Spacemen can do anything.

They can zap and shoot and save the girl. They can blast through galaxies and come back again ready for another day’s adventure. As if real astronauts were not impressive enough, the spacemen of movies are stuff of legends – they’re modern knights and brilliant technicians and scientific luminaries all in one.

Hollywood has made them stars.

Since the silent era, countless movies have chronicled the imagined lives of space travelers. Sometimes such films are vehicles for schlock – other times they are chances to shoot for less reachable ideals. Space is something of a human preoccupation.

Christopher Nolan is no doubt aware of this, as he is certainly familiar with the cinematic history of space. The director of “Inception” and the recent Batman trilogy has now tried his hand at a space movie with “Interstellar,” a film which pays homage to its predecessors while not entirely making it in its own right.

This movie seems to have been made with the intention of being everything a Christopher Nolan film can be, and, really, everything a movie about space can be.

It’s got action. It’s got drama. It’s got special effects that are both tasteful and stunning. It’s got twists and turns and galactic shifts through space and time. It’s got A-list stars, artificially intelligent robots (not evil this time!), crazy planets and cool science.

“Interstellar” has everything, and yet it doesn’t quite work.

It comes out as something a bit less than the sum of its parts.

Like the NASA scientists of his movie, Nolan had a plan: he thought he could make a space movie that would excite audiences and make them think, a blockbuster epic with soul.

He should have known such ideals are not always possible.

The story starts out as a human drama in an uncertain future, where food has run low, Earth’s population has drastically fallen and the New York Yankees play in little league parks.

Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a man who used to be a NASA hotshot and engineer before a global plague of blight forced him into an agrarian lifestyle. He lives on a rather desolate farm with his two kids, his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and programs tractors to drive on their own.

These scenes seem like they could make their own movie, but they’re only exposition – the real plot occurs when Cooper, after a series of mysterious events, goes off to space, in a last-ditch effort to save his family and all of humanity.

Nolan has made a reputation for himself as a director of heady thrillers, and this film is no different.

While his other films have dealt with memory, heroism and dreams, here he deals with nothing short of big ideas about love and survival. At least, this is what the audience is told by several characters at different points.

Some of the dialogue is cheesy, and some of the action is slow, but “Interstellar” is not a bad film.

The central conceit of the film is Cooper’s separation from his daughter Murph. They have a special bond, and when he leaves for space, she can’t forgive him for it. This relationship brings about some powerfully emotional scenes: in one, Cooper drives his truck away thinking his daughter won’t say goodbye; she rushes out of the house yelling for him, but the audience has already begun to hear the countdown for liftoff.

The scenes in space are stunning.

Wormholes and black holes and distant planets are somehow portrayed in a way that seems entirely new. Nolan mixes the hard science fiction of “Gravity” with the celestial mysticism of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and sometimes it works. The film runs at just under three hours long, and for the most part it doesn’t drag. The first two hours are pretty gripping.

The final act is where the problems become more pronounced. The science seems shaky, the drama comes off as over-sentimental and logic gets sucked into oblivion.

Ultimately, “Interstellar” is a visually beautiful film that suffers from trying to accomplish too much without the right tools. The ending doesn’t have the resources to save the potential of the rest of the film.

Nolan sets it up to be great, but he runs out of fuel too fast.

He should have learned from his own movie: You can’t get anywhere without leaving some things behind – a fact that holds as true for cinematic narrative as it does for intergalactic travel. He should have ditched the clunky conclusion and stuck to what works. Theatrics and head-scratchers aren’t necessary to make spacemen fly.

writersblocheadshots02Joe Zimmermann is a junior English and journalism major and can be reached at jzjoezim@gmail.com.

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