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If “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” was Steven Spielberg doing Stanley Kubrick, then “Interstellar” is Christopher Nolan doing Steven Spielberg doing Stanley Kubrick. It’s no surprise to learn that Spielberg himself was attached to the “Interstellar” screenplay for years before it wound up in Nolan’s hands, and that quintessentially Spielbergian sense of maudlin sentimentality is never far removed, no matter how many weighty moral dilemmas and dialogues about quantum physics Nolan manages to cram into his film.

“Interstellar” begins in America’s heartland sometime after “the blight” has destroyed most of the world’s agricultural production, leaving the planet covered in swirling sandstorms with little other than corn still able to be farmed.

Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, is a former NASA pilot and engineer who, like most of the world’s population, has turned to subsistence farming. Since his wife died, he’s been raising his two kids (Timothee Chalamet and Mackenzie Foy) with the help of their grandfather (John Lithgow). A series of coincidences that wouldn’t be out of place in an M. Night Shyamalan film lead Cooper to a clandestine NASA bunker where he meets old friend Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), who wastes no time in telling Cooper that Earth is doomed, and mankind’s only hope lies in finding a hospitable world in a distant galaxy.

Interstellar
Rating
Director Christopher Nolan
Run Time 169 minutes
Language English
Opens Nov. 22

Brand has found a wormhole located near Saturn through which he sent a few spacecraft and signals have come back from three. Cooper is needed to pilot one last flight to try and confirm if any of those planets are fit for human life. The heart-tugging aspect comes from Cooper having to leave his kids in order to save them, for a few years or longer, depending on the vagaries of the space-time continuum. Cue much deep discussion regarding the needs of the individual versus the priorities of the species.

“Interstellar” only really takes off when Cooper’s rocket does, as he and Brand’s daughter (Anne Hathaway) head off into deep space on an incredibly perilous journey. The sheer vastness and isolation of the cosmos has rarely been so well illustrated, and comparisons to Kubrick are deserved for this section of the film. (Although the jovial artificial intelligence on the spaceship has got nothing on HAL from “2001.”)

Plot twists abound, and I won’t spoil them here, but it’s the film’s final third where “Interstellar” becomes both overlong and overwrought, much like what happened with Nolan’s “Inception,” where the special effects seem to have overridden the plot’s logic. Comparisons to the conclusion of “Contact” (1997) seem inevitable.

It’s admirable that Nolan attempted a science fiction movie that involves neither aliens or ray guns, but ultimately, “Interstellar” takes nearly three hours to tell us that for all the allure and adventure in exploring the final frontier, the human heart remains quintessentially attached to Earth, to the people we love, something that “Gravity” achieved in half the running time and with double the visual daring and suspense.

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