Monday, October 27, 2014

A Look at the Divisive Early Opinions of "Interstellar"

Matthew McConaughey
Want to know the merits of director Christopher Nolan? His current film Interstellar, set for release on November 7, currently holds 75% on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. While this rating is sure to go up or down, the early reviews have warranted it as his lowest rated film to date. It's a rather impressive move considering his place as one of the modern era's masters of the blockbuster. This means that unlike all of his peers, his films are all generally accepted as good-to-great. With the first batch of reviews coming in, here's a look at how the race has changed (or not) with what we know.

For starters, Nolan's film looks impressive from the trailers alone. Considering that his reputation for spectacle has rarely been questioned, this looks to be at least his most ambitious. With most calling it his love letter to 2001: A Space Odyssey, there's a curiosity that this may be what some need to finally call him the Stanely Kubrick of the modern era. Of course, I don't believe the hype and speaking as Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin was more in line with the Kubrick title, and I don't even respond to that despite loving said film, there is an overrated need to call anyone the next Kubrick. Let's just have this be a really good space movie that pays homage to 2001, okay? Because seriously, it does look really gorgeous.

Beyond that, there's the complaint that is normally lobbied at Nolan: he is style over substance. Considering that the film is meant to take us to the far reaches of space in an almost three hour span, there is a question on how personal the film will get. With an all star cast, it is hopefully going to be quite a distance. Still, the complaints are that the themes are rather basic and uninteresting. 

In the case of James Rochi of The Playlist, he wasn't as impressed, stating that: 
"Nolan's "Interstellar" spends hundreds of millions to take the audience on a journey to the farthest parts of the cosmos ... so they can be told sentiments as close, and as cheap, as any of the offerings at your local Hallmark card retailer."
William Bibbiani of CraveOnline goes even further to argue that these sentiments aren't worth it.
"Interstellar would be a stunning piece of cinema if you weren't supposed to think about it."
However, Scott Foundas of Variety is one of the biggest champions of the film, claiming that:
"Reaffirms Nolan as the premier big-canvas storyteller of his generation, more than earning its place alongside The Wizard of Oz, 2001, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Gravity in the canon of Hollywood's visionary sci-fi head trips."
To round out the opinions is David Ehrlich of Little White Lies, who is also very enamored:
"The jaw-dropping imagery with which Interstellar depicts the vastness of space serves to reinforce our collective smallness, and the insane risks that we take in order to protect the people important to us. Leveraging the ambition of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the pathos of The Right Stuff, the graphics of Gravity, and the fever dreams of modern physicists, Interstellar produces some of the most exhilarating illustrations of space travel since A Trip to the Moon. Augmented by Hans Zimmer’s exceptional and uncharacteristically measured score (some of which sounds like Philip Glass if he were sedated and launched into orbit), the scenes set in the final frontier are astounding. While the various planets are convincingly realised — though limited by their barrenness — Nolan conceives of the void between them with a practical and painterly approach. In that regard, Interstellar has the feeling of a film that was built to last, particularly when contrasted against the glossy pyrotechnics of Alfonso CuarĂ³n’s weightless suspense saga."
So how will this impact the Oscars? Chances are that the film will remain a divisive force much like all sci-fi films tend to be. Speaking as I revealed during The Directors Project how much of a sucker I am for his work, I am really hoping for something great. Also, this may be one of the best shots that Nolan has at getting a Best Director nomination. As many people likely know, he has been surprisingly snubbed at the Oscars at almost every turn. His only Best Picture nomination has been for Inception, which benefited from a summer of a million think pieces of confused moviegoers. Still, Nolan makes films that feel sustainable. In this case, he is pushing boundaries. If Ang Lee could win Best Director for Life of Pi or Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity, which were heavily CGI, then this film stands a strong chance. 

Still, let us consider what other films look like locks for Best Director. For starters, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu's Birdman is probably the guaranteed lock, even if the film's chances at Best Picture winning are slim. According statistics website Gold Derby, Nolan is just outside the top 5 in sixth with odds of 12:1. He is just behind David Fincher (Gone Girl) with odds of 10:1. Leading the pack is Richard Linklater (Boyhood) with odds of 27:10 and Inarritu wit odds of 9:2. It isn't a locked deal yet. However, I secretly feel like the hype around Gone Girl is for naught. It will receive a few nominations, but I think that its controversial subject matter is going to cut it out of some competition. Still, with Boyhood gaining traction at the Gotham Awards, it looks like it has become a film to beat in a lot of senses.

Also, it doesn't seem favorable considering that sci-fi has always been a lousy contender at the Oscars. It has been nominated, more in recent years, but has never won. In fact, Inception was the last time that the category recognized the genre. However, Nolan remains a crowd favorite and provided that the split opinions doesn't favor the negative too much, this may be his shot. If Life of Pi got nominated on ambitions alone, then Nolan can do the same. I reserve the right to judge performances until after I have seen the film. Otherwise, it is looking very good. Even reports of Hans Zimmer turning in a great score is getting me excited. 

It's only getting started with Interstellar and its limitless visual formats. It is a film that looks to be the ultimate escapism of the year. I am hoping that it is and I am just glad that early buzz isn't entirely geared in one direction or the other. Fingers crossed that things will pay off, as Nolan seems like one of the few who are doing fantastic things with their power. He is challenging visual formats and making something new and exciting. Let's just hope it is, anyways.

Will Christopher Nolan ever get that Best Director nomination? Who is the best performance in Interstellar? Is the film's divisive opinions a good or a bad thing?

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