‘Interstellar’ Review: Flawed Awe


Movie Rating:


In many ways, ‘Interstellar’ is the movie that Christopher Nolan’s most ardent supporters always hoped he would make: a massive, sweeping, thoughtful epic that hits grand themes as hard as it does awe-inspiring imagery and tear-loosening emotion. It’s also the movie his detractors feared he would make: too ambitions, visibly flawed and overly serious to the point of feeling silly. It’s certainly an impressive cinematic achievement on the biggest possible scale, just far from a perfect film.

You can’t help but think of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ while watching Nolan’s latest opus. The filmmaker openly draws comparison by mirroring many of Kubrick’s themes, images, ideas and even characters. This sci-fi blockbuster aims to make viewers’ heads explode. You’re supposed to be floored by the massive imagery, deeply moved by the human story, and have your brain busted by the complex space theory simultaneously. In a few magical sequences in the midst of the generous 169 minute running time, Nolan achieves those goals and the results are astounding. You’ll find yourself moved simultaneously by all ways that movies can affect audiences and feel like you’ll need to be scraped out of your seat after having congealed into a pile of goo from sheer cinematic force. Unfortunately, that stunning success arrives only in those few sequences. In between them, the film can feel muddled, confused, convoluted, and thanks to Nolan’s patented self-serious tone, unintentionally comedic.

Just like ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, it’s a fault of ambition, but at least that’s an admirable fault. Nolan’s aim is to create something special and thoughtful out of popcorn fodder and just can’t quite pull all the pieces together. The movie has distracting plot holes, horribly stilted passages of expositional dialogue, cornball sentimentality and faux-profound moments not nearly as meaningful as intended. For some, the bad will outweigh the good and they’ll look past all the remarkable work that Nolan and his team accomplished to nitpick and sneer. Immediately after wandering out of the theater and gathered my bearings, all I could do was replay the flat moments in my head and lament that they existed.

A day later, however, I found myself looking back on the film and only remembering what worked. The astoundingly large and beautiful images of alien planets backed by physically affecting sound design enveloped me in the movie as deeply as ‘Gravity’. The richly emotional family story at the center moved me to tears through variations on themes I thought I’d seen too many times to fall for. The application of theoretical physics into action movie set-pieces had my brain racing as fast as my heart. And the breathless pacing, as well as the clever application of Nolan’s beloved non-chronological storytelling and cross-cutting, made the film feel like it was racing to the credits for every one of its 169 minutes. When ‘Interstellar’ works, it’s truly a remarkable achievement. Sadly, it doesn’t work all the time.

I’ve been careful to avoid plot details or even much description of the images in the movie, because somehow in this era of over-marketing, the core of this film has been kept a secret. What’s known so far is all you should know going in. Matthew McConaughey plays astronaut-turned-farmer in a vaguely distant future who’s asked to embark on a potentially deadly mission to save the planet. That summary barely covers the first act and even then holds back many secrets, as it should.

What Christopher Nolan has crafted is an experience as much as a narrative, and it’s worth taking the ride whether you like it or not. The flaws I’ve mention are well known to anyone who has loved or hated Nolan’s work to date. Performances are deliberately sedate, often to the detriment of the audience’s emotional involvement (even if that this is by far Nolan’s most moving movie to date, arguably his only one that tugs at heart strings). In an attempt to tie complicated space theories into the narrative, characters frequently ramble exposition endlessly and awkwardly to the audience. (At times, the over-explanation can feel mildly insulting, as if the filmmaker doesn’t trust us to understand what he’s going for.) The tone is also overwhelmingly serious in a way that betrays its ultimate popcorn-slinging nature and will generate snickers from audiences when bum lines of dialogue drop.

‘Interstellar’ is a far from a perfect movie, yet that should in no way deter you from seeing it or even getting excited about it. Just keep expectations at a reasonable level. The ways in which the movie fails are at least the result of a filmmaker attempting to stretch the boundaries of his genre and talents too far, and that’s far more appealing than a movie that sets its ambitions too low. If nothing else, the film deserves to be seen theatrically, and in IMAX if possible. Nolan’s gift for creating grand immersive imagery is extraordinary, and ‘Interstellar’ features some of his most awe-inspiring work to date.

