Interstellar: A review

Almost every review of interstellar has it right. Basically it never quite achieves its ambition. What it does right, it does very right indeed and what it gets wrong makes it clunk alarmingly. Warning this is going to be a spoiler filled review, if you haven’t seen it do not read any further.

Interstellar_ALT_Artowrk

 

The Good

  1. I think the number one thing on the top of my list of good things are the Robots. I was sceptical about the design at first and frankly I still am but there is no denying they were unique, the way that they were utilised, the way that they interacted and the idea that humour will put humans at ease with working with the robots was great. The only sad thing is that they are very like a robot in a book I was writing.
  2. The “Beats” were all off. Any cinema goer, whether they aware of it or not is versed in cinema convention, a “Beat” (or sequence) every 12 minutes and Interstellar doesn’t do that. It teases us, some sequences are short, some dialogue scenes feel too long, some drama is stretched out while some is instant which for a “Blockbuster” film is pretty daring, it doesn’t even follow a conventional 3 act form, there are sort of four acts (or more depending on how you count them). The way that it’s put together has more in common with Solaris than Transformers, although this structure could also be a nod to 2001. Which if you recall has four; The Dawn of Man, TMA-1, Jupiter Mission, Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.
  3. The enemy wasn’t aliens or galactic warlords but time itself, time and human weakness. I loved that.
  4. The unannounced Cameo’s, I was surprised and delighted when Topher Grace, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon turned up and I think Matt Damon acted his ass off here. I liked that they weren’t billed and I wasn’t expecting them.
  5. The explanation for why the wormhole is spherical.
  6. The first planet they went to where the stupid insignificant humans completely got their asses kicked. Loved that.
  7. The Visuals. It looked amazing. It really did.
  8. It was over 2 and a half hours. But it didn’t feel that long. A sure sign of a well-made film.
  9. The first two hours. I REALLY enjoyed the first two hours. I didn’t find the time dilation stuff confusing but I can see how you could, ok so there wasn’t a proper “relativity primer” in the film that laid it all out for you but if you’re even slightly familiar with special relativity then I think it was easy to follow. To be fair I think it’s been explored better before…but never in an actual movie.
  10. It might be the only film based on a song that I’ve ever enjoyed.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE8kGMfXaFU

“’39” was May’s attempt to do “sci-fi skiffle“. “’39” relates the tale of a group of space explorers who embark on what is, from their perspective, a year-long voyage. Upon their return, however, they realise that a hundred years have passed, because of the time dilation effect in Einstein‘s special theory of relativity, and the loved ones they left behind are now all dead.

The Bad

  1. The Kubrikisms: The first time we had a musical sting and it faded off leaving the sound of an organ decaying in a cathedral I thought “Oh…well that’s nice, a little nod to 2001” but to end almost every scene with it was….unimaginative at best. Then when Bowman Cooper went into the black hole (that we could see how is it we could see a black hole?…..um…) there was the moment that focuses on his helmet and him drifting in space and all I could think was “Wait. So Mathew McConaughey is a giant space baby now?”
  2. I love Dylan Thomas, I love that poem but I didn’t need to hear it 3 times…ok 3.5.
  3. Does love transcend dimensions? I don’t care and I don’t care if that means that I have no majesty in my soul. Even if it does it shouldn’t be the Deus Ex Machina in a film. When Brand first proposes it, this is fine because it’s clear that she is just saying it because she wants to see her boyfriend again. But when it turns out that it’s true….ugh….
  4. How did she know it was her dad? I mean…we knew because we know about sci-fi tropes and it was fairly obvious from the outset but how did she know? As Neil Degrass Tyson tweeted “If you didn’t understand the physics of Interstellar, try Kip Thorne’s highly readable ‘The Science of Interstellar,’” “If you didn’t understand the plot, there is no published book to help you.”
  5. How does manipulating gravity change the running of a watch? And why didn’t she just go “Oh crap my Dad’s watch…which must be over 100 years old by now is broken…better take it two a jeweller!”
  6. The ending felt very Spielbergian which is to say sappy and convenient. Not surprising perhaps as this was initially a Spielberg project.
  7. The Daughter/Dad stuff didn’t resonate for me as strongly as it could have. But that might just be me.
  8. I get that any time you want to depict more dimensions than we can actually perceive it’s going to be hard. And it’s always going to fall short of expectation no matter how amazing you are (although I might point you to the work of one MC Esher). But to be honest in a film that was full of grand spectacle I expect you to do better than the back of a bookcase with gauze over it. And if you’re going to show someone manipulating gravity try to do better than a rubber band.
  9. OK so it was stipulated very clearly that time cannot run backwards. But then it did. Not only that the “Aliens” who were us were so advanced they couldn’t perceive one moment in time so the needed Cooper but that means that we have evolved so far in the future that we can’t relate to what we once were also that the we saved ourselves only so we could go back and save ourselves. Ladies and gentlemen that’s a whopping great paradox.
  10. The Real hero of Interstellar was Romilly, think about it he spent 23 years in a spaceship with a taciturn robot and didn’t go nuts. Seriously! And his reward? Surprise explosion. We are supposed to feel sorry for Murph but the most she has to contend with was a dead Michael Cain a surprise Topher Grace.
  11. Some of the names were cyphers: Mann…..Mann vrs Wild? Wild won. Man’s greatest enemy? Mann. I’ll let you see what else you can come up with.
  12. Did anybody else want McConaughey to paraphrase Dazed and Confused: “That’s what I loves about Black Holes: The women get older, but I stay the same age”?
  13. How the hell did Murph know about Brand?
  14. Black holes are black right? Or is my physics outdated?

