Friday, 05 December 2014


A thoughtful sci-fi epic that takes cinema to a whole new dimension

Written by Matt Warren
Matt-Warren-176In John Christopher’s 1956 dystopian novel The Death Of Grass, the world doesn’t end in an asteroid strike or the searing flash of nuclear holocaust but, rather more prosaically, simply because the seas of grass so many of us take for granted stop growing. No wheat. No barley. No rice. Starvation. And civilisation soon falls apart on an empty stomach.

A similar plight is faced by the future world in Interstellar, director Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated science-fiction epic. Here, most crops have already failed, leaving a dust bowl Earth – resembling 1930s Oklahoma – to subsist on corn, the last flourishing foodstuff.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, farming (corn) is now a global obsession. Even former test pilot and astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) has long since left the cockpit to take it up, leading him to moan, as he sweeps dust from his wooden porch: ‘We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.’

It is soon clear, however, that combine harvesters alone aren’t going to save mankind. As the sandstorms grow in ferocity, it’s evident – thanks to some ghostly goings-on in Cooper’s daughter’s room and a chance encounter with what remains of NASA (essentially, Michael Caine) – that our only chance of survival is to find a new home among the stars.

The task, of course, falls to old-timer Cooper, who returns to space at the helm of the Endurance. With his crew (including Anne Hathaway and Wes Bentley), he must travel through a wormhole near Saturn to an alien solar system, inconveniently orbiting a black hole.

Despite the intergalactic setting, Interstellar is a very human drama about survival, betrayal and sacrifice. But it is also, I should add, a film about physics. That may sound rather off-putting, but under Nolan’s direction results in a magic show of high imagination and superlative spectacle.

There are worlds with frozen skies and with waves a thousand feet high, where every hour is seven years on Earth. There are gripping rescues and terrifying tumbles through space and time. And there are also, in Endurance’s two resident droids CASE and TARS (voiced by Josh Stewart and Bill Irwin), a pair of iconic sci-fi characters to rival even WALL-E, R2-D2 or HAL in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Throughout the film, Michael Caine’s character has a rather irritating habit of quoting Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Perhaps more appropriate might have been John Gillespie Magee’s High Flight, famously paraphrased by Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster.

‘And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod The high untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.’

Yes, Interstellar has its flaws (including rather a lot of mumbled dialogue). But if you, too, want to experience the ‘high untrespassed sanctity of space’, it is extraordinary, essential viewing.

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