Review: Interstellar

Interstellar Fan PosterThis is a difficult review for me to write, I love Christopher Nolan’s films; even Dark Knight Rises, his messy diatribe against the Occupy movement, had redeeming features. For Interstellar, Nolan brought back Bat-alumni Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, and teamed them up with Matthew McConaughey for this 168 minute science fiction epic. I’d been looking forward to it for a long time, and made sure to see it as the director intended, in 70mm IMAX film projection.

Spoilers from hereon in!

Interstellar introduces us to an analogue world, stripped of technological frippery or ambition, all such indulgences seen as wasteful compared to dealing with a greater threat: A blight of crops, that seems to only affect plants one species at a time, and seemingly unpredictable dust storms. Between dwindling food supplies and the outrage of having to set tables with the crockery upside down, clearly this is a doomed world.

McConaughey plays Cooper, single father, farmer and former astronaut and engineer. Via a series of gravitational anomalies, ghosts and messages from the beyond sent to his daughter Murph, he is sent to find his mentor Michael Caine. Caine’s Professor Brand runs the new and secret NASA, together with his daughter, token female crew member Anne Hathaway. Together they have a plan to save mankind: Send a spaceship, if they could only find a pilot, through a mysteriously appeared wormhole to another galaxy, with a black hole at its heart. There they will pick a planet, and either repopulate it with a mobile sperm bank, or provide quantum data from the black hole to help solve the mathematical solution to gravity, allowing the Earthbound people to escape their dustball via space stations.

After a tearful farewell from his daughter, Cooper departs in beautifully layered scenes of his departure from the farm, and from the earth in his space ship. And from this point forward the spectacle of Interstellar unfolds, with dramatic visuals of space, and wormholes and strange planets and black holes; all soaringly soundtracked by Hans Zimmer. Unfortunately, it’s from this point onwards that the niggles of the first act are dwarfed by the clangers yet before us. The list of issues with the second act are numerous, but let me at least ask a few questions of it:

  1. Was anyone in any doubt, from the very first moment, that (surprise!) Matt Damon had ill intent? Did we, in a story of man vs time and man vs a doomed future, need a human antagonist too? Was there any other reason for externally mounted, easily removed radio transmitters, other than to solve a plot problem?
  2. Why did the space craft they were piloting need rocket boosters to escape earth’s atmosphere, but manage quite fine without them afterwards to take off from other planets?
  3. How can you have 100ft waves in one foot of water depth?
  4. Couldn’t we have waited for a little longer for the token female crew member to break down, lose her scientific rationality and declare her only motivation was love?
  5. Did we really need to hear that bloody Dylan Thomas poem over and over and over again?

Interstellar TARSSadly this isn’t a comprehensive list, but I’m trying to show an element of restraint. What I did like were the visuals of the planets they visited and the beautiful black hole, even if Gargantua sounds more like a Marvel villain than anything else. Being unable to really feel an emotional connection to the majority of the cast, I liked both the design and characterisation of the robot TARS. It was a well-executed meshing of non-human, entirely practical design, with very human emotions. Sometimes more so than any of the stars of the movie.

And then there was the ending. The twisty, ‘I was the ghost all along’, time-travelly, hiding in the bookcase mess that was the ending. Somehow, by being within the event horizon of Gargantua, future humanity has enabled Cooper to hide behind his daughter’s bookcase and communicate to her with gravity, flung books and sending complicated quantum data via morse code. I challenge anyone not to have a quizzical look on their face during that whole sequence.

So, future us have enabled Cooper to travel through a wormhole and tell his daughter the answer to the maths problem that will allow her adult self to save mankind. That’s great and all, but I think future us might have to work on their communication skills.

And then there’s the denouement. Everyone is happy; Cooper’s now ancient daughter has saved humanity and, by some hidden narrative method, has been reunited with her rescued father. Rather than spending time with him after a lifetime apart though, she sends him off to the empty planet that lovelorn Anne Hathaway was stranded on. Because clearly, as she stands over the grave of her lost love, the thing that will save them both will be the love of someone with whom neither have any chemistry whatsoever.

So, there we go. Interstellar: Beautiful and flawed. I think most of my dismay with the film is disappointment, the potential and build-up this had, and the depth to which it has been squandered. For while there are many worse films that have come out this year, none have fallen so short of their potential.

Doctor Who? – Fifty Years of a Jack In A Box

Icon-TV-150It’s the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, and the BBC is spoiling fans with special after special, culminating with The Day of The Doctor, the hotly anticipated anniversary episode. As a sometimes fan of The Doctor, I wanted to give some thought to his identity, and this seemed the perfect time to do so.

