'Interstellar' Is Epic But the McConaissance Hits a Speed Bump

Opening in theaters and IMAX this weekend is Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated sci-fi epic, Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain. The film, which has been shrouded in secrecy up until now, tells the story of a team of astronauts tasked with finding a suitable home for humans as life on Earth quickly deteriorates. The ambitious project is Nolan’s own interpretation of 2001: Space Odyssey that both soars and fails in comparison to the Stanley Kubrick classic.

Because there are some of you who absolutely are going to see this film no matter what, we warn you that there are some spoilers in this story. Since we saw the film ahead of its release, we wanted share the five things you need to know about Interstellar before heading to theaters.

The McConaissance Hits a Speed Bump

McConaughey struck gold over the past two years. From Magic Mike to True Detective and an Oscar in between, the actor has shed his rom com past and created a true A-list career. In his biggest and most high profile role yet, the actor takes on territory that normally belongs to George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Sandra Bullock, who is his female counterpart (see The Blind Side to Gravity years). Yet, here, he feels a little disconnected as Cooper, a former NASA pilot turned farmer turned pilot of humanity’s only hope. Maybe it’s because of all the time relativity chatter or being trapped in a spaceship with Hathaway but he’s literally lost in space. It’s when he’s on the Earth that he’s best. McConaughey only comes alive when his feet are firmly on the ground. No matter what, it's still fun to explore this new side of the actor's career.

McConaughey revisits his past roles — the good, the bad, and Tip Toes.

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The Anne Hathaway Problem

There’s no escaping Hathaway. After a well-documented campaign to Oscar glory, the actress became as unlikable as a Frito pie. There was something about her performance off screen that drew out the claws of even her most ardent fans. In Interstellar, she re-teams with Nolan, who first cast her as Selina Kyle aka the best thing about The Dark Knight Rises. In what felt like a moment of redemption turns out to be a one-dimensional missed opportunity. As Amelia Brand, the caretaker of a fleet of embryos meant to be fertilized and hatched into a plan B colony of humans, Hathaway has no real fire. She’s meant to ground our space journey with the one thing that’s constant: love. Yet, she’s never given a chance to really show it. Her presence doesn’t hurt the film but it’s a shame Nolan didn’t give her more to do.

Forget the Humans — It’s All About the Robots

In true sci-fi fashion, the most notable character has to be the spaceship’s talking robot. Unlike HAL 9000, TARS (voiced by Tony Award-winning actor Bill Irwin) is a charming monolith shaped machine that breaks up the monotonous delivery of its human counterparts. TARS (and its secondary counterpart CASE) serve as a two-fold reference to 2001 but ends up doing more than just voicing the obvious.

The Planet of Waves Will Leave You Breathless

Without giving too much away, McConaughey and his team of A-list astro-bandits come across a planet that is both beautiful and deadly. As soon as they land, the team is struck by the vision of shallow waters that seem to span the entire landscape until they reach a distant horizon of mountains. As it turns out, those are not mountains and what happens next is what IMAX was made for. The sequence to follow is as thrilling as it is frightening. And the special effects are used to maximum effect. The design is awe-inspiring as are many of the space sequences that largely deserve to been seen in IMAX rather than a home TV screen.

It’s Really a Family Affair

While it dabbles in elements of extraterrestrial life, space and time, black holes, and the likeability of Hathaway, Interstellar really is about family. At its core, the film delves into the relationship of one father and his daughter (the older version played by Chastain, and even older version by Ellen Burstyn) when it’s challenged by a hope for humanity. While Cooper’s decision to go seems to be made a bit too easily, his connection with his daughter Murph is ultimately what saves the mission.

Going beyond what’s on screen, the film was co-written by Nolan’s brother Jonathan and produced by his wife Emma Thomas. During filming, it was reported that “Interstellar used the fake title Flora’s Letter.” Flora is the name of one of Nolan’s four children. The other three’s names were used as fake titles for previous films. The nod to his daughter is a poignant one considering the context of this sci-fi epic.

At the end of the day, go see this film in IMAX. It's the experience most deserving of this epic tale that reaches beyond what may be humanly possible when it comes to space travel. And that's OK. The film is clunky yet ambitious and can only be appreciated on the largest scale possible. Those wanting to go on a journey will appreciate this three-hour tour to a different galaxy.

[Images: Paramount Pictures]