Interstellar review

On Saturday, 15 November 2014, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. for a matinee of Interstellar at the Jordan’s IMAX theater in Framingham, Mass. We liked the relationship-focused highbrow science fiction film.


Interstellar follows Cooper, an astronaut turned farmer in an unspecified near future in which human spaceflight has faltered because of the urgency of feeding billions amid severe ecological degradation.

Widower Cooper’s son Tom is content to become a farmer, but his restlessness is mirrored in his daughter Murph. Despite being science-minded in an era focused on mere survival, Murph claims that a poltergeist is trying to send her messages.

An errant surveillance drone leads Cooper and his children to a secret NASA base, where his former colleague Prof. Brand and his daughter are working on sending a second wave of explorers through a newly discovered wormhole near Saturn to find inhabitable planets.

Aware of the relativistic effects of faster-than-light interstellar travel, Cooper gets his father Donald’s blessing and reluctantly leaves with the younger Brand and a small crew to try to save humanity….

Interstellar poster
Christopher Nolan’s latest SF movie


The cast of Interstellar is uniformly solid, with several actors from past Christopher Nolan productions. Matthew McConaughey is grounded as Cooper, despite the talk of imminent Armageddon, wormholes, and love and gravity transcending the dimension of time.

John Lithgow and Michael Caine are Cooper’s father figures as Donald and Prof. Brand, respectively. Anne Hathaway is emotional but strong as the younger Brand, and Mackenzie Foy plays a young Murph (named after Murphy’s Law — “Whatever can happen, will”).

As more time passes on Earth while the subjective time of the astronauts is shorter, the adult Murph is played by Jessica Chastain, and Casey Affleck is the older Tom. Murph and Tom react in different ways to their father’s absence. Matt Damon plays Dr. Mann, “the best of us” and part of the first wave sent through the wormhole.

Bill Irwin is also noteworthy as the voice of TARS, a former military robot among those retasked with helping the laconic Cooper’s mission. He brings a sense of snarky humor and potential menace to the proceedings, referring directly to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Christopher Nolan’s meticulous style is similar to that of 2001‘s Stanley Kubrick or Prometheus‘ Ridley Scott. He’s more comfortable with high-concept speculative fiction in movies such as Inception, Duncan Jones’ Moon, or Rian Johnson’s Looper than with the emotional content of Steven Spielberg’s best.

Viewers waiting for action and suspense have to wait a while before the three-hour-long movie gets to it, and the parallels between Coop and Murph and Prof. Brand and his daughter are pretty obvious. When Donald or Prof. Brand fulminate on the human condition and our need to explore the universe, it’s clear that’s what Nolan thinks.

Still, even if I agree with the sentiment and understand some of the underlying science, I’d rather he spent less time explaining and more time engaging the audience. Overall, Nolan handles his cast and the narrative jumps in time well, but Interstellar feels more technical than passionate, and he’s unlikely to persuade any who might disagree.


Nolan’s true strength is with creating a believable universe. As with last year’s excellent Gravity, space travel is shown to be difficult, dangerous, and ultimately worthwhile. The psychedelic imagery during the wormhole travel is mercifully brief.

The visualization of “Gargantua,” a black hole around which some potential homeworlds orbit, is excellent. Any good science fiction movie should show us something we haven’t seen or maybe even haven’t imagined before. Much of the science is sound, and the distant planets reminded me of some documentaries about hazardous arctic exploration.

Sure, one could quibble with the environmental science, the description of gravitic propulsion, and the late appearance of O’Neill cylinders in the movie, but I was glad to see this movie on an IMAX screen with a full house. As other reviewers have noted, like Big Hero 6, some of the best parts of Interstellar are when it shows people using science to try to solve problems or mysteries.


As with Inception and many recent action movie trailers, Interstellar had the booming “bwong, bwong” sound to underscore important moments. I could have done without that, but I have to admit that the IMAX theater’s “rumble seats” were nice for the scenes when Cooper and company were flying by the seats of their pants.

There is no music quite as memorable as “Thus Spake Zarathustra” from 2001 or Vangelis’ themes in Blade Runner. As in Gravity, I liked the absence of sound during some of the space scenes.


I liked Interstellar more than Elysium and about the same as Contact, to refer to two Jodi Foster SF movies. It’s definitely part of a wave of more serious speculative fiction, providing a nice balance to the explosions of Star Trek: Into Darkness or comedy of Space Station 76 while I wait for the next cyclical revival of classic space opera.

I’d give Interstellar, which is rated PG-13 for some violence, a 7.5 to 8 out of 10, three and a half out of five stars, or a B+. I think that some critics were overly harsh, but I’m also more of an SF buff than the general audience.

