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"INTERSTELLAR"
(2014) (Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Science-Fiction: Four astronauts travel through a wormhole hoping to find a habitable planet to relocate Earth's population.
PLOT:
In the not-too-distant future, Earth suffers from extreme blight that has caused humanity's food supply to dwindle. Former test pilot and widower Cooper (MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY) ekes out a living as a corn farmer while caring for his teenage son, Tom (TIMOTHEE CHALAMET, who gives way to CASEY AFFLECK as an adult), and 10-year-old daughter, Murph (MACKENZIE FOY, who gives way to JESSICA CHASTAIN as an adult).

One day, Cooper and Murph discover an odd displacement of gravity in Murph's bedroom. Cooper is able to deduce coordinates within the phenomenon, and he and Murph drive to that spot on the map to discover a secret NASA installation. Inside the facility. Cooper comes in contact with project leaders Professor Brand (MICHAEL CAINE) and his daughter, Amelia (ANNE HATHAWAY), who tell Cooper of the discovery of a wormhole near Saturn and the space mission they are planning with Drs. Doyle (WES BENTLEY) and Romilly (DAVID GYASI). Their goal: to travel through the wormhole to determine if there is a habitable planet on the other side.

Cooper has to bid a heart-wrenching farewell to his kids, leaving them in the care of his father-in-law, Donald (JOHN LITHGOW). Murph takes his departure hard and continues to claim a ghost has invaded her room and is sending her messages -- one of them being for her father to "Stay." Cooper explains to her that he must leave and try and save humanity. He adds that due to Einstein's theory of relativity, the next time they see each other upon his return to Earth, they may even be the same age. Once out in space, though, Cooper and the other explorers encounter a series of mishaps -- including one with a deranged scientist named Mann (MATT DAMON) who went on a scouting mission before them -- that might mean they may never see their loved ones again or save humanity.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Sometimes, film critics reward a movie solely on its ambition. The film itself may not be great. But the reach and the scope and the effort on the filmmakers' part was so considerable, that it just would be wrong not to honor the accomplishment with some kind words. Fortunately, Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" is both a grand, ambitious film on every technical level AND a really terrific motion picture that will both touch you and thrill you.

If the worst criticism you can level at a legitimately good film is "it's not a masterpiece," that isn't the worst thing. No, Nolan's end result here will not and should not be mentioned in the same breath as "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." And, yes, the film and the filmmakers come off as a bit too impressed with themselves and their collective vision in several stretches here. But there are long, sustained stretches of brilliance. And the parts where the film is not brilliant, and not a masterpiece, are not lazy or boring stretches. They're just the moments where, as an audience member, I got sucked out of the film's gravitational pull -- basically, where it lost me -- and I had to attempt reentry back into the storyline.

The balance here is between the emotional and the intellectual. And while Matthew McConaughey's widowed test pilot Cooper and his daughter Murph (played at difference ages by Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain) are wonderful guides to the human heart, delivering a father-daughter dynamic across the years -- heck, across dimensions -- the science in this film is, at times, so dense that I wish there was a character included that, not so much dumbed the film down for liberal arts majors like myself, but made the science more accessible for those who haven't taken graduate level Physics or Astronomy courses.

I guess what I needed was a Doc Brown or a Lieutenant Commander Data. They always had a cool way of explaining science and science-fiction phenomena like black holes, wormholes, gravity, disturbances in the space-time continuum in ways that benefited their stories. Here, I had to throttle some of my fellow critics afterwards and get their collective takes on "Uh, so what exactly did THAT mean?"

The film is set in a not-too-distant future where the Earth suffers from a blight and frequent dust storms that are killing off crops one by one, year by year. By some estimates, the planet only has two or three generations at most before humanity becomes extinct. Enter Cooper, a former test pilot who is recruited to pilot a four-member crew through a recently discovered wormhole near Saturn. On the other side of that wormhole, they hope to find a world that will be habitable for what's left of humanity.

It's a long shot at best, of course. And even if Cooper and the others return, Einstein's theory of relativity holds that they may have only aged a few years whereas the rest of us may age decades. Cooper's storyline is paralleled nicely with that of project leader Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who sends his own scientist-daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), on the mission with him. Does the whole thing go according to plan? Of course not! The first world they encounter after venturing through the rift in space has a time shift where every hour spent surveying on the surface is the equivalent of seven years lost back on Earth. One slip up -- a faulty engine and a botched takeoff or landing -- could costs humanity decades.

"Interstellar" is an intense epic that seeks to deliver both an "experience" and a movie. In my book, it succeeds on both counts. I think viewers will be drawn to the film for different reasons and on different levels. It won't work for everyone, because it is a film that invites high demands. Science and astronomy geeks ... er, aficionados will want the film to delve even deeper into the dense cosmos and may find all the mushy father-daughter stuff distracting. Those wanting this to be the next great, bleak dystopia sci-fi film will be put off by its rampant sense of optimism that runs throughout. The film, at times, reminded me more of such can-do/will-do films as "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 13" than anything else.

There are certainly things I wish were different. Once again, composed Hans Zimmer absolutely bludgeons the audience with his music, blasting what sound like church organs this time with what sounds like King Kong on percussion. This was once the man who gave us gentle scores like for "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Green Card" and whimsical soundtracks for "Rain Man" and "True Romance." Now, he delivers the symphonic equivalent of Jim Carrey's "Dumb and Dumber" character just screaming in people's ears.

And, again, I wish some of the science here was distilled a little more for the masses. I got about 90 percent of it. I'm lying, of course. It was closer to 60 or 70 percent. But those gaps where I wasn't quite grasping things, they pulled me out of the motion picture. And truly great films never release their hold on you from the first second of screen time until end credits. Still, "Interstellar" reaches for the stars and will give most moviegoers the moon. I rate it a 7 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed November 3, 2014 / Posted November 5, 2014


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