Interstellar needs an intermission

Anne Hathaway is Amelia Brand and Matthew McConaughey is Cooper in Interstellar.

Anne Hathaway is Amelia Brand and Matthew McConaughey is Cooper in Interstellar.

Interstellar is an amazing and compelling trip through space and time, but it has a time problem of its own. At just under three hours (two hours and 49 minutes to be exact), it could benefit from an intermission. The movie is beautifully rendered, shot completely on film, not digitally, with an hour of it shot in glorious 70mm IMAX film stock. The space ships and sets are real, not CGI, and the cinematography is at times absolutely breathtaking.

The characters are the key to any successful science fiction story, and Cooper and his daughter Murph anchor the story in real terms of human beings we can identify with and root for.

After wading through the first act, set on planet Earth, the film takes off in the second act and introduces loads of really deep philosophical and scientific ideas, before settling into a stunning third act that brings the story to a mystifying yet ultimately satisfying conclusion. The problem is that it stretches the limits of attention and comprehension to continue the pace of the film unabated for three hours without giving the viewer a chance to absorb and buy into the complex scientific principles it needs you to grasp going forward.

The family drama is easily understood, and the first hour handles that rather well. That hour was the brainchild and handiwork of Jonah Nolan, whose original script was written between 2006 and 2010 when Steven Spielberg originated the project. Subsequently, when Spielberg dropped out and Jonah’s brother, Christopher Nolan, was brought in to direct, he (Chris) completely re-wrote the second and third acts (hours) of the film. Many critics have pointed out how uneven the film is. There is the culprit.

At the core of the story are two sets of fathers and daughters. Matthew McConaughey leads an all-star cast as Cooper, and his daughter Murph is played brilliantly at three stages of her life by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain, and Ellen Burstyn. The other family drama belongs with astronaut Amelia Brand, played by Anne Hathaway, and her dad Professor Brand, played by Michael Caine. The elder Brand’s character is based on the film’s science guru real life astrophysicist Kip Thorne. Thorne developed the astrophysics back story on relativity, gravity, wormholes, black holes and accretion disks and event horizons—which give the story scientific validity and inform the astonishing visual effects.

The basic premise of the film is that ecological conditions on planet Earth are threatening to make the human race extinct within a generation. Professor Brand and his daughter are using what resources they can to operate a secret NASA program to go through a recently discovered wormhole into another galaxy to find a suitable planet for colonization. Former test pilot Cooper’s daughter Murph plays a vital role in linking her dad into the program as its pilot, and Cooper and Amelia lead a team through the wormhole in an amazing space ship called the Endurance.

The visual effects and the science at this point challenge the viewer while providing a ride akin to one of the film’s major influences, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language, this $165 million film is a must-see movie, an iconic space odyssey for a new generation.