Speaking of which, I’m still enjoying Jonathan Nolan’s cyber-dystopian Person of Interest on television, and I’m cautiously optimistic about his adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation for HBO. Also, it is with some sadness that I note the passing of Glen Larson, who created the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and many of the other genre TV shows I grew up on.

What I’ll be watching, fall 2013 SFTV

To follow up on recent posts about genre entertainment, here’s my tentative viewing schedule for this coming fall. Even if half of the new television shows fail this season, there’s still more than enough to keep fans busy!



  • 6:00 to 10:30 p.m.: The “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Circus,” Gene D.’s fantasy campaign (using the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game), alternating with Jason E.R.’s “Star Wars: Dark Times” miniseries (using Savage Worlds)
  • 10:00 p.m., Fox: Almost Human (robot cop, new11/4
  • 9:00 p.m., SyFy: Defiance (postapocalyptic drama) ** June 2014
  • 9:00 p.m., Fox: Sleepy Hollow (paranormal procedural, new) 9/16 ***
  • 10:00 p.m., ABC: Castle (mystery) *** 9/23
  • 10:00 p.m., SyFy: Warehouse 13 (supernatural conspiracy) ** ending 2014
  • Other genre: Beauty and the Beast (remake)


  • 7:30 p.m., Cartoon: The Looney Tunes Show (animated comedy, currently airing) ***
  • 8:00 p.m., ABC: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (comic book procedural, new) 9/24
  • 9:00 p.m., CW: Tomorrow People (metahuman melodrama, new) 10/9?
  • 10:00 p.m., CBS: Person of Interest (technothriller) *** 9/24
  • 10:00 p.m., History: Top Shot (marksmanship, summer) ***
  • Other genre: Fangasm, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (PBS, 10/15), How Sherlock Changed the World (PBS, 11/19 or 11/26?), The Originals, Ravenswood, The Voice
Disney's live-action superhero TV show
Marvel’s (and Whedon’s) Agents of SHIELD


  • ~7:00 to 9:00 p.m.: Weekly historical weapons class in Burlington, Mass.
  • 8:00 p.m., NBC: Revolution (postapocalyptic drama) ** 9/25
  • 8:00 p.m., CW: Arrow (superhero drama) *** 10/9
  • 9:00 p.m., PBS: Death in Paradise (mystery) ***
  • 9:00 p.m., CW: Tomorrow People (metahuman melodrama, new) 10/9?
  • 10:00 p.m., USA: Psych (comedic sleuths) *** 12/15
  • Other genre: American Horror Story, Archer, Bitchin’ Kitchen, Ironside, Kung-Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, Man vs. Food Nation), Superheroes (PBS, 10/15), Supernatural


  • 7:30 p.m., Nickelodeon: Dragons: Defenders of Berk (animated fantasy) *** 9/19
  • 9:00 p.m., USA: White Collar (sleuth/caper) *** 10/17
  • 10:00 p.m., CBS: Elementary (Holmes in NYC) *** 9/26
  • Other genre: The Big Bang Theory, Covert Affairs, Once Upon a Time in Reign, Wonderland, The Vampire Diaries


  • 7:00 p.m., Avatar: the Legend of Korra (animated fantasy) *** 9/13
  • 9:00 p.m., SyFy: Continuum (time travel) ** 2014
  • 9:00 p.m., NBC: Grimm (supernatural procedural) *** 10/25
  • 9:00 p.m., PBS: The Hollow Crown (Shakespeare; new miniseries) 9/20
  • 10:00 p.m., Starz: Da Vinci’s Demons (historical fantasy) ** 2014
  • Other genre: Dracula, Haven, The Hunters, Merlin, The Neighbors, Lost Girl, Nikita


  • 10:00 a.m., Cartoon: Beware the Batman (animated heroes, currently airing) ***
  • 10:30 a.m., Nickelodeon: Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles (animated heroes) *** late Sept.
  • 11:00 a.m., CW: Phantom Gourmet/NECN: TV Diner (local food, currently airing) ***
  • 8:00 p.m., BBC America: Doctor Who (time travel) *** 11/23
  • 9:00 p.m., BBC America: Orphan Black (clone conspiracy) **** 4/2013
  • 10:00 p.m., BBC America: Atlantis (fantasy, new) 11/23?
  • 11:00 p.m., VH1 Classic: That Metal Show (talk) ***
  • Other genre: Copper, The Graham Norton Show, The Nerdist, Metalocalypse, Monsters vs. Aliens, Teen Titans Go!

