Is Smash Bros. 4 out yet? No?
All right, let’s do this.
Do not go gentle into that good SPOILERS
Old age should SPOIL and SPOIL at close of SPOILERS
SPOIL, SPOIL against the -- wait, didn’t the Bum Review do the same thing?
*sigh* I just wanna play Smash…
Okay. Sooooooooooooooooooooooo…I have a lot of questions about this movie, and I get the feeling that none of them are going to be answered. So let’s start with the question that you’re probably looking to ask me: did I like this movie? And the answer to that is a resounding NO.
But don’t get too ahead of yourself there, buckaroo. For starters, this movie is not a RoboCop ’14 level of failure. There are parts that I liked, and there are parts that are good all-around. And as I said to my friends on the way back, I’m glad I saw the movie so that I could know for sure if it was something for me. It wasn’t, by ANY stretch of the imagination, but now I know. I got out of my comfort zone and tried something I probably wouldn’t have (fun fact: I wanted to go see Big Hero 6 instead, in anticipation of having to make a post like this. Hell, I already did it once before).
I also don’t want you to think that I didn’t like the movie because I’ve got some grudge against Christopher Nolan or his -- well, let’s call it “stylized” output. I know I’m on record saying that I didn’t like The Dark Knight Rises, and I flat-out hated Man of Steel, but I DO like The Dark Knight and Inception. (Plus I was under the impression that David S. Goyer was the weak link with those former two movies, not Nolan.) I’ll buy into Nolan’s prophesized talent, and I was 100% on-board for Interstellar conceptually. Because as discussed, SPACE IS AWESOME. It’s a proven fact.
So here’s the question that’s been on my mind: is this movie a parody of something?
Like, it has to be, right? When the first thing you see is a bunch of studio logos -- Paramount’s well among them -- completely stripped of their colors and looking as if someone put them in a jug of apple juice, that’s -- that’s gotta be an extreme take on the “no colors” aesthetic, isn’t it? And it’s got Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway again, who come dangerously close to just being Alfred and
Catwoman “The Cat” again.
And then you hear Hans Zimmer is attached to the movie…and then you go
see it, and then you REALLY hear Hans Zimmer in the sense that the music blares
so much that it’s hard to walk out without a headache. And then there’s the dialogue. Man oh man, there’s the dialogue.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the basics.
In the not-too-distant future (which has a brown tint and filters no matter where you go in the universe), the world is in the grip of another Dust Bowl that’s left agriculture crippled, and by extension life at large. This led to agriculture being fiercely in demand, to the point where that’s all everyone wants anyone to be -- no need for engineers, learning, or even knowing that we landed on the moon. Enter our hero Cooper, a space pilot turned farmer and family man who, thanks to his daughter Murph, stumbles upon a secret NASA outpost -- and with it, a daring plan.
As it turns out, a wormhole has opened up near Saturn, and so the NASA team decides to send a group of astronauts into it, so they in turn can pass back data on space and the three planets on the other side -- and with it, the potential for colonization. So Cooper agrees to be the pilot on behalf of Dr. John Brand (Caine) to try and make Plan A come to fruition -- Plan A being “go all Noah’s Ark and save everyone via mass exodus”. It’s the ideal alternative, apparently, to Plan B: let everyone die, but start over by sending in the requisite human goop to rebuild the population. So with Hathaway’s Amelia Brand by his side -- oh, and two other guys who might as well be named “Sacrifice” and “Expendable” -- the adventure into the stars begins.
Or so you think.
The trick to Interstellar is that there are two main characters instead of one. Thanks to some time dilation (or some such science), Cooper’s adventures take significantly less time than the time that elapses on Earth -- meaning that Murph takes the reins as Dr. Brand’s assistant, and tries to solve the equations that will allow them to follow through on Plan A. And so the two of them have their plots and fates intertwined, all for the sake of saving the human race.
And you know what that means. Yep -- this movie features some space-time shenanigans, too. And…well, it doesn’t completely implode, unlike certain games that will remain nameless.
