It’s helpful to remember two things going into Interstellar. The first is that Christopher Nolan is known for directing two kinds of movies: Movies with Batman and Movies Without Batman. The latter movies (Identity, Memento, The Prestige, Inception) tell stories that are twisty mindf—uh, “mental fornications” that have you asking yourself (or your viewing companions) WTF just happened? as the credits roll. The second things to remember is Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: The technology of a sufficiently advanced civilization would seem like magic to a less-advanced civilization. Ready?

It’s a future close enough to be comfortable recognizable but… blights are wiping out more and more food crops, choking dust storms pop up without warning, the schools are teaching that the Apollo Program was an elaborate hoax designed to bankrupt the Soviet Union. It’s a world, laments “Coop” Cooper, where people pray to the dirt instead of dreaming of the stars. Coop is a pilot/engineer turned farmer, a job he really hates. He’s also a widowed parent whose precocious 10-year-old daughter Murphy is being visited by what she terms a “ghost.” One day the ghost leaves a message, coordinates to what left of NASA’s launch facility where they’re working on a desperate plan to save the human race, which has maybe one generation left before the Earth will no longer be able to sustain it. Someone had parked a stable wormhole near Saturn; it’s a doorway to another galaxy, where a dozen Earthlike planets have been identified. Coop is asked to lead the expedition to find one that is a suitable home for the human race, before it’s too late.

Interstellar is Nolan’s love-letter to the space movies he loves, especially 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are shout-outs to Kubrick everywhere, from the sleek, white, “unused” look of the equipment, music cues and monolith-like objects to an homage to the “disconnecting HAL” scene. But there are other influences, too—you see something that reminds you of Star Wars and even some “redshirt action.” The visuals are breathtaking, although not so much as last year’s Gravity. The dialogue is brisk, almost constant, and these people act as if they’re smart enough to be doing what they’re doing.

But if Interstellar has a flaw it’s that it tries to be ethereal and accessible at the same time, and one is often a detriment to the other. Some of the big reveals you can see coming from the first time they’re on the screen and too much of the plot turns on “I forgot to mention” moments and treading the wrong side of “The good guys deserve a break every once in a while” and “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” You don’t know whether things that go unexplained are deliberate nods to mystery, the set-up for a sequel, or just corners the filmmakers couldn't write themselves out of. (And, since except for the Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan doesn't do sequels…)

Interstellar is a very good movie but, I don’t think, the best genre movie this year. But it is one of the few intended for adults. It is ambitious, definitely a hit, but not quite one to clear the fences.

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