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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Interstellar

March 30th, 2015

Interstellar - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Interstellar is the latest film from Christopher Nolan, a director who has performed amazingly well at the box office. He's also never directed a film that earned bad reviews. Is this film as good as his past record? Or are there flaws starting to show in his directing style?

The Movie

The film begins with a brief intro to the future where a blight wiped out so much of the global crop harvest that people were forced to become farmers just so the population would have enough to survive. Crop after crop was wiped out and dust storms cover the planet.

We then flash back to a nightmare Cooper is having about a plane crash when he is woken up by his young daughter, Murph. Murph is convinced there is a ghost in her room, something her dad dismisses, although her grandfather is more supportive. Cooper decides to do the same and gets Murph to treat this ghost scientifically and gather data about when, where, and what the ghost does. At first, she thinks it's is trying to communicate in Morse Code.

While driving Murph and Tom to school, Cooper first has a blown tire and then spots a low-flying Indian drone. He managed to hack it and bring it down with the intent of using the solar cells to power the farm and the AI to automate one of the combines, something he's been doing a lot of. On this day, the combines go a little weird and all end up heading back to his farmhouse.

The next day, the family goes to a baseball game, but has to return early when a dust storm hits. When they get home, Murph realizes she forgot to close her window and Cooper sees her "ghost" for the first time. It isn't a ghost. It is gravitational waves. And it isn't communicating in Morse Code, but using binary. He works out that they are co-ordinates and Cooper and Murph figure out where they are pointing to. What they find is... bit of a spoiler, but unavoidable.

What they find is the last remnants of NASA. While the farmers desperately try to feed the world, the scientists realized they are fighting a losing battle against the Blight and soon the last crops will be destroyed, taking the oxygen in the atmosphere with them. They have only one chance and that's to find another planet they can live on. Fortunately, a wormhole opened up near Saturn giving NASA access to planets that would otherwise be unreachable for millennia. Professor Brand and Amelia Brand want to recruit Cooper to be their pilot. This would of course mean he would have to leave his family and Murph takes this particularly hard, especially after she learns that due to time dilation, he might not return for decades. She even tells her father that she decoded the message and it says "Stay."

But Cooper does leave. He's not going alone; the rest of the crew are Amelia Brand, as well as two other astronauts, Romilly and Doyle, and two robots, TARS and CASE. The first leg of the journey, a two-year trip to Saturn, goes well, for the most part. Romilly has a bit of trouble adjusting to life in space. (The rotating motion of the craft used to simulation gravity causes motion sickness.) Once they get through the wormhole, on the other hand...

Meanwhile, back on Earth. Professor Brand agrees to help Cooper's family. This includes Murph, who is a very smart lady. She grows up learning from Professor Brand and as an adult, she helps him try to crack the gravitational equations needed to complete Plan A, relocating enough humans to have a genetically diverse and stable population.

I'm of two minds when it comes to Interstellar. On the one hand, the film is a technical marvel. It looks fantastic; this movie is one of the best "realistic" depiction of space travel and many of the shots could be used to sell Americans on increasing NASA's budget in the upcoming years. Additionally, the science is very sound, for the most part, but more on that exception later. Another positive is the number of tense moments. The acting was very strong throughout the movie.

There were some downsides. For instance, the emotional core of the movie didn't have a lot of depth and there were a couple of cringe-worthy moments. (Love is the fifth dimension? Really?) This cringe-worthy moment results in an ending that isn't at all satisfying, because it is essentially Deus Ex Machina, which is something no story should rely on. I'm 90% sure the filmmakers wanted this part of the movie to be filled with awe and wonder, but I couldn't get over how stupid this was. Also, for a group of super smart people, they did make some dumb mistakes. For instance, I would have never gone to Miller's Planet. No planet close enough to a black hole to have significant time-dilation effects would be suitable for life for many reasons. For instance, the massive wave from tidal forces would be present, but it wouldn't be made of water. The very ground would swell and the surface of the planet would be completely unsuitable for a colony. Or since the escape velocity that close to the black hole would be nearly the speed of light, maybe this is just a bad science mistake and not a stupid character moment.

Overall, I think there is still more things worth checking out (the special effects, the acting, the realistic look at space travel) than there are reasons to avoid it (Love is the Fifth Dimension, Deus Ex Machina, bad / exaggerated science). That said, it didn't live up to my expectations.

The Extras

There are no extras on the movie disc of the two-disc Blu-ray, but there is a second disc dedicated to extras. This starts with a 50-minute look at the real science in the movie. There is real science in the movie, but some of it is exaggerated, as I previously said. There is also a 14-part, nearly two-hour behind-the-scenes / making of documentary.

The technical presentation is as good as you would expect. The film was shot ... on film. That almost seems strange to have to point out, but digital cinematography has taken over the film industry so much that films that are shot on film are actually the exception. Because of this, the video isn't as sharp and as detailed as a digitally shot film would be. That said, the grain doesn't hurt the level of details. The colors are strong, while the black levels are inky black. There are no compression issues or digital artifacts. The audio is just as strong, for the most part. I can't be the only one who thinks Hans Zimmer's scores are getting too oppressive. Other than that, I have no complaints about the 7.1 surround sound track.

The Three-disc Blu-ray Combo Pack costs just $20, which is only $5 or 33% more than the single-disc DVD. It is definitely worth the upgrade.

The Verdict

Interstellar isn't as good as I was hoping and the emotional core of the movie isn't nearly as strong as the technical aspects. It is still worth checking out, while the Blu-ray Combo Pack is the much better deal over the DVD.

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Filed under: Video Review, Interstellar, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, David Gyasi, Anne Hathaway, Bill Irwin, John Lithgow, Matthew McConaughey, Christopher Nolan, Josh Stewart, Hans Zimmer, Mackenzie Foy, Timothée Chalamet