Guest Post! This post was written by Alex Schechter and edited by myself. I very much enjoyed Interstellar too, but I thought it would be cool to bring in someone else’s opinion. Check out Alex’s detailed thoughts below.
Before you begin reading what I’m sure will be a rambling and only slightly coherent post please be aware of the following things: First of all this post is titled “…Should See Interstellar…”. This isn’t an article about why it’s a good movie (which I think it is) or an amazing work of art (yep, I think that too). It’s a post about the film industry in general and about trends we have already seen begin to develop. And this trend will only take a more dramatic hold in the coming five to ten years.
Second of all I’m an unapologetically huge Christopher (and John) Nolan fanboy. I’ve loved all of his movies of the past several years, even the Dark Knight Rises. His stringent use of real, live effects and props instead of using CGI astounds me. His somber tone and larger than life approach to filmmaking gives his movies something special. When you watch a Nolan movie, whether he wrote, directed, or even produced it, you know that it’s a Nolan movie. Perhaps what set people off of the 2013 movie Man of Steel was the contrast of Nolan’s solemn tone with the action-packed, in-your-face style of director Zack Synder (whose vision I also enjoy). In that movie you could truly see, in a very clear fashion, Nolan’s perspective and filmmaking process at work.
So whether or not you like Nolan’s films, you must see that he certainly has a style all his own. Like many other prolific filmmakers: Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, J.J. Abrams, Spielberg, and Lucas (and the list goes on), Nolan makes big bucks when he steps up to the plate. Or at least he did with his last few movies; but that’s the thing, Interstellar only made about 47 million dollars opening weekend.
“Only 47 million dollars?”, you might ask, incredulously. Well Interstellar is what the movie industry calls a “tent pole”; or a movie which is expected to make so much money that it can “hold up” as a source of profit. Studios like to have a tent poles during the summer, and during the holiday season. Not only are these times of the year when everyone likes to see movies but they also correlate to the off times between pre and post Oscar season. Most often winners of the coveted Best Picture award are not tent poles. Take, for example, the last five Best Picture winners. Almost all of them were made for very little money, and though they did well at the box office, most people would not have considered them tent poles.
So what does all of this have to do with Interstellar, or with Christopher Nolan? Let us consider the fact that Interstellar made 47 million dollars in the opening weekend; not only that but it also opened second behind a child oriented disney movie called “Big Hero 6” (which is based on an existing Marvel comic). Movie studios love movies with a G or PG rating because the less severe the warning, the larger the prospective audience. Only certain directors (and even certain studios) are known for releasing successful R rated movies. Also the difference between PG-13 and R is a huge one. That’s of course because most movie theaters require a parent or guardian to accompany all those under the age of 17 when seeing an R rated movie. Basically, getting the R rating is a death sentence unless the movie is going for an Oscar (from the perspective of a movie executive). If you don’t believe me take a look at the 50 top grossing films of all time. Not one of them has an R rating (though many of them have a PG 13 rating).
Don’t worry, I’m going to get back to Interstellar eventually, but it’s worth noting another thing about that list of top grossing films: the franchises. Franchises are the most coveted properties to movie studios, and they cannot get enough of them. Take for example the Harry Potter franchise. All eight movies appear in that list. Every single Harry Potter movie has made it into that list. That’s literally a decade of top grossing movies, of tent poles every year. When a movie studio acquires a franchise like that, they know it means they get to sit back and not worry about finding another tent pole movie for one of those so desired movie watching seasons. They can go ahead and greenlight a movie like Interstellar; a multimillion dollar, completely original, non-franchise forming movie, that has no possibility of a sequel and no possibility of establishing a lasting brand. It will come and go, and the only thing the movie studio might have to show for it is (possibly) an Oscar for best effects. There isn’t going to be an “Interstellar 2”, just like there is never going to be a sequel to Inception, Memento, or The Prestige.