When ‘Interstellar’ works, it’s like watching ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ on 1.5x speed with added emotion and action scenes (in all the good and bad ways that implies). When it fails, it’s like watching ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ on 1.5x speed with added emotion and action scenes while sitting next to a friend who doesn’t trust your intelligence is constantly over-explaining things and cracking bad jokes to break the tension. Sure, the film can be frustrating to watch, but it’s also absolutely amazing to watch when it’s cooking. Ultimate enjoyment comes down to how easily you can ignore the flaws. Either way, you’ll never feel like a dollar of your inflated ticket price was wasted.

Christopher Nolan has crafted a cinematic experience that will transport you to another world, there’s no denying that. Whether or not you like where he takes you or how he gets there is where things get tricky.

What Did You Think of 'Interstellar'?

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  1. William Henley

    I’ll be seeing it Saturday.

    I do have to ask – I have seen in a few places that the majority of this movie is shot on 70mm. Does anything know anything about this, and if so, is it being projected in 70mm anywhere? There were also scenes filmed with IMAX cameras (that’s 65mm right?) Its just that so few places show film anymore, I was kind of surprised to hear that it was shot on 70mm. imdb lists that there are 70mm prints of it, so I guess that means that someone is projecting it in 70mm. The Imax version is DMR blowup, which is baffling me. So, does that mean the film is available in 70mm, 35mm, Imax Film, Digital Imax, and Digital Cinema?


    There is also four different aspect ratios listed here. I am assuming the intended aspect ratio is 2.2:1

    • According to what I’ve read, INTERSTELLAR was filmed on 35mm anamorphic and 65mm IMAX, so the IMAX version will only partially use DMR.

      89 35mm, 41 70mm IMAX, and 10 70mm prints were struck for the early November 5th release. The movie will expand to Digital IMAX, 4K, and 2K cinemas this Friday (possibly Thursday for evening shows). However, I’m not sure where the screens are for the 70mm NON-IMAX prints.

      Here’s a little extra info: http://www.interstellarmovie.com/formats/

      • Drew

        Palmer, I would really like to hear your thoughts.

        I saw it again today, and I enjoyed it even more. It was immensely improved by a second viewing. Any of the qualms that I had with it after seeing it for the first time were erased. It was essentially the opposite of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.

        In addition, can you please review the blu-ray? I feel that you are by far the best qualified member of the HDD staff, for such a review. I was re-reading your ‘Gravity’ review, the other day, and thinking about how much I hope that you end up being the one to review ‘Interstellar’.

          • Freakyguy666

            Bummer. I’m curious how the experience might be affected with a 70mm true imax presentation. Going tomorrow myself. Hopefully film is still “clean”!

          • Drew

            Well, having had the chance to see it in 70mm IMAX, and traditional 70mm, I can definitely vouch for the upgrade, in terms of visual splendor. However, an upgrade in visual spectacle does not equal a better film. My initial qualms with this movie had nothing to do with the marvelous 35mm presentation that I witnessed, when seeing the film for the first time. The issues that I was originally referring to were pertaining to the script. When seeing the film a second time, my originaloriginally perceived flaws were greatly improved upon. A superior visual presentation simply can’t improve such things.

          • Freakyguy666

            Clearly the story itself won’t be improved via 70mm presentation, however, the enjoyment of the film itself (which is an amalgam of multiple factors included the presentation) could be affected significantly. So I wonder, is there any way you could quantify the improvement in the experience vs non 70mm?

            That said, it seems to me that this is the type of movie that is difficult to “catch” everything in a single viewing and especially the finally half hour where so much is jam-packed into the film, which lends itself to repeated viewings unlike TDKR, for example.


            For example I don’t think many we’re aware that the wormhole was only there temporarily and no longer existed towards the end of the film.

      • William Henley

        Oh wow! In my area, I can see it in all the formats! I may go catch it in 70mm Imax this weekend, and 70mm again later. Any chance to see a film on 70mm film versus digital I will take!

        I normally catch movies at the CineCapri, which the theater manager told me uses 4k projectors, but according to their site, the movie is not in Atmos, so it looks like Imax 70 will probably be the ultimate experience.

        • William Henley

          Well, my friend won’t budge from seeing it in 4k, saying that “4k is digital”. Looks like I am seeing this by myself – if a movie is big enough to have theaters pull their 70mm projectors out of storage, I am jumping on that! I don’t care if the movie is awful, I will see it at least twice, and I may even suck it up and go see it a third time on 35mm. I am super-excited about this!

