Saturday, January 30, 2016

ROCKET MEN AND MAD MEN


The Title of Doug Pratt’s review of Christopher Nolan’s latest movie is “Why we hate INTERSTELLAR.” 

Can you blame me for choosing his review as this month’s featured excerpt from The DVD – Laser Disc Newsletter? I do have another reason for my choice, but before I reveal what it is, I want to highlight two other home-video releases that Mr. Pratt covers in his newsletter. 


I’ve been looking forward to reading his thoughts on the final episodes of the TV series that helped usher in the Neo-Golden age of television, MADMEN.” And I was not disappointed with Mr. Pratt’s take on the TV series – 
“…There are just seven episodes, which feels like at least one too few, and you do end up wishing that the series would go on and on, but everything is brought to an apt close, with the fates of most of the characters given a relatively clear path to the future. On the whole, it is not
the strongest effort the series has put forth.” 

I agree that the series could have gone out in better creative style, but I don’t think it will diminish the place MADMEN will always have in the TV Hall of Fame. 

The newsletter’s main review is on THE MARTIAN,” the critical and box-office hit starring Matt Damon, screenplay by Drew Goddard, based on the book written by Andy Weir, and directed by Ridley Scott. During his tour of the Awards circuit leading up to the nominations of the Academy Awards, Damon was quoted as saying "(Ridley Scott), has given more than enough to cinema, so I hope that this is his year.” But it was not to be. As it turns out Scott wasn’t even nominated. Inevitably, the question always comes up when there is a new film released by Ridley Scott – will it be as great as his early career efforts, “Alien,” and “Blade Runner.” What does Mr Pratt think of the movie – 
"The drama of THE MARTIAN is simple and straightforward. The film’s unspoken appeal, what made it worthwhile to produce and to watch again and again, is its glorious, geeky embrace of the science and technology of astro-engineering." 

INTERSTELLAR another big studio SF film released in 2014, is this month's review excerpt. I wanted to use Mr. Pratt’s review of the film to draw attention to the director of the movie, Christopher Nolan, who is one of the great storytellers in filmmaking today. I will have some more thoughts on Nolan, and his impact on the film industry in an upcoming post.

Now truth be told, Mr. Pratt doesn’t really “hate” Nolan’s latest effort. When you read his review you’ll discover he actually liked the movie, but specifically hated a critical scene at the end of the movie. Mr. Pratt cites what I believe is a very valid reason for hating the scene and for being disappointed by the ending. But I will also point out Mr. Pratt never finds cause to criticize the film in a way many SF movies are often attacked – that the screenplay doesn’t keep up with the stimulating visuals. There is always a ton of original and exciting intellectual concepts bouncing around in a movie Christopher Nolan is directing, and I believe INTERSTELLAR lives up to that creative legacy.   

 

Why we hate INTERSTELLAR

Christopher Nolan’s exciting 2014 intellectual science-fiction extravaganza, INTERSTELLAR , released by Paramount (UPC#032429209238, $16), presents a stunning and memorable depiction of the effects of relativity, including the warping of time and gravity.  The 168-minute film is a thrilling, stimulating and satisfying experience up to its ending, which suddenly and
stupefyingly reveals how out of touch Hollywood can be with the lives of its audience.  The film begins in the near future, as civilization is reeling from the effects of environmental decay.  A farmer played by Matthew McConaughey, a former test pilot living with his family in the Midwest, learns that there is a secret underground NASA complex nearby (according to Hollywood, the electrician, plumber and masonry unions are the best secret keepers in the whole world) which, in order to save mankind, is planning on a manned mission through a wormhole near Saturn to scout other worlds for possible habitation.  His experience qualifies him to lead the mission and he leaves his family to save his species, visiting two of the aforementioned, dazzling worlds, each with its dangers and excitements.  

So all of this happens.  Some parts’ feasibility maybe a little more questionable than other parts, but the narrative is at least anchored in accepted postulations.  And then at the end, big spoiler warning, McConaughey’s character, who has not aged too significantly, meets his daughter, who is now an elderly woman, alert but on her deathbed, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, i.e., his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He doesn’t even look at them.  He says hi to her and then runs off to be with his new girlfriend, who is back on another planet, with time disparities quickly closing a window of opportunity to get together with her.  Regardless of that, the film verifies what is so wittily expressed by a character in Day for Night, a wife of one of the crewmembers, when she harangues the rest of the filmmakers for being so
licentious and insensitive. 
INTERSTELLAR begins in America’s heartland and is not just about family, it is about saving the American family, and yet the filmmakers are so clueless to that concept of familial strength that neither the daughter character,
played by Ellen Burstyn, nor McConaughey, gives more than a glimmer of acknowledgement that the other members of her family in the scene are related to him.  And the badly directed extras playing them barely look at him, either.  You could excuse it all as a dream, but that would negate much of the rest of the film.  We left the theater in disgust, and procrastinated for nearly a year before finally watching the DVD.

Watching the DVD, we became even more aware of how oriented toward family the rest of the movie is and how utterly misguided its final scene becomes.  From a scientist played by Michael Caine who continually recites Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night, to constant references about the importance of families, the film’s message, the film’s theme and the film’s intended counterbalance to the challenging depictions of quantum physics is the concept that a family is important, but as spellbinding as the rest of the movie is, and as tear-inducing as the finale starts to become, it all collapses into a black hole of emotional ignorance, too weighted by the stupidity of its own errors to allow any light to leave.

The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The picture is a little soft in places, but the effects look spectacular and colors are accurate.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is terrific, with penetrating effects and a full dimensionality.  There is an audio track that describes the action (“He pushes the lever forward and the Ranger lifts off the water.  Cooper steers the spacecraft straight up along the wave’s face.  Fran grits her teeth and squeezes her eyes closed.  The Ranger soars into the sky.  Below, Doyle’s lifeless body floats facedown in the water.”), alternate French and Spanish audio tracks, and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.  Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain co-star, with John Lithgow and, in a brief but memorable part, Matt Damon.