The Dust Was Okay, I Guess

If you like space so much, why don't you live there?
Reported on 7th of January, 2015

I hate space exploration, so for me, Interstellar was doomed from the start. Confessing this bias puts me at a disadvantage. What I should do is take the faux rational approach of the critic. On one hand, I would concede, seeming perfectly reasonable, this tiny thing was good, this particular mise en scene, or a speck of dust (someone already beat me to that; see below). On the other hand, the characters, story mechanics and even visuals were lazy and trite, but, remember I said that nice thing? I have thus proved my lack of bias…to people who already think I’m biased. Hmm. Who I am trying to impress again? No, really. Somebody tell me. Maybe it’s just a matter of sprucing up my wardrobe.


24 November 2014 @ The BFI London IMAX

-$13.00 or, if one must be prosaic, and one must... 
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Not that I’m going to deprive myself of the pleasure of a good rant, but it’s time to let my bias flag fly, or at least sew a big wombat chewing a Spaceman¬†on it. Spending trillions to go get some rocks is fine and all, but remains a task reserved for when we get the shit sorted out on this little rock here. Which we totally have not, largely because we continue to believe in solutions perpetually out there. The conventional wisdom tells us that all we have to do is run as far and fast away from the family and social interactions whose complexity scares the hell out of us. I mean, go boldly into space! Rage, this film quotes some other movie Weird Al made fun of, against the dying of the light. Then it quotes it again. Then, one more time. Fortunately that’s the last one. Because putting it on a plaque at the end doesn’t count.

Saving the rant for the end. Sorry.

As if we didn't know, people in the space program are, like, the best people ever. Why else would we be saying it so much? We're saying it again! That's how true it is! It's so true, we can't stop saying it! What other reason could there be for saying this one more time?

I’m out of the closet as far as my prejudice against space exploration goes, but I think this film might agree with me, or at least is afraid that it might. When it comes to getting away from genuine responsibility, I mean, how honorable space exploration is, it’s a litany of near Freudian desperation. The mission was ‘led by the bravest humans that ever lived’ (unretouched). They were about to take ‘the loneliest journey in human history. Except there are people around. And we’ll be asleep the whole time’ (deaborggated). As if we didn’t know, people in the space program are, like, the best people ever. Why else would we be saying it so much? We’re saying it again! That’s how true it is! It’s so true, we can’t stop saying it! What other reason could there be for saying this one more time? I can’t think of single run like hell from my family. What? Well what do you think I said?

The exploration of space must be noble and we can’t explain why and we shouldn’t even have to you wouldn’t understand anyway continues to an absurd point where The Evil Teacher’s lessons claim that the moon landing is faked. A ha, says the victiminess. How dare she? I must give credit to Mr. Nolan here. The on the nose nobility shit that was to come was infinitely less subtle than creating sympathy through slack agitprop. Chapeau. The problem is that she is telling this to the astronaut as played by Mr. McConaughey. Going to the moon was a lie!, she seems to say, all mankind could ever manage to do was go much farther than the moon. From a story point of view, it would be like a post technology world that relies on GPS. Can you imagine?

Sorry, sorry. Saving it for the end.

From a subconscious perspective, however, these comments make a lot of sense. There’s a frantic quality in its attempts to demonstrate how important going into space absolutely totally hastomustbe. Entities like NASA, or the military, or parents (all represented in this film) identify as martyrs, overlooking their massive budgets and near unanimous social support. How is it, one might and yet would dare not ask, that these unimpeachables find it plausible that they are the greatest victims in the history of everything, and people who could actually use the money or support are told, and mostly believe, that their situation is entirely their fault.

From an political perspective this is problematic, yawn, but it matters to the story, not least which the way it gives rise to characters who would spout such uninspired nonsense. But what matters most how this desire of that which is out there permeates the film. One can imagine, and I try to do, the difficulty in writing characters and stories and interactions that not only don’t suck, but also compel, that make you want to watch more. This is the one hand, complex, emotional and deeply interactional, even if it’s just between you, the critic in your head and infinite reactions you plan for the audience that will never see it. This is not to mention the editorial process after the fact, something that Mr. Nolan would well heed.

If complexity in the creative process is the one hand, here is the other: firstiness. This film is bursting with firstiness, an alliteration that I couldn’t resist, even if I made up the second word. But I think you know what I mean. Exploration is always about that very tangible result, to be the first. It is proof of itself. The movie business is no different in its quest to ‘raise the bar’, to give them the satisfaction of having done something first. As (I will/have) set forth in the piece on the seemingly unrelated Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For, they’d rather do something new than something good.

Let’s take a very specific example of what I mean, something upon which I don’t think anyone remarked (look at me; I’m the first to notice!). There was a lot of press on this film, including ‘stories’ that mysteriously stayed in the ostensibly neutral Hollywood Reporter website sidebar for about five weeks. Here’s one about they’re neat-o space ship. Read it if you must. They built a giant ship and it was totally accurate according to all the futurists who have never actually predicted anything correctly and so on.

This manifests in terms of visuals as continually inept shots of the ship filling 80% of the frame with the various ice, water and space environs around them. Look what I made, the film seems to say. A ship! Wouldn’t it be cool if you see all the other stuff I made? But the ship is so accurate!

