellar." He unleashed a series of tweets about the movie and appeared on CBS to discuss his thoughts.
In #Interstellar: You enter a 3-Dimensional portal in space. Yes, you can fall in from any direction. Yes, it’s a Worm Hole.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) November 10, 2014
Will "Interstellar" win any Oscars?
It could, but probably only technical awards. It's almost guaranteed to take home Best Visual Effects, which was the only Oscar that "2001: A Space Odyssey" won. Hoyte van Hoytema seems like a shoo-in nominee for Best Cinematography, but watch out for previous winner Emmanuel Lubezki ("Gravity"), who shot "Birdman" under the guise of what appears to be one continuous take. As for the top-tier awards, Matthew McConaughey is impeccable, particularly in moments where his character wrestles with the decision to leave his 10-year-old daughter (played wonderfully, in various stages of her life, by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn) to board a mission with no clear end in sight. Unfortunately, McConaughey -- who won at this year's ceremony for "Dallas Buyers Club" -- is facing a Best Actor race so cramped that he didn't crack the Top 10 in our list of contenders. Anne Hathaway has one standout scene, but her performance isn't showy or interesting enough to put her on the level of, say, Reese Witherspoon ("Wild") or Julianne Moore ("Still Alice") in this year's Best Actress odds. Jessica Chastain could benefit from the dearth of strong Best Supporting Actress players, especially since we now know Nolan has her contractually obligated not to promote any other films until early December. Nolan himself could earn his first Best Director nod and his third Best Original Screenplay recognition (an honor he'd share for the second time with his brother Jonathan, who co-wrote "Interstellar") -- but neither seems like a guarantee. Hans Zimmer's score, however, does: He's been nominated nine times, including for his work on Nolan's "Inception."
Is the movie super Nolan-esque?
Is that even a question? When we get a Christopher Nolan movie, we really get a Christopher Nolan movie. Let us count the tropes: Cooper's wife is dead (as is Leonoard's in "Memento," Angier's in "The Prestige" and Dom Cobb's in "Inception"). The characters learn they're dealing with distorted perceptions of time (as is a prominent part of "Following," "Memento" and "Inception"). As many said with the "Dark Knight" trilogy, "Interstellar" implicitly tackles a government incapable of solving its citizens' problems; here it's presented in a rather fascist manner (another Nolan criticism) when the administration won't make NASA's existence known publicly for fear of backlash, even though NASA is the institution that's working to save everyone's life. It also features a planet made of ice, echoing frigid settings in "Insomnia," "Inception," "The Prestige" and "Batman Begins." Not to mention, of course, the use of Nolan's favorite camera shot and the maze of head-scratching twists that comprise the ending.
Won't it take me, like, all day to watch this movie?
Pretty much. It's two hours and 47 minutes, so empty your bladder beforehand. In the event of an emergency, Vulture has a list of five opportunities for a bathroom break.
Has it gotten good reviews?
Much like the plot itself, critics seem to view this movie as a conundrum. It's seen mostly positive reception, but everyone's reaction carries some sort of addendum to that sentiment. Many have criticized the abstruse ending, like The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern, who said, "The ending of 'Interstellar' makes as much sense as any time-travel story can, but diminishes the emotional impact. Like so much that has gone before, it’s mumbo without jumbo." Others have questioned the sentamentality at its core. Salon critic Andrew O'Hehir called it "Hallmark-flavored" and asked, "Has Christopher Nolan grown increasingly desperate to win that elusive Oscar, and made a decision to go for the heart rather than the brain?" (O'Hehir and other critics have noted that Steven Spielberg was originally attached to direct the movie, and much of the emotional heft feels well-aligned with a Spielbergian drama.) Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, in his mostly effusive review, chided, like many others, the "clunky" dialogue. But overall, critics have found much to appreciate in "Interstellar," calling it "sweeping," "gobs of fun" and "quite a show."
What does Austin Mahone think?
Interstellar was probably the best movie I've ever seen...
— Austin Mahone (@AustinMahone) November 9, 2014
Other questions? Leave them in the comments.