Lots of sci-fi movies begin in cornfields or country roads, with a whole lot of hicks being either confused, invaded, and, in general, stereotyped. Christopher Nolan's Interstellar (2014) manages to avoid that and actually make one of them into a hero, deftly incorporating Matthew McConaughey's beautiful Southern drawl.
The film opens in a post-apocalyptic dustbowl. Not only are earthlings trying to fight adverse weather and low population, but even the crops that are growing die off one-by-one from diseases that attack entire species. Pretty much, everyone is left either eating fried corn or boiled corn. In the midst of that Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot/engineer turned unwilling farmer, attempts to raise a family in a world where scientific innovation is no longer welcome.
One scientist (Michael Caine), however, has a solution: a vehicle capable of exploiting wormholes to rocket across galaxies to habitable worlds. The science is a little fuzzy, but suffice it to say the problem with travelling a really long way really fast is that everyone else moves along just as quickly through time, while the crew does not. Amazing, this turns a three-hour movie into a race against time.
Travelling to distant worlds and alien environments, the crew, including Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi) and a few robot companions, soon discover something unexpected at the end of the galaxy: human cowardice and treachery.
Just like the character's names-short, flat, and uninteresting-the movie itself suffers from one-dimensional characterization and stuffy dialogue. Basically, although we get to see the struggles of various characters and hear them pontificate upon this or that aspect of their world and its struggle, we don't really get to explore them as fully-developed human beings. They occupy stock roles in a drama which, while beautifully realized, expends its most dramatic moments ruminating on our place in the stars. It causes some problems for the actors, who are trying to choke down deep-sounding lines in the midst of a drama that should be affecting the characters more than what it is.
On the other hand, the tale IS extremely gripping and tense. An Apollo 13-meets-Armageddon aesthetic reigns through the space sequences, and the alien worlds which the explorers visit range from the stunning to the surreal. The realism of the props and visual effects subtly draw you in to a story full of twists and surprises.
If it sounds like a paltry reward for poor characterization and scripting, don't let that discourage you. The fact is that you will come out of the movie wishing that another twenty minutes had been tacked on the end. The premise works that well.
I personally hope to see more films like this being taken on by Matthew McConaughey in the future. He makes about the most perfect starship captain you can imagine, with plenty of swagger and hidden depths--a Texan Capt. Picard. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, is the Will Riker of this movie: love her, hate her, everyone will have an unswayable opinion. In this picture, I tended towards the latter. Where was Sandra Bullock when they were casting this movie?
My Grade: B (Go see it. Take the older kids with you.)