Oh this was a ride, so much to like so much to be annoyed at. I wonder if there were things that I missed, I love Nolan I’m not a “Nolan can do no wrong” fan boy. The Prestige was such a great Swiss watch of a film and Inception was brilliant but there is a sense that he is growing less ambitious with each passing film. Narrative wise at least.

 

Planting the seeds of dissent….

I’m not the world’s biggest Robert Plant fan (I am a massive Zepplin Fan.), I think he takes himself far too seriously, and frankly he’s a bit of a twat however……

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“No really I’m kooky, little bit Whoar…little bit Whayy!”

Reasons that I’m glad Robert Plant ripped up an 800million dollar contract to reform with Led Zeppelin (if he did and i wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up on Snopes.com).

  1. Money isn’t everything and it can’t buy everything. To me, people need a reminder of that from time to time. And it’s both terrible and sad that it’s Robert Freaking Plant that is teaching us this.
  2. Nostalgia for Nostalgia’s sake is bullshit. In soviet Russia the pining for the “Good old Days” was considered a mental illness. Now don’t get me wrong I’ve seen some good acts who were touring just to tour their greatest hits but they never had the impact of seeing an artist that was still hungry Nine Inch Nails springs to mind here. I saw them earlier this year, now that’s not a new group but they were obviously still hungry and it was incredible. It was more like being attacked by Trent Reznor (who was touring a new album) than just watching a show. I’m not even a massive fan but BOY does that show live in my memory.
  3. He’s actually making new music and….it doesn’t suck. It pains me to say this; but Robert Plant has emerged as the most consistently creative member of Led Zeppelin, maintaining his relevance way longer than I thought possible, in fact his new album is…well…brave….and it’s actually rather good. So more than just paying lip service to the idea of spurning nostalgia he’s actually out there doing something about it. Sure John Paul Jones is out and about sometimes as an arranger and sometimes member of Them Crooked Vultures but….it’s Robert that tours and makes new albums every few years. Where’s Jimmy?
  4. I can’t afford to go. Ok so this might be a bit self-serving but I think it’s a legitimate gripe, if the tour was worth $800 million to the artist then it wasn’t like the promoter was hoping to just get the t-shirt sales. That puts ticket prices into the hundreds of dollars. And even though I’m affluent by most standards I can’t afford to outlay that kind of doe.
  5. He can’t do it anymore. In any band living up to a legacy is hardest on the singer. It’s ok for the Guitarist, fingers don’t get shorter as you get older but vocal chords stretch and break. There are rare exceptions where people can still hit the notes that they were hitting when they were 19 (Mike Patton I’m looking at you) but overwhelmingly keys have to be lowered or backup singers need to be bought in or worst of all https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YnJPdZhehM people simply fake it. The fact that Robert doesn’t want to do it anymore speaks to him knowing that he CAN’T.
  6. I’ve already seen them. Page and Plant 1996. Suck it.

