(2014, rated PG) Matthew McConaughey (Cooper), Anne Hathaway (Amelia Brand), Jessica Chastain (Murphy “Murph” Cooper), John Lithgow (Donald), Michael Caine (Dr. Brand), Casey Affleck (Tom Cooper), Matt Damon (Dr. Mann), William Devane (Williams). Music: Hans Zimmer. Screenplay: Johnathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Director: Christopher Nolan. 169 minutes.
Tags: Sci-Fi, Epic, Dystopian, Special Effects Extravaganza
Notable: Various aspects of “hard science” heighten the film’s believability; a PG-rated film with a single f-bomb in it, which used to make a film require an “R” rating.
In the mid-twenty-first century, the Earth can barely sustain life. Cooper (McConaughey) is a former NASA astronaut, now trying to eke out a life as a dust-bowl farmer after NASA had been abandoned some years before. His daughter Murphy finds a strange pattern in the dust on the floor of her room, a pattern she blames on a ghost. When the pattern keeps recurring, Cooper deduces that it’s a gravitic anomaly, that the lines are actually a binary code for geographic coordinates. Following them, Cooper discovers Brand (Hathaway), his old boss from NASA, heading a secret facility that has been researching the presence of an artificially-created wormhole, an opening in space that could lead to a planet that could sustain human life… if they can get there.
This is one of the few movies that I’ve gone into “blind” – I didn’t watch a trailer (I may have seen a TV commercial for it over a year prior, but I didn’t remember any of it until after I’d watched the whole movie), I didn’t read the back of the DVD box, didn’t Google it, nothing. This odd behavior was at the request of my friend Valri, who told me that the trailer was full of spoilers. Having watched the trailer after viewing the film, I can safely say that there are no true “spoilers” in the trailer; the film has plenty in it to surprise the ever-lovin’ hell out of you as you watch.
Going in without preparation almost caused me to stop watching it. The first 20 minutes are a rather horrifying dystopian future of a dying world, and I’m depressed enough over the state of the world as it is, thank you very much. (Frankly, as I write this in the summer of 2020, I think we’re on a high-speed collision course with it.) However, a clue is dropped during that time that made me think that more was about to happen that would intrigue me, so I persevered through everything from “the moon landing was a fake to make the Russians go bankrupt foolishly trying to make space travel work” to McConaughey’s distressing mid-western/Texan hick accent. (Don’t get me wrong; he did it well and consistently throughout the show. It just that rednecks in films usually make me break out in hives, precisely because they usually live up to their unfortunate stereotypes.)
If I’m to follow Valri’s advice, I’d not be permitted to talk about the film at all, because of spoilers. The brief description of the set-up for the story, provided above, might even be considered to be too much. However, there are a few points that I could make without giving away too much of the plot. Even armed with the following information, you’ll still be intrigued enough to follow through on this nearly-three-hour film. Trust me, it’s worth every minute.
First, and above all, they got the robots right. In nearly every sci-fi movie, any mobile computing unit bears some semblance of looking like a human being, from Robby the Robot (Forbidden Planet) to Data of the mid-saga Star Trek incarnations and Ash and Bishop in the Alien universe. To shape a robot into the appearance of a human is a purely aesthetic exercise — an attempt to make us accept the artificial sentience in a form we can relate to. The human form is extremely limited, and the robots created for this film (no spoilers) are created with a view toward maximum flexibility of ability. Someone finally listened to the scientists and got it right.
Second, the film uses enough theoretical “hard science” to make it as close to reality as possible. Again, it’s difficult to talk of any of these without providing spoilers, but the ideas used in the script were sparked through conversations with theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who is a leader in his field. His ideas, with the help of film producers Lynda Obst and Steven Spielberg, helped to create an extremely believable story, as long as you can accept the somewhat quantum leaps of science which, by all accounts, Thorne is in the process of proving correct.
Third, it’s interesting to note that it was originally to be a Spielberg film, but that the Master had too much on his plate to add it. Christopher Nolan (the recent Batman films and, more importantly, The Prestige) was brought in, and he added a characteristic genius that moved the film into the realm of brilliance. He shifted the entire concept through a breathtaking panoply of visual effects and made a plot that was intelligent, thought-provoking, ever-so-slightly political (good for him!), and entertaining. Of all of his movies, The Prestige comes closest in terms of being so mind-bogglingly brilliant.
This film has been described as “the best sci-fi film since 2001: A Space Odyssey.” Considering that (in my opinion) Kubrick’s film is one of the worst sci-fi films ever made, even Saturn 3 would qualify in that category. However, I believe that the comparison is made between the sequence in 2001 of Bowman’s penetration of the monolith (and subsequent “acid trip” visuals) and… okay, no spoilers, but let’s say Cooper goes where no man has gone before, and things happen, and you’ll see when you get there. In this case, at least, you at least have the satisfaction of understanding just what the fur is going on, rather than merely being subjected to prolonged periods of visual perversity and impenetrable symbolism.
If you really want to whet your appetite for the film, go ahead and watch the trailer (it’s on YouTube, click here). You’ll still be impressed with the film, and you’ll have plenty of plot and plot-twists that the trailer tells you nothing about. If you go in blind, as I did, give the show at least 20 minutes to warm up to, or rather to get to the interesting bits that build up the rest of the story. It’s worth the trip. And it’s worth the warning to the [particularly gross and offensive descriptive nouns deleted] who have defunded NASA. ‘Nuff said.