          • Drew

            I wholeheartedly agree! This is a BIG DEAL. I’m going to try to catch this on each of the available film print options (assuming it holds up to repeated viewings).

          • Drew

            What do you mean, “saying that 4K is digital.” 4K is digital. Did you mean to say that your friend said “4K is film.”?

          • Drew

            William, did you see my previous question?

            You state that your friend won’t budge, saying, “4K is digital.” What do you mean? 4K is digital. I’m sure you are well aware of this. Did you mean to say that your friend said, “4K is film.”?

          • William Henley

            Oh sorry, I guess the page didn’t refresh, I missed your question.

            Yes, 4k is digital. I guess I should have explained the comment a bit more. He is expecting 4k to be the best presentation of the movie, I am expecting one of the two 70mm will be the best presentation of the movie.

          • William Henley

            Sorry, it is the end of my work week, and in the last half hour of the day, and nothing is going on at work, but still my brain is shot.

            So I wish I could go back and edit. One last clarification. He expects 4k to be the best BECAUSE it is digital.

          • Drew

            Ah. Gotcha.

            He’s disputing the fact that the 70mm presentation is superior to the 4K digital.

            That’s too bad.

        • Drew

          Me too. I ended up seeing it for the third time in 70mm IMAX, and for the 4th time in 70mm non-IMAX. I actually think the 70mm non-IMAX was my favorite presentation. It’s been a very long time since I’ve experienced an old-fashioned 70mm IMAX presentation, and I couldn’t get over how much we are all missing out, being forced into seeing 95% of movies, digitally.

          • Freakyguy666

            I recall reading somewhere that the 70mm IMAX print is roughly equivalent to a theoretical 9K digital resolution. Therefore, the difference between the 70mm print and even the new digital IMAX should be very noticeable.

          • William Henley

            On 70mm, the stuff that was shot on 35mm is optically scalled up, whereas on Imax, it is digitally upresed using DMR. However, the majority of hte movie was shot on Imax or rendered for Imax.

            I plan for my next viewing to be 70mm non-Imax just to say I did it, but unless I go tonight (which I doubt) it will probably be Thursday before I go again.

            I’ve read that a 70mm Imax print is equivilant to an 18k digital resolution. I was wondering what the digital intermediary is, but according to http://www.interstellarmovie.com/formats/ the shots filmed with imax are the same resolution as the camera negatives

    • The only reason this movie is getting any 35mm, 70mm or IMAX 15/70 release prints is that Christopher Nolan put enormous pressure on the studio and on the IMAX corporation to make that happen. A number of IMAX theaters that had converted to digital had to pull their old projectors out of storage to accommodate this movie.

      • Chris B

        I’m guessing his cinematographer had something to do with it, Pfister is known to prefer shooting on film as much as he can, he’s not a fan of digital…

        • Wally Pfister didn’t shoot Interstellar. He was off directing Transcendence at the time. The cinematographer for this one was Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let the Right One In, Her), who was also recently hired to shoot the next James Bond film.

          • Chris B

            Oh, well I would have to guess that some of Pfister’s views may have rubbed off on Nolan then…

            That’s pretty cool
            Hoytema is shooting the next Bond flick, I remember watching Let the Right one In and thinking how gorgeous it looked.

          • William Henley

            Interesting. I like Let The Right One In, but I don’t know if I would use the word “gorgeous” to describe it. Getting great shots in difficult lighting conditions is probably a better way to describe it, while keeping the contrast from being all over the place. You have really dark shots followed by really bright day/snow shots. I appreciate the cinematography for those reasons.

            I am just trying to think back to see if anything that really stands out. It’s been over a year since I last saw it. Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying its bad or anything, far from it. I am just curious as to what really stood out about it to you.

          • Chris B

            Wait wait wait, my bad, I was referring to the
            Remake “Let Me In” with chloe grace moretz, THAT movie is beautiful to look at. Let the Right One In is the original, Sweedish I think? Anyways I know i saw it but don’t really remember it well
            enough to comment on the cinematography.

            At any rate, Hoytema has shot some great looking movies to so I’m stoked for the new bond (although Roger Deakins is probably my fave cinematographer). Who’s directing the new Bond?