Genre TV for summer and fall of 2013

This past summer was much better for genre television than for movies. Thanks in part to counterprogramming by cable channels, there was a wider range of decent content on the small screen. The fall TV season is equally promising. (Note: Some of the articles linked to below contain “spoilers.”)

Top picks

My favorite TV shows of the past several months include the History Channel’s bloody Vikings, SyFy’s time-travel/dystopian Continuum, and BBC America’s clone thriller Orphan Black, which I’m not alone in considering as the best genre show of the year. They’ve been enough to keep my DVR filled and to keep me from wanting Netflix.

BBC America's Orphan Black
I know I’ve said it before, but this is the best new SFTV show of 2013 so far.

Janice and I have been getting our Doctor Who fix with Doctor Who Confidential, and the transition from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi was one of the bigger genre news items of the past few months. We’ll see if Arrow can follow up a surprisingly strong first season (learning from Smallville‘s mistakes) with its introduction of the Flash.


Shows that got bumped to my “B” list include the postapocalyptic Defiance and Revolution and bodice-ripping potboilers such as Starz’s Da Vinci’s Demons and The White Queen (and the upcoming Reign and Shakespearean Hollow Crown). While all these shows have decent casts, strong production values, and arc-driven storylines, the quality of the writing still varies significantly.

I haven’t been watching various Doctor Who alumni on BBC America’s Broadchurch, but PBS’s Silk has been OK, We’ll see whether Starz’s pirate swashbuckler Black Sails or BBC’s Atlantis (from the creators of Merlin) can match Spartacus or Magic City for period drama.

More mysteries

Janice and I have also been watching PBS’s Masterpiece. Of the mysteries, I still prefer the original Inspector Morse and sequel/spinoff Inspector Lewis to the prequel Endeavor. After the darkly riveting Bletchley Circle and reruns of the superlative Jeremy Brett version of Sherlock Holmes, we’re waiting on the return of Foyle’s War, Sherlock, and Elementary.

I’m looking forward to the return of Castle and White Collar (despite their dips toward soap) and the prescient Person of Interest, as well as the bittersweet series finales of the fun Psych and Warehouse 13. I’m afraid the new Ironside will run into the same difficulties as the recent attempted remake of Kojak.

Paranormal prodedurals

Speaking of paranormal activities, there’s also the Buffyesque Grimm, which I prefer to other fairytale-themed shows (including Dracula and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland). Da Vinci’s Demons has had a frothy mix of history and pre-steampunk conspiracies.

I don’t know where Sleepy Hollow will fit in this subgenre. New procedurals include Joss Whedon’s return to TV with Marvel’s Agents of Shield and robot/cop partners on Almost Human.

In other new shows, Believe could be good, and it has some of the X-Files/Fringe vibe. Tomorrow People and Star Crossed are more responses to the rise of metahuman melodramas, but whether they will be more like Heroes, which started strong but ended badly, or the underrated Alphas is yet to be seen.

Food, glorious food!

For reality shows, we’ve watched “food porn” such as Phantom Gourmet and TV Diner, as well as occasional shows on the Food Network and Travel Channel. We’ve also watched Top Shot All-Stars, American Ninja Warrior, and some documentaries. However, I’ve avoided the current wave of shows exploiting geekdom.

Animation nation

I’m still pleased with the Seinfeld-style antics on The Looney Tunes Show, franchise continuations Dragons: Riders of Berk and Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, and atmospheric newcomer Beware the Batman. Disney/Marvel may dominate live-action, but its Avengers Assemble and Hulk and the Agents of SMASH aren’t animation I’d recommend.

This fall, I’m looking forward to Avatar: the Legend of Korra and more DC Nation shorts. Younger audiences might appreciate Kung-Fu Panda: Lgends of Awesomeness, Monsters vs. Aliens, Teen Titans Go, SheZow, and Rabbids Invasion. Note that most of these are now computer-based rather than 2-D cell animation.

Coming soon: Game transitions and more movie musings….

Sleuths and con artists abound in 2012 TV

This past year was a busy one for genre television. I had meant to post my first impressions of the new fall season, but I struggled with how to organize it: short lists, or detailed analyses? By subgenre, night of the week, or network? At least a few additional months have given me perspective on the shows I like most and least.

Janice and I tend not to watch a lot of reality shows, situation comedies, crime dramas, or serialized soap operas, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for reviews of those types of shows. In live-action TV, we do watch some procedurals, with Masterpiece: Mystery and the second season of the modernized BBC/PBS Sherlock as favorites.

Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch
Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes

The competing Elementary is decent, if not quite as brilliant as its British forebears. Castle has managed to balance humor and drama, as has White Collar, even though both have occasionally veered too far into gruesome melodrama on the one hand or silly romance on the other. At the same time, I look forward to the goofy shout-outs to the 1980s and ’90s in Psych.

