Review: ‘Interstellar’ is a movie as ambitious as spaceflight itself
Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” is the most ambitious science-fiction film, maybe ever and, certainly, since “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Long, filled with lengthy passages of exposition and explanations of science, it takes forever to get to a killer third act.
You will want to use the bathroom before settling in for its 2:49 running time. But you will walk out of the theater with a better grasp of “relativity.” You will fear science, a little less.
In the not-distant future, human civilization has settled into entropy. Cities have been abandoned, billions have died, dust storms plague the survivors, and humanity’s ability to feed itself is collapsing thanks to blights that wipe out the monoculture agriculture has become.
Matthew McConaughey is Cooper, at one time a test pilot for NASA, now turning his engineering skills to running a rural farm. He is sun beaten and weathered, raising two kids (Mackenzie Foy, wonderful, and Timothee Chalamet) with the help of his late wife’s father (John Lithgow).
Events conspire to put Cooper back in touch with a cadre of scientists, led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his scientist daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway). They’ve cooked up a last-ditch effort to save humanity — not on our dying planet, but out there, in the cosmos. Cooper will pilot a mission through a wormhole to find us a new home, and Amelia, Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi) and a model of the cleverest, simplest, most practical robot ever depicted on the screen, TARS (voiced by comic Bill Irwin), will go with him.
McConaughey is well cast as the last of the space cowboys, a drawling philosopher who ponders why “we’ve forgotten who we are — explorers, pioneers.”
Hathaway has the cold-hearted scientist role to fulfill. And the robot provides a smidgen of comic relief.
Nolan, co-writing the script with his brother Jonathan, references a staggering array of sci-fi film history. “Interstellar” plays like “2001” as re-imagined by M. Night Shyamalan, a bleak, harrowing tale that finds faith and hope in humanity’s persistence and ability to problem-solve.
It has the pulse of Carl Sagan and the soul of Ken Burns, especially his documentary “The Dust Bowl.”
Nolan toys with the silence of space, occasionally overwhelming us with the emotional music of the Hans Zimmer score. He takes us through a black hole in a sequence that’s a state-of-the-art updating of what Stanley Kubrick did in “2001.” He creates a puzzle, which he bends the rules — if not space and time — to solve.
And he delivers a sermon without preaching, a science lecture without blame. The Earth’s a mess, but “we were not meant to die here.” Can we make that quantum leap, past politics, greed and fear of science to “reach beyond our lifespans?”
It is gorgeous to look at, and moving to experience, thanks to Hathaway, McConaughey, Caine and Jessica Chastain, who shows up in the latter third as the adult daughter whose father left her to go into space long ago.
“Interstellar” is a space opera truly deserving of that label, overreaching and thought-provoking, heart-tugging and pulse-pounding. It’s the sort of film that should send every other sci-fi filmmaker back to the drawing board, the way Kubrick did, a long time ago in a millennium far away.
Roger Moore reviews movies for McClatchy News Service.