Sunday, November 30, 2014

In Search Of The New World

Reel To Reel: Interstellar

Going Rate: Worth full price admission (especially in IMAX)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Michael Caine
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Sci-fi violence

Christopher Nolan makes movies for people who like heady sci-fi thrillers. He gave us a masterful reboot of the Batman franchise, the innovative adventure Inception, and now he comes at us with a mash-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, and last year's Gravity. At times I felt like I needed a physics degree to understand some of this film's concepts. But with so many films dumbing things down, why can't Nolan force his audiences to smarten up?

The film takes place on a decaying Earth sometime in the future. We don't know how many years have gone by between now and the future, but we see the world is in a dust-bowl crisis. We're running out of food, and even the corn farmers grow won't sustain life forever. Towns keep getting hit by haboobs -- presumably both Phoenix and Tucson, I gather, for all of you gripers who wonder why you're the ones who always have to clean all the sand out of the pool. In this future shock, science and scientists have taken a back seat to agriculture, demonstrated in a scene where a school leader explains the government curriculum that's hilariously ignorant.

Joseph Cooper (McConaughey) used to be an astronaut. Now he's running a family farm, occasionally turning old tech into something useful. During a dust storm, his young daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) notices something weird about the way the dirt is landing on the floor. She thinks ghosts are out there and trying to talk to her. Cooper, no believer in ghosts but a scientist at heart, works with her on trying to decipher the messages. It leads the two of them back to a secret base where NASA has been preparing for a mission to inhabit a new planet. Professor John Brand (Caine) reveals Earth is dying, and humanity has two choices: either find a way to efficiently get people off Earth and to a new world, or restart humanity from the beginning, something conveniently called "Plan B." And you thought moving to a new house was tough.

But first, we have to find that ideal planet. Several astronauts have already gone through a wormhole, a wrinkle in time that takes them to new universes with potentially habitable worlds. Cooper joins up on a mission with several other experts -- and a few creepy robots who look like walking ATM machines -- to follow up on the astronauts' work and potentially pick a planet. The journey will test not only the laws of physics, but of time, space and emotional resolve.

So much of this film revolves around scientific accuracy and danger that it feels more like an episode of Cosmos at times. But the TV series didn't play out in IMAX the way the movie does. It uses the large format and theater sound for maximum effect. I felt I was riding along with the astronauts in key scenes. When the starship rumbles, you feel it in your gut.

I thoroughly enjoyed Interstellar. It doesn't have the emotional grip of Gravity or the revelations of Contact or 2011, but it's a geek-out film for physics and astronomy geeks which isn't afraid to take on tough questions or answer them intelligently.

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