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First Published Tuesday, 25 November 2014 15:11

 

Recently I saw Interstellar, the new science fiction movie by Christopher Nolan. I had checked the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and was surprised to see that it not only got raves from the fans but evenfromcritics (73%.) I'd also heard it compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is reputed by many (myself included) as the greatest sci fi flick of all time. After having seen Interstellar, I wouldn't go that far, though it would probably make my top 20 list. Any time a movie approaches 3 hours in length, and you don't get bored with it, that's an accomplishment. There are indeed a number of parallels with 2001, which I won't go into because some would be spoilers. It's difficult to talk about this movie at all without giving away a few clues to the ending, but I promise to be vague.

The premise is that the Earth's ecosystem has become so heavily damaged that it will no longer support agriculture. Therefore, humanity must fund another home, and also simultaneously master anti-gravity technology so that massive numbers of people can leave. Although the characters allude to a recent time of mass starvation, I'd assume that the Earth's population is still in the hundreds of millions, at least.

What threatens man-kind most is the “blight”, a disease that has systematically attacked crops until only corn remains viable. There are also killer dust storms, but it's not clear whether this is due to the exposed soil of denuded farmland or some other climate change. Therefore the obvious question is, why not pursue genetic engineering to fight this blight, and develop more resistant strains? Supposedly they can't, because technology has suffered major setbacks. Luckily NASA, operating secretly with unknown sources of funding, has been moving forward. Suffice it to say, the “escape from Earth” theme makes the movie much more interesting than it would be as an agricultural adventure.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Cooper, the main protagonist, as the astronaut who never got a chance to use his training, but somehow never lost that skill. I have not seen yet seen him in the award-winningDallas Buyers Club, so my opinion of him was mostly from romantic comedies like Failure to Launch where he seemed to be playing himself. Cooper is, as you'd expect, a lovable rebel so there's a bit of his standard character, but the story demands a more serious angle, and he delivers.

Anne Hathaway plays Amelia, another astronaut and daughter of the head scientist Professor Brand. Unfortunately, she's the only female in the crew, a serious problem in case the group would need to restart the human race. It was fun to see her in a role that was neither comic nor related to English literature. Jessica Chastain was charmingly feisty as Murphy, Cooper's estranged, brilliant daughter. Michael Caine's role as Professor Brand was not bad but quite reminiscent of Alfred in Nolan'sBatman series.

This movie has a time travel element in it, perhaps not blatant enough to get it banned in China. Those elements are always problematic, but it's impressive when the writers find some clever way to resolve the inherent contradictions of that plot device.

Actually, I had the greatest problem with the movie's portrayal of relativistic time dilation. In one scene, a planet the explorers visited had its time line dramatically slowed down because of its proximity to a black hole. I'm no physicist, but I immediately thought of the danger of the X-rays emitted by the singularity's accretion disk. Nolan, who co-wrote the film with his brother Jonathon, must have thought about this, because one of the characters mentioned that this black hole was somehow atypical. Not only that, but the world appears to have sunlight, which black holes don't provide (hence their description as black.)

Problems aside, Interstellar is a show that will keep sci fi buffs at the proverbial edge of their seats. I definitely recommend it.