Here’s the thing, though. There’s a twist to this movie, but if you’re paying attention you can pretty much sniff it out before there’s even a chance to wonder what “the answer” might be. I mean, I’ve flat-out told you what happens already: Cooper makes use of space-time shenanigans to create a stable time loop (playing the role of “the ghost” young Murph ranted about), giving them the information needed to send Past Cooper on his journey in the first place, and for Future Murph to get the data needed to complete the equations needed to…quantum math, or something. Anyway, the future is saved, there’s a happy ending, and a tease for a sequel.
You may be wondering why I’m spoiling the movie from the get-go instead of working my way towards it. Well, the answer to that is simple. First, you need to understand the ending in order to understand where I’m going to go with this post. And second, Interstallar’s trip from start to finish -- from minute one to the end of its nearly-three-hour run -- is rooooooooooooooooooooooooooooough.
Yep, that’s right. Three. Whole. Hours.
Look, I know I’m the LAST guy who has the right to complain about something being too long. I know I have to work on that, and believe it or not, I’ve actually taken strides toward fixing my obvious weak point. But in my defense? When I make something long, I try to fill that time with some good content. I try to say a lot, or do a lot, or have a lot happen. I think that’s the clincher. You can go long if something happens.
With Interstellar, it’s just long for the sake of long. There’s a scene near the end where an astronaut takes a ship and tries to go back to Earth, but he has to spend time trying to get that ship properly docked into the special spinning apparatus. So there’s an incredibly-long sequence where we watch this guy try to get the ship to link up with that apparatus, which is about as thrilling as watching someone thread a needle -- and it becomes even less thrilling the longer it goes on. And all the while, as this guy shimmies his ship around, that Hans Zimmer soundtrack just keeps blaring and pounding, and (like many instances in the movie) actually drowns out the dialogue. And you know how the sequence ends? The guy docks improperly, then tries to go fix it, and blows up in the process.
It’s not time well spent, is what I’m trying to say here.
And it’s not even the only instance. I’m no expert on Nolan’s techniques, but do you remember that sequence in The Dark Knight where Batman’s trying to save Rachel, and it’s got all these other moments intercut so you can see what’s happening and feeding into the payoff simultaneously? That’s in this movie, but those moments are stretched out much too long -- so much so that it dramatically weakens the payoff.
You know damn well going into this movie that the only ones who’ll survive the expedition are Cooper and Amelia Brand; the black guy never stood a chance. So why does Interstellar insist on dragging out the sequence and show the none-too-riveting moments leading up to a single obvious conclusion? Just blow up the black guy so we can move on!
That’s not the only reason the movie runs for so long, though. The crippling weakness of Interstellar lies in the dialogue (and the script at large, but let’s stick with the dialogue for now). Everyone in this movie has a bad case of diarrhea of the mouth, where they just won’t shut up and let moments be moments. Instead they have to fill that time with explanations of the science behind the movie.
And okay, that’s a nice touch that shows some thought went into it, but I don’t need that. Nobody needs that. It’s not a requirement. I get it; Interstellar is hard sci-fi that opts for realism as best it can. Three days from now I’m not going to remember the Sparknotes version of quantum physics and relativity; I’m going to remember those story beats. Those moments.
Unfortunately, I’m going to remember Interstellar’s for all the wrong reasons -- because its characters aren’t really characters. They’re mouthpieces for broad-strokes philosophical concepts.
It’s Man of Steel all over again. In fact, it might even be a little worse. Back then, every character was so obsessed with trying to define what it meant to be Superman and what Superman could do that Superman himself never got to do anything besides have his big whompin’ punch-up at the end. Why not let Superman’s words and actions define him? Why not give him and the others freedom to be characters first, and let the audience come to their own conclusions about what it means to be a man of steel?
Is that too much to ask? Is it too great a hurdle to subtly weave those ideas into a story instead of bringing all progress to a halt to scream “THIS IS WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT, SO LISTEN TO THESE PEOPLE AND YOUR LIFE WILL BE ENRICHED! BE ENRICHED, BLAST YOU! THIS IS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD!”