I recently saw the character of Doctor Who described as ‘C.S. Lewis meets H.G. Wells meets Father Christmas.’ But the Doctor isn’t just a heroic, time-travelling nigh-paedophile. No, Doctor Who is a monster. A monster who needs a companion to keep him human, to keep him interested; someone to spark off, to tell him how brilliant he is, a muse, someone he can impress, someone who isn’t afraid of him, someone who needs him, who adores him. Basically: A child.

He is all those things and he is also none of them. In short, whether we like to think of him that way or not, Doctor Who is our hero/anti-hero of postmodernity; a mercurial deity in our cultural pantheon. He becomes what the narrative demands, from scientist to genocidal maniac, lover to virgin. He shifts and changes as the viewers do, coaxing them out from behind the sofa, then slapping them around the head with a lonely over-sized clown shoe, while telling them they like it. No wonder he is feared. No wonder he is loved.

And the best bit of this analogy? It’s completely untrue, and also as true as it needs to be. The Doctor is a mirror; we choose to see and embrace the aspects of our favourite incarnations, we see what we want, what we need. And the opposing views of co-fans are just as true and just as relevant.

Happy birthday, Doctor Who.

Update of the Metal Prometheus

For someone who claims to be a writer, there really hasn’t been much writing happening recently. I could assemble all manner of different, almost plausible sounding excuses, but excuses they would remain. One of those excuses was spending six days, if you include travelling and recovery days, at Download festival, a celebration of metal and hard rock. While I may not have been writing throughout the event, at the very least I did write a review of Download in two parts. It wasn’t initially supposed to be for publication, filled as it was with more snark than praise and written mostly for entertainment, but it went public nonetheless. The pitchfork wielding masses have not yet found their way to my door.

The other thing I’ve been doing is I went to the cinema, to see the long-awaited, much-anticipated, heavily hyped Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien. The trailers had me interested, the teasers had me on tenterhooks and the buzz had me on the edge of my seat. The finished movie though, had me suspending my suspension of disbelief pretty rapidly. It was a disaster zone of poor characterisation and bizarre plot choices, and once I’m no longer immersed in a movie, I can no longer fail to tear at it critically. I won’t detail all the issues I had with Prometheus here, but Julian Sanchez covered the flaws well from a filmic angle, while Chuck Wendig covered it well from a writing angle.

So, what’s next? Another short-lived promise to try to write every day? Maybe. I seem to go through this cycle every few months and I feel terribly guilty every time it happens. I then write a blog post, not unlike this one in fact, promise to buck up my ideas and get some writing done, eventually I even actually do some writing… until the cycle begins anew. Surely there must be a way of breaking that cycle of frenzied activity and utter lethargy, ideally without quitting work and putting my mortgage in the hands of the capricious gods. I do want to write, I enjoy it immensely, I just wish it came easier to me. But, then, I’m fairly sure there isn’t a creator out there, regardless of medium, who doesn’t feel the same way.

Review: Empire State by Adam Christopher

Adam Christopher’s Empire State is a pulp science-fiction super hero parallel worlds story that is certainly rich in concept. In his own words, it’s “kinda Raymond Chandler meets The Rocketeer in Gotham City – robots, superheroes, airships, Prohibition, a lot of rain, and a lot of shady characters, and more than a few double-crossings”.

To me, in many ways the story lines reminded me of Fringe and Dark City, both of which I have a lot of affection for. However, when I asked Adam on Twitter about his influences, he assured me he had yet to see yet to see Dark City. Furthermore, while he thought that the Fringe Episode ‘Brown Betty’ fitted the aesthetic of Empire State very well, he had not seen any of the series until after finishing the book.

There are so many twists, double-crossings and surprises throughout the book, so it’s hard to go into details of the story, but it was a gripping story, keeping me engaged. The characterisation is good, doubly so. And the aesthetic worked for me; Chandler-esque pulp noir with super heroes and robots? What’s not to like?

Currently Reading

I’ve been waiting for Adam Christopher’s Empire State to be released for some time, so I’m glad I finished my previous book pretty close to the recent UK release date. Empire State is a sci-fi noir superhero story that’s been getting a lot of excellent buzz. Here’s the blurb:

It was the last great science hero fight, but the energy blast ripped a hole in reality, and birthed the Empire State – a young, twisted parallel prohibition-era New York. When the rift starts to close, both worlds are threatened, and both must fight for the right to exist.