  2. Drew

    I saw a 35mm print, last night. It was positively marvelous!

    As for the film itself, it was certainly flawed, and a bit messy, but it was definitely something to marvel at.

    Admittedly, the execution doesn’t quite live up to the ambition, and some of the pseudo-science may not be entirely plausible. However, Nolan gives you no choice but to admire and be awed by the passion and precision that went into it. This is one case in which the journey is more enjoyable than the end result. And this particular cinematic journey is one of my favorites in recent years.

    • William Henley

      I will agree with it. I felt that it was well thought out and well written, although they didn’t really explain the whole “gravity” thing, and I don’t understand what the fifth dimension has to do with the movie. I also could have done with a 2-3 minute backstory at the begining of the film. Instead, we are just plopped down in the middle of this world with no background

      But overall, I enjoyed it

  3. Drew


    Are you sure you want to draw ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ comparisons? ‘TDKR’ is not a fun or engaging journey, in the slightest.

    • Phil Brown

      Hey Drew, I actually like Dark Knight Rises quite a bit despite all it’s flaws, just like Interstellar. Both are movie nitpicker nightmares, but I admire the ambition of both and the scenes in which they hit that ambition are amazing.

      • Drew

        Okay. I can certainly understand that.

        I actually really enjoyed ‘TDKR’, the first time I saw it. In fact, I enjoyed it the second time, as well. By the time I saw it 3-4 times, I was downright angry at it. I really hope that ‘Interstellar’ doesn’t do the same thing to me. I do have to mention that I never enjoyed ‘TDKR’ nearly as much ‘Interstellar’, even during my first viewing.

        With these things said, I guess the point that I was trying to get across is that there’s such a contrast in the level of ambition and passion put into each film, that I really don’t see how or why you would start comparing them. ‘TDKR’ was never an awe-inspiring journey, like ‘Interstellar’ is. Even when I liked ‘TDKR’ after seeing it for the first time, it felt like a movie from a filmmaker who was exhausted by the subject matter, and couldn’t be bothered to put his heart and soul — or any proper effort, for that matter — into it. ‘Interstellar’ gives you the same feeling you get, when a friend gets out of a bad relationship, and starts acting energized again. It feels like Nolan must have been like a kid in a candy store, throughout the duration of the project. It gives you the feeling that he put more passion and energy into it than anyone could ever possibly dream of. You can’t tell me that ‘TDKR’ ever seemed even remotely close to giving you that impression, can you?

        • Phil Brown

          Hey Drew, for sure Interstellar feels more personal. I just feel like it might have been rushed into production before the script was ready. There are some gaping holes and horrible dialogue passages. I had the same issues with DKR and I think that was as much of a problem with the movie as his exhaustion with the subject matter. I wish he could have more time to develop his scripts, but the realities of release date driven blockbuster film production just makes it impossible. Or maybe he just doesn’t care that much about ironing things out. It’s hard to say.

          • Drew

            Thanks for responding. I feel like I have a much better understanding of the comparisons you were drawing. I appreciate it.

  4. Drew

    On a side note, I can’t wait until the troll who shall not be named comes in and ruins this thread by endlessly talking about his moronic love of 1.85:1.

    • Drew

      That’s a load of crap. In fact, if I had to nitpick, I would say that I was a little bit disappointed by the lack of any other sound — surround activity or otherwise — during dialogue driven scenes. I completely refute these bogus claims. If you had to complain about the sound mix, the complaint would be that it was the opposite of ‘TDKR’. Zero score, surround activity, or any other ambient noise, during dialogue heavy scenes. It almost felt like Nolan listened to the ‘TDKR’ haters, and turned off all sound except dialogue, during certain portions of the film.

      Overall, the sound mix was very good-to-outstanding.

      • A lot of people from a lot of different theaters are complaining about this.

        On the subject of lack of surround activity, the last page of that /Film article links to a New York Times interview where Nolan says he consciously turned off the surround sound for this movie because, “he wanted a lot of simple power, and all of it coming right out of the screen.”


        This would explain why the movie didn’t get an Atmos mix.

