I’ve seen two movies lately, Fury and Interstellar. They both have similar problems which, as a writer, disappointed me. I didn’t know this going to either movie, but when the credits rolled and I considered the uneven experience I had with each movie, I noticed that they were both written and directed by the same person. In Interstellar’s case, the writing credit was shared with Jonathan Nolan.
Sometimes that works and works well. Other times, you can tell when the director is too blind to his own writing to see the Gargantua plot holes. So enormous, nothing worthwhile escapes them.
I’m a spec-fic guy so I’ll focus on Interstellar.
Haven’t seen it? Go see it. Then come back here if you feel confused. Don’t come back if you are shitting rainbows. This movie can do that. Despite the rant to follow, there are parts of this movie that are the best damn thing I’ve seen on screen. The following love / hate review might ruin that.
Turn back now if you don’t want to see spoilers.
Nolan makes good film. Visually stunning, timeless stuff. There is no doubt about that. But there are thousands of really talented science fiction writers out there. He should hire one.
Throughout, I felt as though I were watching two movies. There was this mind-blowing, epic, hard science fiction movie I’d been dying to see on the silver screen. Well-executed theoretical physics provided the fulcrum for pivotal, compelling plot moments. In the face of this, people made human errors. Seriously bad-ass reimagined robots stole the scenes. Drama ensued.
You have to see that movie.
Then there was another story which ran underneath the first. This was not a seamless combination. Places where the “other” intruded waved giant banners and flags to proclaim their importance and tear you out of the amazing spectacle that was taking place. They marred the surface of a thing of beauty and, in the end, had you looking behind the curtain.
You never want to make people look behind the curtain.
By the climax, I was already ignoring a bunch of these elements. People shouting “He’s going to solve gravity!” like that meant something. Sick of hearing Michael Cain drone on with the Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle” line. Annoyed at the “I’m too clever for you” references to They or Them.
Then we got sucked into plothole Gargantua, where Nolan started jumping up and down going “SEE! SEE! I TOLD YOU THAT STUFF WAS IMPORTANT! DAMN I’M CLEVER!”, the whole miraculous dream started to fade.
Even then, the screen was just SO DAMN PRETTY I wanted to believe. I wanted to ignore the giant story fail which I was spiralling deeper and deeper into. I wanted to give them the “nobody knows what happens in a black hole” license to imagine the possibilities.
But they break the one fundamental rule – they create a maddeningly absurd paradox. Or do they?
Forget all the “love is the fifth dimension” sap-fest which, if you examine things closely, has no relevance whatsoever on the outcome. Forget the fact that super-advanced humans who already built shit inside the black hole MUST already have the data which Cooper and the robot presumably “had to” retrieve. Data “They” should have sent along with the wormhole coordinates and all the other communications which had NASA smirking at Cooper’s “ghost” story earlier in the film. Even gloss the fact that with all that advanced tech, the best “They” could do was build a multi-dimensional space that served to allow a character to push books off a shelf to communicate. Forget all that. Sweep it under the rug with all the dust.
I had to put on the science hat (which is itchy and not nearly pointy enough) and do some serious research to understand what angle they were coming from. Since the film included some great hard sci-fi elements, I wanted to be sure I understood the principles before I tore into this. Noted theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne was their expert consultant for the film. Tracking down his work led me down some interesting closed-timelike-rabbit holes on the ‘net.
Normally, my hatred of time travel plots is that they require the postulation of alternate realities. You can definitely write amazing sci-fi using that theory, but it doesn’t support the linear narrative everyone always chunks it into specifically to solve their problem of having a crappy plot.
Thorne’s theoretical physics employs a B-Theory of time which, through other principles, theorizes a closed time-like curve wherein time travel is possible but the future is guaranteed, hence you can’t change the past. Hence, there can be no paradox. It’s complex, crazy deep on the hard sci-fi scale, and, by the way, doesn’t mention a thing about the power of love…
Fuck, I give up.
Yes, you can also tell a compelling and interesting story with string theory and multiple dimensions or even closed-time curves. But simply using it as a shortcut DOESN’T WORK. Nor does relying on the fact that probably 90% of the audience won’t “get it”. You have to know how to balance the explanation with the end result. For instance, the story did a great job explaining, through natural dialogue and visuals, the time dilations for the planet outside the black hole. That’s why that middle section was so engaging. But once we fell into the time-curve, B-Theory, and Novikov Self-consistency Principles that a robot summed up in a two sentence delivery, it all went to shit.
The cure? Write a solid plot that doesn’t need to be miraculously rescued in the end or rely on technobabble to succeed. Whose threads tie up nice and neat and aren’t stitched in from the ass-end of your wormhole. Consult a scientist for the details, sure. But find a professional writer to tell the story.
I did feel more than a little M. Night Shyamalan’d at the end.
I’m sort of surprised nobody’s brought up the proximity of the black hole yet. Don’t black holes tend to get larger over time? And even if not, why would anyone consider a star system for habitation if it included THE SINGLE MOST DESTRUCTIVE FORCE IN THE UNIVERSE?
Hey here’s your daughter who you haven’t seen in a few months / hundred years, why don’t you guys exchange a couple sentences AND THEN PART WAYS FOREVER?
And why did… oh hey look a shiny drone!
Every galaxy has a black hole at the center, why not live on a planet there 🙂 I imagine there could be a scientific plausibility – the planet was in a stable orbit around the black hole; the black hole was stable and didn’t have enough material in the neighborhood to devour and grow (or that possibility was thousands of years down the road) etc. This could be another place where they dropped the ball assuming their “gentle black hole” blurb would explain to the general audience it made the planet safe.
My biggest problem with the black hole is the assumption that the gravity / time dilation only happened planetside. That gravity distortion should have been caused by proximity to the black hole and thus their time problem would have started on the approach to the planet, not just on the surface. I don’t recall how far off they parked their mother ship, but it might have had to be REALLY far…
Yeah, all the stuff with Cooper on earth and on the NASA space station, every bit of it, felt like that second story which never quite lined up with the rest of the movie.
So they’re parked at the second planet, Matt Daaaaaamon causes all kinds of shit to go wrong, and they start drifting towards the black hole, which I guess was somehow closer than the previous planet, but there was no time distortion? I’m not sure how that star system was laid-out but I don’t think it makes much sense.