I’d put do-gooder capers such as the original Mission Impossible in a closely related category. This includes the recently canceled Leverage (whose tabletop role-playing game is the best implementation of the Cortex system) and Hu$tle. I haven’t been following popular detective shows such as Bones and the remake of Hawaii Five-O.

In the related genre of supernatural crime fighters, I thought that the canceled Awake was decent. I prefer Grimm, which has inherited some of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Angel‘s writers and style, to the fairy tale soap Once Upon a Time.

Fringe is in a league of its own, with the mind-bending perspectives of Farscape and the procedural style of The X-Files. I’ll miss Fringe, which is at least going out strong. I haven’t been following Supernatural.

On the slightly more realistic side, thrillers such as Homeland, Person of Interest, and Last Resort have been pretty good, but I dropped Nikita, which of course outlasted much of its competition. What have you been watching?

Coming soon: More SFTV, animation nation returns, and books and games!

Star Trek: the greatest generation

On Thursday, 29 November 2012, I met former co-worker and fellow blogger Ken G. and members of the Boston Sci-Fi Meetup for dinner, drinks, and conversation at Boston Beer Works near Fenway Park. We then went to the screening of Season 2 episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation that have been remastered in preparation for the Blu-Ray release. I enjoyed the camaraderie, the special features, and the look back at one of the best space opera TV shows as it reached its prime 25 years ago.

Cast photo for ST:TNG Season 2
Command crew of the starship Enterprise, NCC 1701-D, as of Season 2

Q Who?” introduced the Borg, who would become one of the franchise’s greatest villains. John de Lancie’s nearly omnipotent mischief maker played off nicely against Patrick Stewart’s Capt. Jean Luc Picard and the rest of the command crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC 1701-D. The remastered special effects were clean, although the colors and lighting seemed a bit too dark at times. The audio was excellent, with the starship sounds more pronounced during the opening credits and space battles.

A Measure of a Man” included 13 minutes of restored scenes from Melinda Snodgrass’ thoughtful script. Jonathan Frakes as Cmdr. William T. Riker, Stewart, and Brent Spiner as Lt.Cmdr. Data all got to shine in their roles exploring android Data’s legal rights as a sentient being in the United Federation of Planets. The episode included references to the original 1960s TV series (TOS) and held up remarkably well. I’m glad that Snodgrass’ character moments were added back in.

Both episodes showed the crew of the Enterprise growing more comfortable with one another as the storylines improved. While I disagree with the producers and many fans who wanted darker, more conflict-driven episodes in defiance of Gene Roddenberry’s wishes, I think Next Gen‘s (TNG) middle seasons did a great job of balancing character, episodic plots, and Roddenberry’s hopeful vision of the future.

The interviews with cast members, bloopers, and glimpses at the restoration process for Seasons 1 through 3 of TNG added much insight. It was nice to see the actors still joking around, learn about why Gates MacFadden was really fired (for protesting sexist scripts), and whet our appetite for remastered versions of “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Sins of the Father,” “Best of Both Worlds, Part 1.”

Reunion of ST:TNG cast
Reunion of the cast of Star Trek: the Next Generation

Star Trek, including The Next Generation, helped set the template for many other genre television in the decades that have followed. Like Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, and Babylon 5 had an initially successful military space opera — TOS, the 1970s show, the 1980s movie, and the 1990s TV series, respectively. The best of these showed teams of co-workers become friends as they saved humanity and the galaxy time after time.

Each was followed by a ship-based TV revival (TNG, Ron Moore’s BSG, and Stargate SG1), a darker and more intricate stationary show (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Caprica, and Stargate: Atlantis) and a weaker return to a ship-based action series (Voyager/Enterprise, Razor/Blood & Chrome, Stargate: Universe, and Crusade, respectively). All had episodes featuring time travel or flashbacks, shared hallucinations, foes turned friends, and many other speculative fiction tropes codified by Trek.

Even space operas that didn’t have spinoffs owe a heavy debt to Roddenberry and crew, such as Andromeda, Farscape, and Firefly/Serenity. I’ve been a fan of all of these shows, but the familial relationships of TNG and Roddenberry’s heroic idealism still resonate with me more than many of that show’s peers, spinoffs, and successors.

Now that more information is becoming available for the sequel to J.J. Abrams’ reboot, I’m still cautiously optimistic. I’d prefer a less villain-driven plot, which looks to use Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan Noonien Singh or Gary Mitchell as an analogue for Osama Bin Laden. Star Trek‘s final frontier still beckons. Live long and prosper!