I honestly don’t know if I could define each character in this movie outside of a basic, hazy description. My biggest takeaway from Cooper is that he’s such a smug bastard that he’s dripping in smarm. Sure, he loves his family and he’s an optimist, but those two qualities could apply to Amelia as well -- and she’s not wanting for smarm, either. (To be fair, she gave off some tsundere vibes at several points, but is that anything to be proud of?) Murph is smart and tough, and…that’s it, I guess.
Hell, some characters flip-flop for no reason. Cooper’s son Tom turns into a punch-happy jerk for no reason besides “there needs to be physical conflict on Earth at THIS point in the plot”. Same goes for Mann, the astronaut and ship hijacker who betrays Cooper just so they can have a fistfight. And before you ask? This is a fistfight that has the two of them in full spacesuits, and ramming their helmets against one another. I kid you not; I had to fight back laughter at that point, because it was just so surreal that I could see that exact scene happening, shot-for-shot, in an episode of The Simpsons.
On a more pertinent note, I love how Mann spends like five minutes gabbing on about humans and survival instinct when, come time for his escape, he makes every stupid move possible to ensure that he goes up in flames. He even dies in the middle of another big dumb philosophical speech.
This has got to be a parody of Christopher Nolan movies. It just has to be.
Well, one more parody, at least.
But the death knell for this movie comes long before that point. After the visit to the first planet goes awry, the crew has to decide where to go next. Amelia thinks they should go to the planet most connected to her lover because…well, I couldn’t tell you succinctly, because what follows is a minutes-long, paragraphs-long treatise on why love is the most powerful force in the universe that can transcend anything. Including time and space. As in, that’s almost entirely her scientific explanation. I’m not even joking. This happens.
She’s trying to make a case for the best course of action -- as a woman of science, on a mission with the fate of the human race on the line -- and she wastes time talking about how awesome love is. In a hard sci-fi movie. Despite being the sole reason why their exploration of the first planet, literally the first thing they did besides ride there, ended in disaster and years lost in Earth-time. AND GOT SOMEONE KILLED.
And you know what? She’s actually right. Love really is proven to be the most powerful force in the universe, because it very literally makes Cooper’s space-time shenanigans possible.
I just -- I don’t -- I just don’t. I don’t.
All right, look. I’m not saying that love, friendship and all of that stuff is a bunch of junk. It has more than enough worth in the real world, and it’s got plenty of juice in fiction. But you have to be very careful, because A) it can devalue a story, no matter the content, and B) it’s not a perfect fit for every story. Here, it’s both of those at once; Interstellar doesn’t earn the right to use “the power of love” because it’s hard to feel love for these characters…because again, they aren’t characters, they’re mouthpieces more often than not.
And you have to remember, this movie is trying its damnedest to rationally and scientifically justify everything. They’re using math, and science, and engineering, and technology to try and solve every problem they come across. But what does it say about science if the ultimate answer is just “believe in something hard enough, and you’ll win”? Is that supposed to be some kind of joke?
How much do you think it bends the movie over its knee when love is justified, in-universe, as being the only other force that can transcend time and space? What about all the realism the movie went for in the two and a half hours before the big climax where Cooper ventures into a tesseract? What about all the thought and explanations riddled throughout? What about those other guys who died along the way? Did they not make it to the end because they didn’t love…love as much as Cooper and Brand?
God, I just want to roll up a newspaper and bop this movie with it! Damn!
I will be fair, though. These characters aren’t really characters most of the time -- and more often than not, they don’t go far enough to establish themselves besides offering up some basic traits at best (Topher Grace, of all people, is in this movie! And he gets nothing!). But when they actually get their chance -- when they just shut the hell up and be people -- there are some VERY good moments.
Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper acts the shit out of a couple of scenes, the most notable being his reaction upon seeing time-displaced messages from his aging family. His final scene with a dying Murph is plenty good, too -- an emotional climax that, isolated from the rest of the movie, carries immense weight in its own right. I’d say the beginning of the movie is the best part, because it at least opts to develop the Cooper/Murph relationship, however haphazardly. And Anne Hathaway may be spouting gibberish with her “literal power of love” speech, but she’s spouting it with real conviction.
If the movie had more moments like that, then yeah, of course it would have been better. But that’s a possibility I want to sidestep right now, because there’s a bigger problem at hand here. Interstellar has those moments, but doesn’t have the emotional through-line to give them the impact they deserve. It’s because of that stiff dialogue, sure, but just think about this: SPACE IS AWESOME. I’ve never been, granted, but I can only imagine what sort of impact it can have, whether I see some brave new world or not. So how is it that an adventure that spans time and space can feel so dry?
I’ll say upfront that if you’re going to this movie to see aliens and alien worlds, DON’T. As noted elsewhere, all you’ll get planet-wise are a water world, an ice world, and a desert world. But then again, that’s the point; these worlds are supposed to be raw, uncultivated and lifeless for the sake of future colonization. It’s all about the initial sweep -- the first step. The assurance that Interstellar sticks to the book, and the rules, and the guidelines set by itself and science.
But that doesn’t make for an automatically-better movie. In fact, it almost makes this movie fundamentally broken.
The more I think about it, the more I suspect that Interstellar misses the forest for the trees. Cooper may be going on an amazing adventure through space -- something that would have set any man’s heart aflutter, and in all fairness made them plenty contemplative -- but his focus is on getting the mission done and getting back to his family. Likewise, Amelia puts the mission in danger (and then tries to commandeer it) because of love…and the mission itself to a lesser extent. Murph works single-mindedly to solve the quantum math, to the point where nothing else matters.
I appreciate that these people have definitive goals, but they rarely if ever stop to enjoy the multimillion-dollar sights, or life, or anything that could have made this movie feel more fleshed-out. That’s an incredibly strange thing to say about a THREE HOUR MOVIE, but it fits; how is it that so much time can pass from start to finish -- in-universe and out of it -- yet feel so insubstantial at the same time? How could there be so much dialogue, yet so much of it feels like chaff?
And you know what happens because of it, don’t you? So let’s begin…with the proper music, of course.
--Okay, so there’s a pretty notable stand against anti-intellectualism in this movie, which is cool -- but in the context of the movie, it isn’t as well-executed as you’d think. Apparently being anti-intellectual in this movie boils down to “lower your head and farm”, which would be a problem if not for the supposedly globe-spanning agricultural crisis. Why are we treating farming as the worst thing ever? Aren’t people trying to survive? Is it necessary to scapegoat a profession?
--But the hate goes both ways; why would the pro-farmers be opposed to people applying their knowledge in engineering? Wouldn’t that mean making better tools for more efficient farming? Given that the cotton gin changed the game back in 1793, why not allow new advancements for an industry in dire straits?
--Now that I think about it, what’s the global extent of the Neo Dust Bowl? How badly have other countries been wrecked? I only ask because as far as I know, the movie never gives a direct answer or even a casual mention -- so does that mean everyone is struggling to survive? And if the Neo Dust Bowl is bad enough to affect the entire planet, then wouldn’t we have bigger problems than just agricultural woes?
--So you’re telling me that in the context of this movie, and a world well-versed in roving storms of dust, there are no alternatives to raising crops besides growing it in easily-ransacked fields? Has the anti-intellectualism gotten so bad that they can’t use techniques any more advanced than what you’d see in the fifties?
--On that note, you’re telling me that in the context of this movie, in the twenty-plus years (Earth-time) after Cooper takes off, there’s STILL no better technique than letting crops get slammed by storms? Is that why Tom turns into a sudden asshole? Or is the implication just that being dumb will also make you an asshole?
--Where did Dr. Brand and the rest get the funding for all their space equipment in a world that prioritizes agriculture and outright declares that the lunar landing never happened? Are they just holdovers from the past? If so, how are they keeping the equipment maintained?