Mr. Nolan is usually credited as a visual director. But for all its other problems, this film is surprisingly flat. Mr. Quentin Tarantino calls our attention to how ‘dusty’ the film makes you feel. Now this is a classic publicist moment. He’s at the screening, gets buttonholed by a Nolan drone and has to say something. But if you’re going to say that the guy in the background of the zombie honeymoon suite had a good hat, you better be damned sure that hat is amazing. No such zombie hats in Interstellar, but I can report, and I saw it in IMAX, the dust is just okay.

In fact, IMAX, which I love, seems to function now as another way to raise the bar. With the use of close-ups (not a good idea in IMAX, by the way, as anyone who saw the second Hunger Games can tell you), it seems to say, ‘Led by the most visual people who ever lived, I put in more IMAX than anyone before me!’ IMAX is great, but you still need to know where to put the camera.

One advantage of a four hour experience (counting commercials): a delightful 9:30a showing. I felt guilty just being there. Then I felt ashamed.

One advantage of a four hour experience (counting commercials): a delightful 9:30a showing. I felt guilty just being there! Then I felt ashamed.

Firstiness, for a filmmaking point of view, is a insidious thing indeed. It also appears in that tired trope of the genuine. Like a scifi Mike Leigh, Mr. Nolan seems to be speaking to those other films that don’t show What It’s Really Like, and wants to plant his flag in authenticity. I was put in mind of Mr. Stanley Kubrick’s oft copied yet idiotic conceit to put the actors through basic training for Full Metal Jacket. There’s a similar ethos at play here, the ships and gravity waves and relativity. I love research; I’m a defrocked doctorate. But this is less research than contingency planning, that if you fail from the story or character point of view, at least you did something authentic. In front of a giant crew and on a gimble platform with green reference dots, but still.

We all know the great story, told in many iterations, where Mr. Dustin Hoffman comes in after a late night, saying he was getting into character for his Marathon Man. Sir Lawrence Olivier famously retorts ‘Try acting, dear boy’. Well, try writing. Do the research, fine. Learn everything you can about physics, metaphysics, time-molecules, rerbits, and docking procedures. But then write a story, not that copies it, but distills it.

So that’s my naked bias; reasonable and utterly objective comments follow now. I know there aren’t many of us who disdain the call of space. You like it. You, like nearly everyone else, are amazed and filled with wonder or something. And maybe you think I’m a communist. No, that doesn’t work. They liked space, so maybe I’m a European. No, they like space too. Everybody does. So as a member of a group that represents 0.001% of the population and zero clout, I’m a dire threat that must be quashed. Fine. But with no argument to fall back other than that of an anti-communist: if you like space so much, why don’t you live there?

As with 2001, I liked the robots. It’s not the bleep, it’s the humanity. Maybe not.
Per attempting to seem objective, the fourth dimensional stuff at the end was kind of cool. Even if it TURNED OUT TO BE HIM ALL ALONG. Sorry. Sorry. Objective. I’m objective.
Total Profits
Looking at the notes, it really starts to move from bland to terrible at last half. Here is my note for the first ninety minutes. ‘They didn’t even make it to Saturn in the time it took for Gravity to begin, be great and end’. They did tell us how important what they were doing was though.
‘We’re here to be memories for our children. To wit: buh-bye!’
The number of fucking times I have to hear rage against the dying of the light. @ $.000001
‘Anything that happens happens’ is not Murphy’s Law.
To recap. We’re at the water planet, and one hour is seven years. Oh, right, you lose points for bringing up time in a movie that’s three and a half hours long. Let me get that down.
Where was I? Right, so when one hour is seven years long, you land as far away from the probe as possible. People will shoot each other over a slightly better parking space, and you can’t just fly¬†there?
Ah. I see. You landed far away because She Had To Make A Bad Decision That Would Have Consequences. Not to the plot, no that would be asking too much. But so the character could feel bad. Got it.
And upon returning to the ship on the giant wave planet where every hour is seven years…counting that again. Fuck it.
you’re naturally torn between getting the flying fuck out of there and…talking about your feelings.
Ah, Mr. Matt Damon. Christ, I almost forgot. ‘You have literally raised me from the dead. Lazarus. That’s the name of the ship. We should go back in the script and call it Lazarus for just this moment. I mean, this proves that everything happens for a reason. It’s Murphy’s law.’
Anyway, Matt Damon: it’s great that he turns out to be evil. No one likes evil Matt Damon more than evil Gus Van Sant and me. But where is he going? Earth is dead, no other place to go. Other than to the pantheon of Villains That Are Motivated To Give The Heroes Something To Do. He got there just fine.
And while we’re at it, let’s just call this film for what it isn’t. This ain’t 2001. This is not an insult, because Kubrick sleeplest is, less face it at this point, crap. No? Watched since you’re teen years? Of course not, because anything thing without HAL is pretentious tedium. See here.
Ahem. This is a rant for Interstellar. Staying on point, and giving it credit, this is actually a mix of the superior to all of them and still terrible Red Planet and Mission To Mars. Didn’t think anyone saw those did you, Nolan? Read the byline.
Stop. Hiring. Jessica. Chastain.
Actual notes: ‘I wonder if it was him all along talking to his daughter. I WAS JOKING!!!!!’
Seven pages of notes. A record. Rejected, but possibly better title for this piece: ‘We’re going to need a bigger Fabriano Accademia A4’. Exeo.
Total Losses


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