Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Interstellar: Special Effects Extravaganza

Scene from Interstellar
Internet grab

I wish I could say that I was thrilled by the onslaught of special effects in Interstellar, a hit movie currently showing in local theaters. About 70% of screen time is occupied by displays of technical wizardry: giant winds, giant waves, space travel, space docking, transit through a worm-hole, hitching a ride around the rim of a black hole, withdrawing into a cryogenic chamber and being awakened from same—one spectacle after another. Of the scenes of human interaction, about 20% are pseudo-scientific plot exposition, and about 10% are pseudo-philosophical or pseudo-religious argument. Well, there are a few meaningful emotional scenes thrown in, complete with big music and famous poetry, so you don't miss the point. It wasn't long before I was so detached that I could make analyses such as these.

That doesn't mean Interstellar is a bad movie. What it means is that it is not my kind of movie, and you might say I'm not even qualified to comment on it. I mean, there are a lot of movies like this, aren't there? I'm sure there must be an audience who gets all excited about comparing special effects in various science fiction movies. There are no doubt people who are thrilled by the roaring sounds of passing through a wormhole, roaring that vibrates through your body like the shudder of a spacecraft buffeted by implacable forces.

I thought I would love any movie starring Mathew McConahey—I really liked some of his previous characters—but he seems miscast to me. His taut, tiger-like style of acting doesn't convey the idea of a bold adventurer, and his guttural speech frequently gets lost in the roaring sound track. Well, yes, he is handsome, but he isn't quite convincing. Does it matter? No. He is sort of a place-holder, a big name to attract an audience. I mean, he only has lines for possibly 20 minutes in almost 3 hours, so the subtleties of his acting are not really critical to the success of the film. There are lots of other big names also: Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, etc. It's a Hollywood trick: bring out the stars to attract a big audience to a big-budget film. But it hardly matters who plays what role because the dialog is just a set-up for the next special effects demonstration.

The plot of Interstellar is mush, but you have to give the writers credit for making the themes clear. The basic conflict is about whether to try to save the entire human race from extinction or to attempt the rescue of one's own family. Science fiction doesn't mess around with any mundane issues, only problems of cosmic proportions. There is a subordinate theme about the power of love, which I believe was the one power stronger that gravity, but I might have that wrong. It was very cute the way the movie starts with documentary video running at the hero's home after it had been turned into a memorial site, and ended with him touring this memorial as a time traveler after his harrowing adventures on other planets. And it was terribly literary the way they kept quoting from Dylan Thomas' famous poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night." It would be rude and irrelevant to point out that the quoting showed little understanding of the poem, which is quite a bit more interesting than the movie, to a person like me. (You might try reading it. In fact, you can download a free recording of Dylan Thomas reading the poem aloud, if you want some genuine entertainment.)

If I ever had any youthful readers, I'm sure I've lost them now. I wish I could have written a rave review, but what's the fun in faking it. I wandered into the wrong movie; now I know about that.