Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Topher Grace, Mackenzie Foy, Timothée Chalame, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, John Lithgow

Interstellar is a melodramatic sci-fi quest that taps into our fears of self-destruction and our hopes for redemption. Certain scenes occur in a cornfield; this entire flick has some corn sprinkled throughout it.

I admit I wasn’t expected this sort of sappiness from Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception). He always makes thought-provoking pieces; Interstellar is no exception. However, this space epic also has quite a bit of emotional drip about it, too – poetry quoting, repeated apologizing. The acting is committed, and the scenery and technical aspects amazing. Yet Interstellar – at 2 hours and 49 minutes – tries too hard to make us cry. Repeatedly.

McConaughey portrays a retired NASA pilot turned farmer. After a slow blight destroys most of the planet and humanity, corn is the only crop that will grow. He and his kids eek out a small living, along with the remnants of humankind. Not that they aren’t threatened still; the dust storms that have wiped out much of the rest of Earth are fast approaching.

That’s when McConaughey’s mentor, a NASA doctor (Caine), tells the pilot about a wormhole that’s been discovered near Saturn. If the space cowboy can leave his kids behind to go on one more mission to three possible replacement planets, he may be able to find a new habitat for humanity.

Hathaway and other actors do commendable jobs with underwritten parts.

Hathaway and other actors do commendable jobs with underwritten parts.

So, there’s the conundrum – an Earth slowly swallowed by plague, and a man who may never see his children again in order to save humankind. If McConaughey does succeed – because of the physics of superfast space travel – he’s likely to come back the same age as his daughter (Foy, Chastain). She will have missed out on having a dad, raised by her aged grandfather (Lithgow).

Nolan – who wrote this script with his brother Jonathan – loves parallels. Mirroring McConaughey’s relationship with his daughter is Caine’s connection with his daughter and fellow space traveler Hathaway. Almost immediately into the trip, McConaughey takes over as Hathaway’s replacement dad. Other than that, unfortunately, her part – along with other actors’ – is slightly underwritten.

Add 40 minutes of the movie descending into action cliché. Also, there’s a smartass robots, like C3PO and R2D2 meets Hal from 2001. At nearly three hours, this space trip is turning into a slightly bumpy ride.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Yet there’s still a lot of good here. The slow destruction of the Earth is a fascinating premise, and McConaughey’s acting in the early and late scenes is mesmerizing melodrama. The scientific theory of the trip is intriguing. Also, the idea that scientific exploration could get put on hold just so we can basically survive is ripe for discussion. The scenes after the ship leaves terra firma fill the screen, reminding us of Kubrick’s 2001. The technology is like Gravity on steroids. In fact, the whole film may beg to be seen on IMAX – a format Nolan loves – it’s so arresting.

In the end, Interstellar is a manipulative but visually sweeping trip – one you probably want to take once, but certainly not twice.

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