--I know that thanks to space-time shenanigans, Cooper creates the exact circumstances needed to find the NASA base and start his journey, but what would Dr. Brand and the others have done if Cooper never showed up? Did they have another pilot lined up? Did they need another pilot? Was there anything genuinely stopping Amelia from taking control of the mission despite her soon-to-be-established ineptitude?
--How the hell did these guys ever get off the ground? More to the point, how did no one see their ship launch and have it become a national (if not worldwide) event, remembered years down the line? Is it because the movie didn’t show the ship actually leaving the ground, and used cuts and camera angles all the way to space?
--Why the fuck is there a stupid -- and usually brown -- filter throughout almost the entire movie? Is it because it worked so well for Man of Steel? Is it because that’s the new, designated Nolan Filter?
--Why is it that a lot of the conversations between the astronaut team imply that they hadn’t really discussed an ironclad plan until just before they needed to take action? I know it was for the audience’s convenience, but doesn’t that make them look completely unprepared for the mission?
--Cooper got training before going on the mission, right? I know he was an ex-pilot, but surely they brought him up to speed in the event that he got rusty in the years between losing his right to fly and the mission? But if that’s the case, then why would his conversation with kid Murph imply that he’s effectively heading off to space tomorrow? If he got training, then would that mean that he never came home after that conversation? Or if he did come home periodically in whatever timeframe for training he needed, then wouldn’t that have given the two of them time to reconcile? Or were they just fine with cutting away to the launch?
--Did they really have to name him Joseph Cooper? Or is the Nolan cadre fond of 2012?
--This was mentioned elsewhere, but I’ll go ahead and mention it here: why exactly did Cooper and the others feel the need to go down to the water planet in person? They couldn’t have sent down a probe, or a robot, or something? Did they really need to take the risk, jeopardizing the mission, putting lives on the line, and losing valuable time in a single masterstroke?
--So one of the big reveals for this movie is that Dr. Brand was lying the whole time, and there is no Plan A, because it’s infeasible for them to save all the currently-living humans. Okay, so…isn’t that inherently obvious going in? I’ll admit that I bought into the possibility going in, but put some space between yourself and the plot and you have to wonder how Alfred ever thought anyone would believe that he had the means to pull together every anti-space corn fanatic UNLESS he used science bordering on magic, right?
--Is Michael Caine only here because nobody plays the role of “sad old man” better than Michael Caine?
--So when it’s time for Mann to go into betrayal mode, why doesn’t he just kill Cooper? The obvious reason is “because of the plot”, but why not go for the finishing blow to make sure there weren’t any interruptions or setbacks? Granted it didn’t matter because he ended up getting himself killed (survival instincts at work, yo!), but was it absolutely necessary to go out with Cooper to some point in the ice world and shove him to his death?
--And couldn’t he have done better than have a punch up straight out of an eighties action movie? And why try to crack open Cooper’s helmet with his helmet, and therefore risk dying right beside him? You’re surrounded by rocks/ice, yet you can’t grab a piece and smash it against his helmet?
--Why did the Mann’s betrayal subplot have to be in this movie? Did they have to introduce some random foil that late into the movie? And again, why did the punch-happy Tom have to also have a subplot? Did they have to make him into Murph’s foil that late into the movie? If anything, shouldn’t Murph have given up on a reunion with her dad given that he left on a sour note, and Tom take up the mantle in both their places?
--So Cooper has to pull a heroic sacrifice in order to save the day (inasmuch as one can), but am I the only one who thinks that it was a dirty move? Cooper sacrifices himself to save Amelia -- though she should have known it was coming, given that he said he’d rely on Newton’s Third Law -- but he ends up becoming a space-time anomaly/god/hero who gets to start a new life on a future-Saturn colony, while Amelia gets banished to a desert planet to carve out a new life for herself. So I guess the moral of the story is “sacrifice yourself at a moment’s notice, and you’ll be handsomely rewarded”?
