By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Interstellar is, literally and figuratively, stellar.
And why would we expect anything less ambitious, accomplished, or exhilarating from Christopher Nolan, the director of The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, The Prestige, Insomnia, Batman Begins, and Memento?
Oh, his reach may exceed his grasp at times, but how many moviemakers reach as boldly or skillfully for the stars?
Interstellar is a primal science fiction extravaganza, a time-bending adventure full of both grandeur and suspense, set in the near future, a time when, as a result of impactful and devastating environmental changes, Earth, soon to be uninhabitable, can no longer produce sufficient food to feed the planet's inhabitants.
The space program has collapsed, and then some, because survival has replaced exploration as our species' abiding concern.
Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a widower engineer and former astronaut, now toiling as a farmer, with two kids (played by Mackenzie Foy and Timothy Chalamet) who agrees to join a team of space-traveling scientists (including one Amelia Brand, played by Anne Hathaway, and others played by Wes Bentley and David Gyasi) in a ship called Endurance, on an anxious mission that will take them beyond our solar system, through a strange, newly discovered wormhole near Saturn, determined to be their only hope, in search of resources and perhaps even a new home for the human race.
Michael Caine plays Amelia's dad, the underground NASA astrophysicist in charge of the space-travel project. John Lithgow is Cooper's live-in father-in-law. Casey Affleck plays the adult version of Cooper's son, and Bill Irwin provides the voice of TARS, a computerized robot. Jessica Chastain is Cooper's grown-up daughter.
And one unbilled major star shows up as a late surprise.
Nolan co-wrote the screenplay, which is admirably dense with data and ideas but thankfully full of feeling, with his brother Jonathan, with whom he collaborated on the Dark Knight flicks. Much of the science is elusive, but not so the drama, which, with its life-or-death stakes, is generous and compelling and tense and affecting.
Nolan goes easy on the pyrotechnical, bluescreen stuff, instead concentrating on presenting eerily beautiful vistas and delivering the disquieting silence of outer space as the demanding, labyrinthine narrative unfolds with its stimulating notions about space travel and time travel, as always joined at the hip.
The obvious antecedent here is Stanley Kubrick's classic science fiction epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which undoubtedly influenced Nolan in his youth and to which he pays respectful homage.
Other filmic connections register as well, including 1956's similarly-themed Forbidden Planet, Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Robert Zemeckis' Contact.
Ultimately, Nolan's vision for the seemingly imperiled Earth is an optimistic one, speculating on a future that's nowhere near as dire as so much science fiction suggests.
And despite all the dazzling visuals and staggering imagery, this is a high-tech movie with heart, as engaging as it is technically proficient throughout its justifiable and necessary 2¾ hours, during which it makes an eloquent case for the preciousness of life, the umbilical parent-child bond, and the natural heroism of some otherwise-everyman members of our species.
McConaughey gives a strong and credible lead performance, showing us not only Cooper's ambitiousness and resourcefulness but his selfishness and vulnerability as well. And Nolan's ensemble cast does him proud from top to bottom.
So we'll travel through 3½ stars out of 4. This majestic cosmic adventure is smart and smooth and smashing, and packs an emotional wallop as well.
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