Grim Tales in Space

At long last I managed to get myself Interstellar. I had waited until the pricing got a little more reasonable because I wasn’t in a rush and it’s one of the rare occasions where I consciously wanted a Blu-Ray for the visuals. Imagine my shock when I popped in the disc and had to look at a menu that looked like it was done by a student on a summer internship who had just discovered Photoshop. That’s something I’ll seriously never understand – hundreds of millions for the movie, not a penny for a proper menu design. I also don’t get why they still squeeze in those ugly FBI warnings in European releases. Last I looked Germany wasn’t the 51st U.S. state. Anyway, on to the movie.

As someone who’s a big science fiction fan (with an emphasis on the science part) and regularly get’s glued to the TV watching documentaries on quantum physics, astronomy and all that, I was of course intrigued by the concept of travelling across galaxies by means of a “wormhole” and the movie did not disappoint. Before the good stuff begins, we are of course introduced to an Earth in the not so distant future suffering from a drought and some obscure “blight” that kills all plant life, offering a good enough reason to venture out there. There’s a subtle, but not too obvious ironic/ sarcastic undertone and a stab at some common conspiracy theories, but it all fits well within the story and isn’t too much “in your face”. The intro sequence in a pseudo-documentary style and everyone being a farmer just to sustain the remnants of civilization made a lot of sense, other things not so much like that allegedly solar-powered drone having cruised around for 10 years or NASA going underground and being made up of what looked like only hundred people.

Once we get up there, things work nicely. Space is presented as really spacious and even the relatively large Endurance station is just a tiny spec. I was not particularly taken in by the look of the wormhole. The issue with such stuff always has been that it basically looks like the BulgeSpherize and other distortion effects in After Effects and despite writing a custom raytrace solver/ shader for this, it still does. Dunno, seems like a lot of effort for nothing. It works much better with the Gargantua black hole on the other side, which apparently benefits from the refraction of the glowing accretion disk. Anyway, they’re doing the best they can to keep it interesting, but that old Star Trek funnel sucking in some fractal noise would probably have worked just as well.

Once they are through, there comes what I call the “morons in space” moment and that’s probably the biggest (sequence of) plot hole(s) and bad decisions in the entire movie. First, why go to planet Miller and Mann as the first ones at all? As a space-faring veteran, would you not logically assume that the closer you get to a black hole, the worse the effects of that black hole would be? Gravity pulling at the planet and changing its trajectory, dangerous radiation and that sort of thing. Second, with all their technology they can’t launch a simple reconnaissance probe to detect those 4000 ft. high waves on planet Miller? It makes absolutely no sense, especially since they equally could have assumed extreme tidal activity due to the proximity of Gargantua. Really weird. Where’s Kip Thorne when you need him? ;-)

After that interlude things get better with planet Mann and of course it provides a number of good action sequences. Oddly enough I never found Matt Damon looking as good as he is here. Must be the dark hair making him look more distinguished. But I digress. Of course he’s the “bad guy” and meets with a deservedly miserable end, which also provides the entry point for the final chapter when they have to decide whether to stay and build a colony on planet Edmunds or risk plunging into the black hole. Of course we get both and they split up, so we end up getting to see the Tesseract and Cooper “phoning home” through time. This is again an interesting concept, though in itself presented somewhat inconsistent. If time is taken out of the equation, you can just do things again and again until you get them right, if you get my meaning. Still, it’s just a movie, after all.

In conclusion this film is strangely mesmerizing and beautiful, yet has some shortcomings that can’t be overlooked. Most notably some of the claims to scientific accuracy seem a bit preposterous. If they didn’t explain some stuff in the bonus materials or you are not a reasonably prepared nerd like me, it would just be massively confusing. On the other hand I never felt bored during those three hours and there’s enough to keep you interested despite the slow storytelling. It also has something soothing and meditative about it, while also at times being rather depressing. This is helped a lot by the creative use of music juxtaposed to silence of space. In the end this is definitely one of those movies you either totally hate or can accept for what it is. I’m leaning towards the latter.

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