        • Phil Brown

          Hmmmm….the soundmix didn’t bother me when I saw it. It was insanely bombastic for sure, but not in a way that prevented me from hearing any of the dialogue (to be honest, there are some sequences where I wish I couldn’t hear the dialogue, so maybe that’s not really a problem. Hiyo!). I also saw it in IMAX, so maybe they mixed it for that sound system and in regular theaters it doesn’t play as well?

        • Drew

          Why is the Internet like this?

          It’s actually quite sad. In fact, it’s pathetic.

          Let’s all get on the Internet and complain about the sound mix of ‘Interstellar’ simply because we didn’t like ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.


          • Phil Brown

            I don’t understand why filmmakers aren’t allowed to create soundscapes that make audiences work anymore. Crystal clarity isn’t always necessary . I know I’m in the minority here, but I actually wish it was possible to watch DKR on Bluray with the original Bane vocal track. I think Bane’s voice is cranked up way too high in the movie as it stands. It’s a bit distracting.

          • The problem with the finalized Dark Knight Rises sound mix is that Bane’s voice has been mixed into every speaker, not just the center channel. So it seems to come from every direction in addition to being much louder than any other character’s voice. It sounds weird and artificial and very distracting.

            Even outside of that, however, the movie has serious intelligibility problems with dialogue completely crushed and overwhelmed by the droning music. I haven’t seen Interstellar yet, but the complaints sound very similar.

            Wanting to be creative with sound design is one thing, but inaudible dialogue is a huge problem for viewers who have to strain to tell what the characters said or to follow the plot. This isn’t just “making the audience work.” It’s being sadistic for no artistic reason at all.

            For this taken to its worst extreme, try watching the Criterion Blu-ray for Heaven’s Gate without turning on the subtitles.

            I will reserve judgment on whether this is really a problem with Interstellar until I can see it, which may not be until Blu-ray.

          • Drew

            Well said, Phil.

            Filmmakers should be allowed to have everything look and sound exactly the way that they want, without the studio interfering and telling them that “it’s not testing well.”

          • Drew

            It’s not a problem with ‘Interstellar”.

            You don’t need to reserve judgment. The judgement has already been made. 🙂

          • Phil Brown

            Oh, his voice is mixed into all speakers as well. I’d never considered that. It makes sense though. That really bothers me because it sounds like Bane has a superpowered voice that takes over the room everytime he speaks and it’s really distracting. I honestly never found that the score was so extreme that I couldn’t understand what the characters were saying, but obviously that’s a problem if it bothers you. Heaven’s Gate honestly never bothered me that much because it feels like an artistic choice. It doesn’t really matter what anyone says in that movie. The story is expressed purely visually and most of the time the dialogue is just added sound texture. That being said, I can see how it would be irritating if you don’t like that choice. Now if we want to talk genuinely unfortunate sound mixes in classic films, let’s talk McCabe and Mrs Miller. I love the movie, but that is a major problem. Between that at the deliberately muddy cinematography, I wouldn’t be surprised if it never gets released on Blu-ray. If it was represented accurately in HD, it would be one of the most problematic releases in the format, even if all the problems were deliberate artistic choices.

          • When Heaven’s Gate has numerous long, drawn-out scenes of characters standing around talking, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for the audience to want to hear what they’re saying. I agree that much of the dialogue in that movie winds up being inconsequential, but there’s so much of it, and so many scenes are focused on people talking, that the lack of audibility is infuriating.

            The cinematography in McCabe and Mrs. Miller only looks muddy due to poor video transfers over the years and the instability of 1970s film stocks.

    • William Henley

      Didn’t have that issue on 70mm Imax. In fact, I thought the mix was fantastic – few movies have dialogue mixed that well. With as much as the sound effects and music blaired, the dialogue was well mixed into the mix and easily understandable, and was not drowned out at all

  5. I’ll go back and read comments later, but man, that was a fun movie! If you are in an area showing it in 70mm imax, check it out!

    One thing that really surprised me is that most films with imax scenes have 10-20% of the movie shot in imax, but this seemed to have those ratios reversed. Very enjoyable, and an awesome experience! I forgot how awesome 70mm imax was! And I got to see it in an actual old-fashioned imax auditorium, not a converted one!

    As for the movie itself – very enjoyable. Yeah it had a few flaws, but I can look past those. I want more movies like this! More sci-fi with great well-researched science, and more 70mm imax!

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