Though Interstellar will not be considered a “flop” (a movie that makes less at the box office than the cost of the movie itself) it will definitely not be considered a success. Even though Interstellar has made over 300 million dollars internationally in a week and a half (which is probably more than enough to make back what it cost), and will continue to bring in a profit over the next month or two, nothing will shake the fact that it made so little in its opening weekend (as well as opening second that weekend). Over the past few years we have seen several huge flops: The Green Lantern, The Lone Ranger, and After Earth to name a few. These are just a few examples of movies that were expected to serve as tent poles but fell flat. When this happens it hurts everyone including us, the audience.
With each one of these huge failures, with each and every tent pole that snaps in half, big movie studios become less and less likely to make movies that are original. Not just that, but they are going to be far less likely to make movies that are not based on some kind of known entity. Why should a movie studio make a movie based on an unheard of property if they can make another Hunger Games movie that is guaranteed to make millions (or even billions) of dollars? This is (unfortunately) not an unfair question. And don’t get me wrong, I love a good franchise film; Nolan has even made some great ones, you might have heard of them. But many of my personal favorites like Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, and Short Term 12 were, just like Interstellar, based on an original story. Over the next five to ten years we are going to see very few (if any) movies like this. Don’t believe me? Ask George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
“There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm”.
Both Spielberg and Lucas go on to talk about how other mediums like television and streaming platforms like Netflix are contributing to the decline of film. Kevin Spacey has also talked about this at length when he delivered a rousing speech about other forms of content distribution. He says “Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it”. Personally, it has been a very long time since I’d even watched a movie, let alone gone out to the movie theater.
But for Interstellar I made a special exception, because I wanted to see it in IMAX format. Because I knew that Christopher Nolan would not fail me and that it would be worth the 18 dollar ticket price. And for me the investment was recuperated. I loved Interstellar like I loved Inception before it. Again I got to see Nolan’s mastery of storytelling and his vast ability to share amazing moments in time and space (and spacetime). And after watching the movie, my head filled with questions that had no answers. I read about how Nolan had taken Kip Thorne as an executive producer to keep Nolan “on track” with theoretical physics. That’s right: Nolan hired on Kip Thorne so that he could get the theoritical physics of his movie as close to reality as possible.
If you need more proof, look at all the big budget movies planned for the next several years. Disney is crushing it with Marvel movies and soon they will most likely do it again with the Star Wars franchise. These movies will span literally half a decade, all the way to 2019 (at least for Marvel). Soon, Warner Brothers will begin cranking out DC comic movies; and I’m sure we will see evermore sequels and spin offs. And of course I’m incredibly excited for each and every one of those movies, I’ll probably even be going to midnight screenings for some of them. But none of them will be what Interstellar is: a completely original movie.
And perhaps I (as well as Spielberg and Lucas) are wrong. Perhaps we will begin to see a wave of incredible, original movies. Maybe we won’t get a third reboot of Spiderman, or another spinoff of the Madagascar movies (one is coming November 26th) or some other unoriginal attempt to grab at whatever established properties exist. But all the past and future evidence points to a resounding no.
If you want to continue to see original movies, movies that make you think, that challenge you to ask the bigger questions, to feel things you may have never felt before, then go see Interstellar. Pay the ridiculous 18 dollars to see it in IMAX (it’s worth it). But most of all, bring your friends and family. Of course there is absolutely no shame in going to see something else, but you vote with your wallet. You might not think much of it but movies like Interstellar and their ilk do a great deal of business through word of mouth. And if you need more motivation then read some of the critical reviews of Interstellar. Many of the negative reviews read as if the authors (in my opinion) still want you to see the movie.
And you should, and you should enjoy it for what it is: an amazing thrill ride through spacetime. A film that, however well is up for debate, poses some large questions that our race will have to answer the coming century. But what this movie really has is its authenticity and originality. Shot on actual film, created with real to-scale props and live effects, this movie is a dying breed. See it or don’t see it, just remember that in five years there may not be any more like it.