Some movies get very little advance publicity. You don’t hear about them until right before they come out. You don’t see any banner ads on the Internet. You don’t hear your friends talking about them and you sometimes might not see a trailer until a few weeks before the release. That cannot be said for this week’s movies at “Interstellar” and “Big Hero 6” have been the subject of the kind of pre-release publicity you see only for films that are expected to be blockbusters or come from filmmakers who are expected to release something you haven’t quite seen before. Both are true of these films.
Earth is dying. Actually, the people on Earth are dying because of various vegetable crop blights that have killed off many mainstay foods. Famine is widespread and over-farming is creating dust bowl conditions over huge parts of the planet. Nearly everyone is a farmer of some sort but mostly of corn. One of those corn farmers is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former astronaut. He has two children, his daughter Murphy (played a various ages by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn) and son Tom (played by Timothee Chalamet and Casey Affleck) but is raising them with his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) because his wife died of an undiagnosed brain cyst. Since the beginning of the food shortage, science and technology that has nothing to do with farming have fallen out of favor; so much so that textbooks have been changed to say the moon landings were faked to force the old Soviet Union to bankrupt itself to keep pace. Murphy, or Murph as she is often called, loves science and has a curious and hungry mind that Cooper fosters and when books begin falling randomly from the shelves in Murph’s room, Cooper urges her to figure it out scientifically and not assume it’s a ghost. One day after a dust storm, Murph and Cooper are standing in her room when they notice the dust is settling in patterns. These patterns are due to gravity fluctuations. Doing some math, Cooper figures out a series of coordinates that are a couple of hours away by truck. Cooper and Murph head out to find the source of the anomaly and discover a military base. They are captured by guards and brought inside where they meet Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and her father Dr. Brand (Michael Caine). Dr. Brand was one of Cooper’s college professors and he tells Cooper that what he’s stumbled upon is the remnants of NASA. Originally disbanded because it was considered a waste of money, NASA is now operating in secret to investigate a wormhole that formed 50 years earlier near the orbit of Saturn. Dr. Brand wants Cooper to lead a team consisting of Amelia, Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi) to take a ship through the wormhole and check out three worlds that might be habitable on the other side. Twelve teams were sent through years earlier each to a separate planet. The wormhole keeps communication to a minimum so Dr. Brand wants to send a team to check on them and come back with the world that might be a new home for humanity.
That is a basic synopsis of the first 30 minutes of Christopher Nolan’s 169 minute “Interstellar.” That’s a long movie and it had better be interesting to keep my attention for the full running time. “Interstellar” is not only capable of keeping your attention; it makes you wish the movie was actually longer. As a sci-fi fan, I was engrossed by the visual interpretation of a wormhole and later a black hole. I watch as many science documentaries as I can find on the subject of space and quantum theory and humanity’s possible future colonization of the moon, Mars and planets beyond so this movie is squarely in my wheelhouse. On the other hand, if you get glassy eyed at the technobabble, don’t be afraid as “Interstellar” is really about more down to earth subjects.
At the core of Nolan’s film is the relationship between Cooper and Murph. Theirs is a special, deep bond that is frequently lacking in real life between fathers and daughters. When Cooper agrees to take the mission and can’t tell Murph how long he’ll be gone, she is heartbroken and angry beyond words. That feeling of abandonment, probably amplified by the death of her mother, is a theme that runs throughout “Interstellar.” It plays out on a couple of different levels that I shan’t discuss as to not spoil the film for you; but be aware, it is at the heart of what’s driving the film. Even when Cooper and his team are on the surfaces of other planets, loss, abandonment, fear and anger are just as prevalent as they are at home. Grounding the film in such deep and understandable emotion is why “Interstellar” is more than just a special effects picture.
Of course, the special effects are spectacular. From the spaceships to the robots and from the wormhole to the spacesuits, “Interstellar” is the kind of visual feast one doesn’t get very often. A great deal of care was taken with the representation of the wormhole and the production used theoretical physicist Dr. Kip Thorne as a science advisor. Unlike most films that would just use other representations of such objects found in other films or television shows, “Interstellar” used the research of Dr. Thorne to try and create the most accurate representation of a wormhole and a black hole that has ever been seen. According to Thorne, his work on the movie has led to a new scientific paper for the world of astrophysics. The spaceships and other technical aspects of space travel appear to have been well researched also. There doesn’t appear to be any wildly outlandish technology on display. While many people might question robots that look like representations of the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the way they move and interact with the humans on the crew makes perfect sense. The landscapes of the alien worlds they visit are also spectacular without being overly “alien.” One world is made up mostly of a shallow sea while the other is a frozen wasteland. Both locations were in Iceland and are perfect for representing a different planet.
So the emotion, the science and the look of the movie are all fantastic. That means “Interstellar” is perfect, right? Not quite. While the movie mostly works, the way things are all tied together struck me as a bit too neat and sweet. Again, I don’t want to give away anything; but I will say the way Nolan and company decided to resolve the film felt a bit cheap. It is designed to make you say “aww” and possibly roll a tear; however, it left me a bit dumbstruck that all that preceded led to this. I’m being vague so as to not blow anything for you. You may see the movie and think it all makes perfect sense and wonder how I can be so heartless as to complain. That’s fine as we all are allowed to have our opinions. That is mine.
“Interstellar” is rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language. There are a couple of physical confrontations, one more aggressive than the rest. Foul language is minimal but the movie does use its one rating-allowed F-bomb.
