Interstellar (2014)

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, David Gyasi

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Matthew McConaughey in spaaaace...

If I'd actually seen 2001: A Space Odyssey (boring story, all my dad's fault) then I would probably boldy claim that Interstellar is Christopher Nolan's answer to that pioneering sci-fi epic. But as I haven't (thanks, Dad) I'll instead have to say that it's his answer to Independence Day, Armageddon, Gravity, Sunshine, Signs (sorry) and Alien. Without (spoiler) any aliens.

The year is some unspecified date in the future, and the earth is grinding to a slow, painful, undignified halt, the small area we see a dusty, forbidding prairie where everyone survives on corn, the only crop that will now grow, and dresses like it's the '90s.

Mackenzie Foy as Murph and Matthew McConaughey as Cooper in Interstellar

Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a curmudgeonly engineer now turned reluctant farmer in a world with little need for mechanical know-how, where the struggle for basic survival has long superceded any more lofty aspirations. But when a series of supernatural signs leads him to a secret NASA base (helmed by Nolan stalwart Sir Michael Caine), his life takes an unexpected turn. Suddenly, he' s charged with Saving the World™.

Not that this impresses his daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy): she's just majorly pissed that her dad is jetting off in search of brave new worlds and leaving her behind on the rapidly disintegrating old one. Exit via a wormhole...

And so, after rather a lot of dust and family stuff we don't really care about, the film takes off, soaring into space with all the bombast, state-of-the-art special effects and surging classical music I was hoping for. Awesome. From now on, prepare for your jaw to be well and truly dropped. (Until the last 20 minutes anyway, when it all shows down again).

But then again, speeding up and slowing down are a key part of the plot here, which, like that of Inception, centres around the pliability and inescapably precious nature of time. Einstein may have noted that 'When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute.' But let him land on a planet in a galaxy far, far away and he'll lose a quarter of his life.

Anne Hathaway, who's also in the movie...Ontologically, this is a staggeringly ambitious, almost hubristic film that tries to balance the meaning of life, love and the universe with the laws of quantum physics and tie them up neatly into a classic fairy tale of human endeavour, 'the small town guy does good' narrative that's formed the backbone of secular storytelling from 'Jack and the Beanstalk' to Star Wars. And Interstellar is both thoroughly secular and very, very human-centric. In Nolan's vision we're no blip on the cosmic radar, crawling on the planet's face like insects; we're the be all and end all, the Alpha and Omega. We're God. And there is no good or evil; some of us are simply prepared to do more to survive.

But much the time what this grandeur boils down to is rather a lot of pseudo science babble about gravity, relativity and equations. (I say 'pseudo' – for all l know astronauts are barrelling their way through black holes and bending time at this very moment.) And there are several speeches about the nature of love that will either make you laugh or cry (or possibly just barf). But there are also lovable wise-cracking robots that look like walking tombstones (and have way more personality than the obligatory red jersey characters sacrificed along the way). And there's Matt Damon playing a Kurz-esque pioneering doctor, marooned in the heart of planetary darkness – what's not to like?

So all in all, Interstellar is good but not brilliant like Inception. The characters are too cipher-like, the script too didactic and the influences too heavily signposted. But it's also hugely inventive, visually stunning and, at times, viscerally exciting. Hell, it's nearly three hours long and I remained wide-eyed and awake the whole way though – what greater praise can I give? Well, I supposed I could compare it to 2001 – but I'll have to see it first.

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