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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Monday, December 15, 2014

Some Belated Thoughts on Big Hero 6 and Interstellar

It took me a while to see these two movies, and even longer to write down my thoughts on them, but I may as well do it. I’ll mark spoilers when I get to them.

It seems weird to think of these two movies as related; they’re about as different as you can get. They were released on the same day, and that’s about it (unless you want to count the fact that I saw them close together as another relation, in case you think my viewing pattern makes them more similar in some way). But I feel like these movies are so different that they almost represent polar opposites in some way.

Let me just start by saying that I loved both movies, although in different ways and in different amounts. My thoughts/issues with them, at least, came from total opposite directions, though. With Big Hero 6, I left the theater craving more. The movie is a brisk hour and forty-two minutes long, but easily could have been another hour and I wouldn’t have minded much. I know the saying that it’s better to leave people wanting more than to overstay your welcome, but still, I would have loved to have seen more of the rest of Fred, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and GoGo. The movie does a great job of establishing their personalities through action, humor, and minimal dialogue, but they still end up feeling more like the Greek chorus of the movie, acting as one and such.

We do get a lot of the main characters though, primarily Hiro and Baymax (although I’d also argue Tadashi counts as well, as the sort of bridge between the rest of the team and the main two). And they’re both wonderful characters and I wouldn’t have sacrificed any of it for anything else, but it’s still enough to leave you a little disappointed until there’s a sequel or something else taking advantage of this universe.

Interstellar, meanwhile, was what reinforced the “better to leave early” idea to me, just a few days later. It’s two hours and forty-nine minutes, and feels it. Strangely, there wasn’t too much that I felt was obvious to cut, and at it’s best, it’s using this length to build a wonderful tension, as you feel the clocking ticking just as keenly as Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper. Once the movie gets into space, the pace takes off (pun fully intended, and I don’t apologize), so I suppose that means that I would cut from the opening on Earth. Or maybe just from some of the general exposition on earth or in space? It does feel like there’s a little too much time establishing the obvious. It’s a rough call though, and I’ve only seen it once; I feel like I’d need to watch it a second time to be sure on where I’d edit.

Each film is beautiful in it’s own way, with the desolate majesty of empty space and distant planets in Interstellar directly in contrast to Big Hero 6’s bustling metropolis of San Fransokyo. It’s kind of funny that former, which is entirely about finding where humans will live next, is more terrifying, while the latter, which doesn’t touch on the theme at all, left me insanely jealous of all the computer-generated people who get to live in San Fransokyo.

-The rest of the review will discuss plot points, so proceed with caution-

But strangely, even Big Hero 6’s brief jump into a desolate space-like alternate dimension felt more…lively, I suppose? The design, filled with bright colors and abstract patterns, was almost as much a pleasure to watch as San Fransokyo in it’s own way. Even then, and felt as welcoming as I would have hoped deep space in Interstellar would have been (although I guess that’s what happens when the main theme of one is overcoming nature).

The only other major point of contrast that I can think of in the two is emotion. The writers at Disney have nailed hitting the emotional beats. I am perfectly willing to admit to crying in movies, and in Big Hero 6, even when I realized Tadashi would not make it out of the first act alive before it happened, I was powerless in trying to prevent any feelings that welled up. Interstellar was the opposite; I knew which scenes were the emotional climaxes. I even thought to myself as the peak hit “That’s weird, normally I’d be crying at this type of scene”.

I still don’t have a good reason for why Interstellar left me feeling cold; I’d need to watch it again to be certain. But one excuse I’ve heard that makes a lot of sense is the overuse of exposition that I mentioned earlier. Essentially, Christopher Nolan wanted viewers to know the science behind the end wormhole scene before it happened, making it too easy to guess what would happen to Cooper after he entered it, that he would become the “ghost” interacting with his daughter from earlier in the movie. Basically, it telegraphed it’s emotional punches. But at the same time, that didn’t seem to be a problem for me in Big Hero 6.

As I reflect on it now, I think it’s related to the explanations, but for different reasons. Essentially, the movie has been stretching our expectations the entire time. We already know that wormholes work, and we have a suspicion that black holes are similar based on other events in the movie. When Cooper enters the black hole, we expect him to come out okay and reunite with his daughter. And that beats not seeing her at all, which was the fear for a long time. If it were closer in placement to Cooper finding out he’d been away for decades, that might have been more of a gut punch, but we’ve already had time to digest that.

Speaking of, the scene where the astronauts return from the first planet and find that twenty-one years have passed? I know a way to make that more of an emotional hit; don’t provide a sense of scale. When they head down saying one hour will equal seven years? That ruins the emotional impact. We see the scene and know they’re down there for a while; the only question upon return is a specific damage toll. I was actually expecting worse than twenty-one years, robbing that revelation of some of the impact. If they were going for emotion, the best way would be to establish that an hour would be some number of years, but build us up to expect it to be five or ten. That would make their faulty estimation even more tragic. I guess this isn’t really a fault in the script per se, it just winds up being much less of an emotional experience than you’d think it would be. Either way, Matthew McConaughey acted the hell out of those scenes, and almost got me to tear up in spite of the other factors. 

In the end, I’d give the edge to Big Hero 6. Not that Interstellar was bad, but there were gripes. My only real complaints for Big Hero 6 were “there could have been even more”, and that’s a good problem to have (and easily fixable, should they decide to make a sequel…).

My only other thing about these movies is a small note, unrelated to the main point, so I’ll just throw it here at the end. I’ve heard people complain about the “villains” of these films, namely the lack of surprise (or, in Interstellar’s case, whether it even needed villains). In the end, even if the “twists” aren’t there, I think each villain contributes to the themes of their movies. Professor Callaghan was obvious in part due to the small cast of the movie, but they did a good job of turning his villainy into a part of Hiro’s growth and a solid foil to highlight that thanks to a more-surprising backstory. And while it would have been interesting to see Interstellar go the “no human antagonist” route, they made a good use of the Matt Damon’s Dr. Mann and Michael Caine’s Dr. Brand Sr. I admit it, I’m a sucker for characters as foils, especially for the main character. But on top of that, I think they added to the theme that humans are their own worst enemy, and highlighted the heroism of the main crew. And that’s all I have to say on that topic.

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