“Interstellar” is an engrossing film that will make you forget about its nearly three hour running time (and your overwhelming need to urinate). The film is spectacular in all ways with the exception of a tidying up of story that, to me, felt a bit cheap and lazy. I’m willing to forgive that small issue as the rest of the movie more than makes up for it.
“Interstellar” gets five stars out of five.
Big Hero 6
Hiro Hamada (voice of Ryan Potter) is a genius in robotics engineering. After graduating from high school at age 13, the now 14 year old Hiro is using his talents to compete in illegal robot fighting and the gambling that surrounds it. His brother, Tadashi (voice of Daniel Henney), wants Hiro to join him at college in the engineering department. Taking him for a tour of his campus workshop, Hiro meets Tadashi’s friends and fellow students Go Go Tomago (voice of Jamie Chung), Wasabi (voice of Damon Wayans, Jr.), Honey Lemon (voice of Genesis Rodriguez) and Fred (voice of T. J. Miller). Fred is not a student but loves science and hopes his friends can one day turn him into a fire-breathing dragon. Tadashi shows Hiro what he’s working on: A healthcare robot named Baymax (voice of Scott Adsit). Baymax only function is to care for the injured and provide comfort until they tell him they are satisfied with their care. Hiro is impressed by what he sees what Tadashi and the other students are doing and wants to join Tadashi. He meets the head of the engineering department Professor Robert Callaghan (voice of James Cromwell) who says he might belong at the school if he’s good enough. There’s a showcase for prospective students and inventors in a few weeks and Hiro decides to enter and see if he can get an invitation to come to the school. Working diligently, Hiro invents microbots, a swarm of inch long robots that work in concert to construct anything the operator can think of. They are controlled by a headband that projects the users’ thoughts to the microbots. The display impresses Professor Callaghan who offers admission to the school and also industrialist Alistair Krei (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who offers to buy the microbots on the spot. Professor Callaghan reacts negatively to Krei’s offer and urges Hiro not to accept. Hiro doesn’t sell and Krei walks away in a bit of a huff. Later Tadashi and Hiro are walking around campus when they see the engineering building is on fire. Someone says Professor Callaghan is trapped and Tadashi runs inside just before the building explodes, killing him and Callaghan. Distraught, Hiro stays in his room and doesn’t start school. Dropping an object on his foot, Hiro accidently activates Baymax who has been stored in Tadashi’s old room. It is also about this time that Hiro finds a stray microbot in this jacket pocket. It seems to be trying to join with the others but they were all destroyed in the fire. Baymax decides to see where the microbot wants to go and Hiro reluctantly follows. At a warehouse, Hiro and Baymax find someone is mass producing microbots. They are then attacked by a man in a mask who is controlling the millions of microbots. Barely escaping, Hiro decides to upgrade Baymax with carbon-fiber armor and investigate the mysterious man in the mask. Baymax, concerned about Hiro’s emotional state after the loss of his brother, contracts Tadashi’s five classmates who all come to cheer Hiro up as he’s investigating back at the warehouse. The masked man and microbots attack the whole group and they escape to Fred’s house which turns out to be a mansion. Using the research projects of each of Tadashi’s friends, Hiro designs armor and weapons for the five of them (creating a dragon suit that breathes fire for Fred) and they form a group of superheroes to stop the man in the mask from causing mass destruction and turn him over to the police for killing Tadashi and the professor.
“Big Hero 6” is a lesser known Marvel Comics property whose members bear little resemblance to the characters in the movie. That’s okay as this group of teens and twenty-somethings is far more relatable then the gonzo group of characters in the comic book. While it doesn’t exactly ground the group in reality, it is far more relevant in today’s world.
First and foremost, “Big Hero 6” is a kid’s movie. The bright colors, the characters that are just slightly older than the target audience and the use of familial loss as the basis for the story are just part of what makes the film so kid friendly. That doesn’t mean their parents won’t like it also, as the movie is action packed and has some great voice performances and plenty of humor that works for both kids and adults.
Like “Interstellar,” “Big Hero 6” is about more than what is on the surface. Dealing with loss and finding constructive ways to use your talents is a couple of themes along with not letting yourself be consumed by revenge. All the elements work together to create a movie that is both a great way to pass the time and to begin a conversation with children about somewhat more grownup topics.
While watered down, the use of Japanese imagery and architecture in the mashed-up city of San Fransokyo is a nice way to introduce another culture to American children. As a nation, we are usually so focused on our immediate problems and surroundings we don’t remember to enjoy the numerous cultures that make up our society. While you won’t see anything that will start a conversation about Japan, it at least gives the eye something to look at that isn’t your standard Americana. It’s a small thing but I noticed it.
“Big Hero 6” is rated PG for some rude humor, action/peril and thematic elements. I don’t remember what the rude humor was so it must not have been terribly rude. The bad guy uses the microbots to lob large cargo containers at our heroes. There are also times when the microbots are used like fists to punch characters. The concepts of death, grief and revenge might trouble some younger viewers.
It uses everything very well and made me think and feel and nearly cry, so “Big Hero 6” worked on every level for me and for the audience of families I saw it with. The kids would ask questions about why Hiro was sad and where Tadashi was and why the man in the mask was being mean to Baymax. While I normally don’t like kids talking in a movie, I didn’t mind it so much this time. It meant they were paying attention and the movie engaged their minds. That’s far more than can be said for most films, for either kids or adults. That fact that it’s also a great deal of fun doesn’t hurt either.
“Big Hero 6” also gets five stars.
Here are my extemporaneous comments right after I saw the movies.
Feel free to comment or, if you’d prefer, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.
Next week, I’ll be seeing either “Dumb and Dumber To”
or “Beyond the Lights.”