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Interstellar ***1/2

                                                                                  

 Is it worth $10? Yes

“Interstellar” is, in a word, overwhelming. In a good way.

This is a thought-provoking, substantial work on a grand scale, superbly combining big budget effects and action with a story that dares to answer questions people are often too afraid to ask. The scope of the story takes us from earth to outer space to wormholes and galaxies we cannot possibly imagine. Themes deal with love, betrayal, and redemption. “Interstellar” is one of the most ambitious movies you will ever see, both in terms of visual dazzle in the enormity of it all.

The scientific and existential tale takes place in the future. Earth is dying. Dust is everywhere, wheat and okra are gone, and the only farmable food left is corn. Former NASA pilot and engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) lives on a farm with his son Tom (Timothee Chalamet as a boy, Casey Affleck as a man), daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy as a girl, Jessica Chastain as an woman) and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). Their existence is simple and, they increasingly believe, futile.

Cooper and Murph stumble on a clue that leads them to NASA’s secret location, where Cooper’s old college professor (Michael Caine) tells him of one last shot to save mankind: A venture into an outer space wormhole to try to find a hospitable planet where humans may survive. Cooper leaves everything behind and is joined on the Endurance spacecraft by Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi).

Obstacles abound, the biggest of which is this: For humans time is linear, but in the far reaches of outer space it can be at a standstill or greatly accelerated. In the first place the Endurance lands, one hour on the planet equals seven human years. This makes Cooper returning to his kids a bit tricky.

But what an adventure he takes. Director Christopher Nolan (the “Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception”), who co-wrote the script with his brother, Jonathan Nolan, often features protagonists who willingly enter into situations they have no idea how to get out of. Nolan then puts the characters through tremendous peril, and in this case does so with fabulously imaginative action sequences that are perfectly paced with Hans Zimmer’s musical score. As with “Gravity” last year, “Interstellar” is best seen on as large a screen as possible. Unlike “Gravity,” “Interstellar” is not available in 3D; however, “Interstellar” is having a wide rollout on IMAX screens, and the images are worth the padded admission price.

There are a few missteps along the way – one involving an uncredited appearance by Matt Damon – but the 169-minute running time passes quickly. That is, as long as you’re not taking it too seriously. I have no idea how much of the science is true, and I also don’t care – there’s a reason it’s called “science fiction.” If the story seems too ridiculous for you, you’re missing the fun.

Christopher Nolan is one of the few filmmakers working today who successfully combines commercial appeal with artistic aspiration. The visuals, editing and musical score play like a first rate action pic, while the depth of the thrilling story forces viewers to mentally engage. I can’t wait to see “Interstellar” again.

Did you know?

The NASA-inspired spacecraft set was built on the same L.A. soundstages that hosted the Batcave in Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. To make it realistic for his actors, Nolan projected spinning stars and black holes onto screens outside the spacecraft’s windows.

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