tek's rating: ½

Interstellar (PG-13)
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This came out in 2014, but I didn't see it until 2017. And I thought it was pretty great. It may not be the hardest of hard SF, but I do think it's more grounded in something that resembles reality rather than fantasy, than are most of the science fiction films I've ever seen. (And as much as I'm ashamed to admit it, I do tend to find the most realistic science fiction to be too boring, sometimes.)

It's set sometime in the 21st century, though the exact year isn't clear. The main character is Joseph "Coop" Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) as a former NASA pilot and engineer, who's now a farmer. The reason for this is that some kind of ecological disaster had made the production of food more important than pretty much anything else. Coop is a widower who lives with his daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), his son, Tom, and his father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow). Early on, we learn that Tom's test scores show he's most suited to become a farmer, himself, which doesn't bother Tom, though Coop is somewhat disappointed. (I have to suspect that the test is heavily weighted toward "farmer," considering that's what the world needs most. But also, it's unrealistic of Coop to expect anyone to get engineering jobs like he once had, since they're now practically nonexistent.) Also, Coop learns that Murph is in trouble at school for having brought one of his old textbooks, which talks about the Moon landing. The newer, "corrected" textbooks teach kids that that whole thing was faked as propaganda to ruin the Russian economy, or whatever. Which totally pissed me off, but I suppose it's not hard to believe that kind of thing would happen, in a dystopian future like this one. (Hell, there are plenty of people in our own reality who want to change history books to lie either overtly or by omission, about any number of things. But at least we live in a time when people who think the Moon landing was faked are known to be crackpots.) Understandably, Coop is on his daughter's side in this matter.

Meanwhile, Murph has been seeing some odd things happening in their house, which she blames on a ghost, which she thinks is trying to send a message. Her father doesn't really believe her, though he would be willing to listen if she did proper research on the phenomenon and provided empirical proof. Which she certainly seems capable of, because the movie makes sure we know she's very bright. Anyway... eventually something happens that Coop witnesses as well, and they finally manage to decode the message, which provides coordinates. They follow them and discover a secret NASA facility, run by Professor John Brand (Michael Caine). The staff also includes Brand's daughter, Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), among others. They tell Coop about a wormhole that had appeared near Saturn 48 years earlier. (I'm not sure if that was before or after things got so bad that NASA had been "officially" shut down. But I do want to mention that there was also a scene where Donald said Coop had either been born 40 years too early or 40 years too late, so I'm guessing the ecological disaster was probably anywhere from 30-50 years earlier, which I think means it would be reasonable to assume the movie is set roughly halfway through the 21st century.) Anyway, about ten years earlier, some missions had been sent through the wormhole, which leads to another galaxy, and a solar system with three planets that might be capable of sustaining human life. None of the people who had gone to check out the planets has returned, but they've been transmitting signals.

Well, Professor Brand has two plans. Plan A would be preferable to Plan B, but I don't want to say too much about either plan. Either way, it involves humanity continuing on another planet instead of Earth, which is coming closer to being completely uninhabitable. And both plans require a team to travel through the wormhole and make a decision about which planet would be most suitable. And now that NASA knows Coop is alive (which apparently they didn't know, because I guess communications aren't as good, since the environment went to crap), they want him to pilot the mission they've been planning. He's not happy about leaving his family behind, and Murph refuses to forgive him for leaving. But he does leave, because the survival of the human race is at stake. His team includes Amelia Brand and two other scientists, Romilly and Doyle, as well as a couple of robots, TARS and CASE. (I liked these robots, because they looked nothing like any robot I've ever seen before. Though they sounded quite human.) Anyway... one of the planets is near a black hole, which causes time dilation in its vicinity, which means time will pass more slowly on the planet than it does on Earth (or even on a ship in orbit above the planet). Because of this, we get to see Coop's kids as adults, while he's still a young man. Tom eventually marries and has kids, while Murph (now played by Jessica Chastain) becomes a scientist and works with Professor Brand.

Um... beyond that, I don't want to say too much. I suppose I should mention that on one of the planets, the team meets one of the earlier explorers, Dr. Mann (Matt Damon). And... well, I don't know enough about astrophysics and all that to know how accurate the movie is, but Wikipedia has a little section about that, which suggests in some ways it's more accurate than I might have expected, while in other ways it's really not that accurate. But what I can say is there's one aspect of the movie's conclusion that I found rather improbable, but I can't say exactly what that was, because I don't want to spoil it. (I'll just say I thought it fell somewhere between a predestination paradox and a temporal causality loop.) But honestly, when I watch any movie at all, especially a "genre" movie (be it sci-fi, fantasy, horror, whatever), I'm always willing to suspend disbelief, for the sake of a good story. And I thought this was a really good story, with decent characters, and some very solid personal drama, on top of the sheer epicness of what was at stake. There were also some great visual effects. And... I dunno what else to say.

Oh, except one very minor nit I'd like to pick: It's so common for people to say "intergalactic" when they actually mean "interstellar," so I find it rather ironic and irritating that this film, which actually is intergalactic, is called "Interstellar."


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