At least since he became one of Hollywood’s Most Important Directors, Christopher Nolan has directed movies about ideas, not people. In Inception, he asked questions about the nature of dreams and the politics of intertwined narratives. In The Dark Knight, he challenged the nation’s attitudes about terrorism and urban corruption. In The Dark Knight Rises, he seized upon the prevailing notions of the inequality gap in the American rhetoric. And in Interstellar, he sets his sights outward, heading into the great beyond for the first time. He comes back with three hours of gorgeous imagery and solid performances tied together by a script that strives for emotional catharsis and falls far short.
How do you summarize the history of the universe in forty-two minutes?
If you’re Seth MacFarlane, you summon the convenient power to bend an entire television network to your will. You gather a small portion of the obscene amount of money at your disposal, and you invite your friend Neil DeGrasse Tyson to embark on a journey with you. And then you set out to re-introduce the world to the pleasures of space travel and the power of scientific exploration.
The result is Cosmos, a thirteen-episode reboot of Carl Sagan’s wildly popular 1980 PBS series, which sought to make the most daunting aspects of our world and the surrounding multiverses both comprehensible and appealing to a mass audience. The original series came at a time when space discovery had begun to seem commonplace, even though we had only scratched the surface of the knowledge we’ve recently acquired. This new series arrives at a moment when space programs are in serious financial trouble and the prospect of exploring other worlds seems like a cop-out when we’ve got so many problems of our own on this one.
Some movies demand to be seen. Gravity demands to be experienced, in 3D, on the widest possible screen, surrounded by the most excitable people you can find. During its slim 88-minute running time, Gravity conjures the physical and emotional weight of space flight and zero-gravity navigation with more skill, grace and beauty than any movie I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the few movies in which George Clooney’s star magnetism gets outshined, not only by his co-star, the luminous Sandra Bullock, but by the sheer force of the spectacle surrounding the two leads. Gravity takes stunning advantage of the scope that the big screen affords and the small screen lacks – anyone who says that television is better at everything than movies need only be reminded that no one does outsized spectacle like Hollywood.