--How is it that a movie that tries so hard to be scientifically accurate (setting aside the “transcendent power of love” bit) ends with Cooper surviving because of pure happenstance? He goes straight into a singularity and survives despite ending up in nothing but his space suit? And just so happens to be put in just the right position to become Super Time Man?
--Why does this movie make me think of a bizarro version of A Wrinkle in Time?
--Why does this movie make me think of a bizarro version of Contact?
--Did I just come up with 1300+ words’ worth of complaints and nitpicks? Why couldn’t Smash 4 just get here a week sooner?
--Does it completely negate the above 1300+ words if I admit that I very nearly fell asleep during Alfred’s explanations earlier in the movie?
--Can we just take a minute to talk about the robots? Because it’s very important. Just…just look at them. Look at them.
These robots -- TARS being the chief one -- are giant, virtually-sentient iPods. I was under the impression one of them was named TARS because his default walking form has him unfolding strips of his body to move like a gorilla. (Tarzan. Get it?) And then there’s a scene where TARS has to get in there and save Amelia, so to move even faster, he -- and I kid you not -- turns into a giant metal asterisk and rolls his way over there.
I had to force back laughter -- and failed, because I snorted pretty loudly. I just couldn’t believe it. How the hell do you have a serious movie like this and also include a robot that does that? How do you have a robot like that, period, without anybody batting an eye at the sheer absurdity of it? It’s -- it’s a giant, virtually-sentient iPod that transforms. And nobody cares! It just blows my mind -- and as usual, it just raises further questions. Setting aside the “it’s a nod to the monolith from 2001” factoid, why design a robot like that? And if you’re going to have a robot that does nearly all the things a human can, why not send those instead of humans? And what does it say about the technological level of the story when they can build robots like that, but still have towns that look like they were ripped straight from a history book?
I don’t know what gets to me more -- the fact that someone like TARS exists in-universe, or the fact that he’s probably the best character in the whole movie.
It’s worth mentioning that Interstellar isn’t the joyless affair that Man of Steel was. I feel like the movie tended to mistake sarcasm and smarminess for humor and charisma, but hell, I’ll take it over nothing. Whatever the case, TARS was more than a welcome addition to the cast, even if he didn’t get as much screen time as he deserved. He actually talked like a person, more often than not. He explained stuff, especially at the end, but he got in a few jokes when he could. For one reason or another, the robot felt more human than the humans.
So again, I have to ask: is this movie just one big parody of Nolan’s works?
I’ve read that the Nolan brothers -- Christopher and Jonathan -- worked on this movie together, as they have in the past. And okay, I can buy that. But even if people assume that the Mario of the Nolan brothers is some unfeeling machine who hates fun, I can’t imagine that he’s immune to charm, whimsy, and a good joke. So maybe this movie is the signal that he wants to be more than “the Batman guy” or “the dark and gritty movie dude”. And if that’s true, then I approve.
But I can’t approve of Interstellar. I can’t. It just doesn’t work.
I don’t mind saying that it’s better than MoS, because it is. And it’s light-years ahead of RoboCop ’14…in theory, at least. That’s the conundrum; should I hate Interstellar because it botched its execution nearly every step of the way? Do I forgive it for trying to be ambitious, and offer up something more than explosions and punch-ups (which it ended up offering anyway)? Do I think of it as a black spot on the Nolan cadre’s record? Or do I appreciate it as a movie that could have worked -- and worked like crazy -- if it just made a few different moves?
I don’t know. Maybe once I’ve got some more distance from this movie, I’ll be able to come at it with a fresh perspective. Because as it stands, I feel bad for not being able to enjoy this movie as much as others. It could’ve been great in everyone’s eyes -- and while I don’t have any problems seeing how people could enjoy it, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone raged for days at the thought of it.
So, long story short? Given the choice, I’d say see Big Hero 6 instead. Or Contact. Because I’m willing to bet that it won’t end up right around HERE on my SmartChart™:
There. NOW can I play Smash 4? Please?