Yes; I still have things to say about Blake’s 7

I’ve been thinking about Blake’s 7 again, mainly because I’ve been writing sci-fi and Blake’s 7 is a touchstone for good sci-fi series writing for me (or at least how to write interesting characters and character interaction). But as I drifted off to sleep last night I started to think about Blake’s 7 and it’s “special” effects. Now famous for being anything but special. Now if you know anything about the BBC at the time (1977) you will know that there were many things going against Blake’s 7.

Chibbi!

Chibbi!

1. Science fiction wasn’t taken seriously (although strangely enough; more seriously than TV stations in Australia currently take it and even though it was seen as Drama’s poor cousin a surprising amount of it actually got made, unlike…you know Australia today)
2. It was seen as a Star Trek Rip-off (but you know…gritty and upsetting, much like if you’d had a Hamburger in America and then tried to have one in the UK at the time, it would be gritty and upsetting)
3. It was up against one of the powerhouses of UK tv Coronation Street. (How popular was Coronation Street? Well it started in 1960 and it is still going today!)
4. The BBC itself was a minefield of industrial action and strange rules. (Britain itself was on strike half of the 70’s and at 6pm every night the power was turned off at the BBC centre so there wasn’t any kind of way to say “But wait…we just need one more take!” Once it was off it was off)

Then there was the biggest hurdle facing the series. The Budget. Another curious way that the BBC worked was that show’s that were coming in often inherited the budget of the shows that preceded them. I’m sure that sometimes this lead to shows like “Antiques Roadshow” getting the equivalent of the budget of “Who wants to be a millionaire” but in this case it worked the wrong way.
The show that preceded Blake’s 7 was called Softly, Softly: Taskforce a (surprise!) gritty police drama. This had a special effects budget of 50 pounds, now this was when 50 pounds was 50 pounds but that didn’t make it a realistic budget for a science fiction show.

Someone should vacuum that thing....

Someone should vacuum that thing….

Softly, Softly was set on present day earth, almost never featured spaceships or aliens and didn’t have an entire army of totalitarian villains to depict (the Thatcher years still a little way in the future). It might at a pinch need a gun or an explosion and that 50 pounds covered that nicely.
But Blake’s 7 had loftier ambitions, ambitions that couldn’t be overcome with a black-drop cloth and silver tape. (Although sometimes that’s what it came down to)

Yep

Yep

So that 50 pounds had to stretch. Producer David Maloney admitted that after he went to see “Star Wars” he knew that he couldn’t do Blake’s 7 as planned so he spent all of the season one budget on the first two episodes and hoped that it would be success enough for the BBC to give him more money. They did, begrudgingly but only the agreed budget for the remainder of the episodes. (This is why the first two episodes actually feel quite big and build the world really well and then well…that kind of falls away a bit)
This is why there is that recurring shot of the liberator flying past. It’s the same shot, over and over again.

So much so that fan art looks about 100 times better than the series did...

So much so that fan art looks about 100 times better than the series did…

But this got me to wondering; Would Blake’s 7 be better if the special effects were better?
I think in some cases the answer is a resounding “Yes” the end of season two “Star One” climaxes with an epic space battle where the Andromeda aliens break through from their galaxy into ours. At first it’s just the Liberator fending them off but then an entire galactic fleet joins them….at least that’s what it says on paper the reality that we were presented with on screen is a the same footage of clockwork ships bought from Tesco and two hairdryers taped together zooming around with no plan or context till they blow up for no apparent reason.

And you thought I was joking....

And you thought I was joking….

It’s terrible and yes more money would have helped with that. On the other hand I don’t believe that anything would have saved the Pato like creature from “the Harvest of Kiros” being anything than two guys in a pretend crimson and green spider. Sometimes you don’t need more money, you need better ideas.
And there is something to be said for what was achieved despite the lack of money. Apart from the insane “Michelins Men” space suits

No...I wasn't kidding

No…I wasn’t kidding

and the “Stingray” fire suits (see the above about ideas) there’s nothing in “Killer” that doesn’t look terribly creepy or appropriate. Similar in “Project Avalon” when the prisoner gets killed in the viral chamber….children and squeamish parents had to be dragged out from behind the couch.
And it has stood the test of time, people love Blake’s 7 and when you love something you embrace its flaws, they become part of the thing that you love and it’s hard to imagine them without those very flaws that other people might find a turn off. Not it’s simply part of the rich tapestry of Blake’s 7. And it has to be said that a big budget hasn’t made Doctor Who any better. And till the new series runs for 30 years no more successful.