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Movie review: Space film grounded by too much ambition

It seemed like everything was in place for it to be an intriguing, Chris Nolan-directed epic about space that pushed more science than science fiction. Also, it seemed to push the reality of humanity truly beginning its first steps into colonizing beyond Earth. In terms of subject matter, there is almost nothing that fascinates and excites me more.

“Interstellar” is about a team of space explorers, led by a farmer (Mathew McConaughey), who search for a habitable planet because the Earth is dying.

What I didn’t expect was how completely goofy it was going to be.

The past 15 years have seen Nolan go from a director of small, neo-noir films like “The Following,” “Memento” and “Insomnia,” to winning the hearts and minds of nerds, as well as the world at large, with the Batman “Dark Knight Trilogy.” Now that he’s “The Christopher Nolan” and not “Just Some Guy,” there appears to be more and more room for him to self-indulge. And, much like the page count of the Harry Potter books, you can see the lengths of Nolan’s films increase over time.

Which brings us back to “Interstellar,” Nolan’s silliest and most self-indulgent movie to date. Clearly, a lot of time and research went into making spatial anatomies accurate, but ultimately the film feels hollow, like a giant sack stretched too large and too far. Yes, it’s beautiful to look at, but there’s really nothing inside. Considering the obsessive detail taken with the visual spectacle, it is a bit shocking how flimsy the guts of the movie — the characters, the plot, the storytelling itself — truly are.

Maybe that’s the answer in and of itself. But I do feel sad when I walk out of a movie theatre after watching a film about space exploration that boils down to a 169-minute fireworks show.

“Interstellar” feels like too many movies shoved into one, all of which distract from one another. Apart from the utterly extraneous Ken Burns documentary clips, the opening act of the film is quite enjoyable. There is some character-focused world-building, which is thin on exposition. But the movie quickly dissolves into a predictable plot of convenience, full of clunky explanation, psychotic pacing, disruptive editing, terrible dialogue, flat characters and often atrocious acting.

Often, I would get flashbacks to the abysmal Alien prequel “Prometheus,” which suffered from similar problems: a mediocre B-movie sci-fi plot with stunning visuals thanks to an outrageous budget.

There are some really distracting casting choices, too. John Lithgow’s character Donald shows up to be grumpy and not make jokes. Topher Grace as Getty graces the screen with the most pointless role in the entire film.

Anne Hathaway surprised the world with a killer performance as Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises,” but as Brand in “Interstellar,” she seems terribly out of place. Perhaps it’s just that the writing of her character is too awful to save, but Hathaway spends her time either being snippy and passive-aggressive or just making terrible decisions. The low point of her character, however, comes in the form of an awful, ridiculous monologue about how the power of love is an extraplanar force from the fifth dimension.

The strangest casting choice is revealed when Matt Damon arrives. The obtuse foreshadowing award goes to the other characters for referring to him simply as “the best of us” over and over, like a slogan from the back of a pamphlet. Plus, his name is “Dr. Mann,” which lacks so much subtlety that even Charles Dickens must be rolling his eyes in his grave.

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Mostly, it just doesn’t end. I feel like there is a solid two-hour movie somewhere in the floating three-hour mass. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m not talking about the high-minded astrophysical philosophy or the film’s pondering on general relativity. Characters are simple, despite the movie’s self-proclaimed complexity. “I miss my daughter” is the only emotional beat for the entirety of the movie’s massive bulk. Despite its huge aspirations, “Interstellar” ends up being forgettable and bland.

I’ll give “Interstellar” that it’s an ambitious film. I’d rather more films try to do too much rather than too little. But in the film entertainment business, productions go where the money is, and there will be 100 “Transformers” films or move adaptations of the latest teenybopper book craze for every one “Interstellar.” And I can’t help but feel that this was largely a missed opportunity to make something both stellar and cerebral.

Graham Gentz is a play and movie reviewer for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.

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