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  1. Arts & Entertainment

Review: 'Interstellar' falls into a big black hole of nothingness (w/video)

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and Romilly (David Gyasi) search for a new home beyond Earth 
— but in the midst of all sorts of over-explained space anomalies — in Christopher Nolan’s ambitiously faulted Interstellar.

Stanley Kubrick had the right idea. When making a philosophical space epic steeped in scientific theory, don't explain everything. Be bold but be vague; fewer corners to back into that way. And don't let Hans Zimmer do the music.

Christopher Nolan didn't learn much from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Nolan's ambitiously faulted Interstellar is all about the "huh?" as in: What did Matthew McConaughey just say about gravitational anomalies, in his solemn drawl usually reserved for car ads? Is the fifth dimension more than a '60s pop group? Can we ever reconcile Einstein's theory of relativity with quantum mechanics? (No joke, that's a topic of conversation.)

Interstellar is about big ideas, not all of them particularly interesting for three hours unless you're Neil deGrasse Tyson. Or else a proponent of old-fashioned, Right Stuff American exceptionalism or Gravity fan fiction in which love conquers science and daddy issues. Weighty topics for a movie spending half its time in zero-G.

In a not-too-distant future, Earth's food supply is declining due to "the blight" — one phenomenon the script doesn't explain — and gale force dust storms. Technology is becoming obsolete; even revisionist history says the moon landing was faked. Farmers like no-first-name-needed Cooper (McConaughey) are vital, for crops and rough-hewn wisdom like: "We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt."

Cooper is also an engineer and a former NASA pilot, talents that come in handy. His daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) counters her father's analytical nature with superstitious potential, believing a ghost lives in her bookcase. Eventually those feelings lead Cooper back to NASA, leading an expedition to discover a suitable planet for humanity's evacuation.

Murph feels abandoned, and her resentment will last until she grows up to be Jessica Chastain. The resonant emotion of Interstellar is fatherly guilt, reflected in McConaughey's twisted face as he views video messages from home, recorded years ago as the space-time continuum gets wormhole-warped. One planetary visit knocks off seven Earth years for every hour spent intergalactically surfing. Another drags in Matt Damon. Science is weird.

Cooper's crew includes Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), daughter of the brains behind the mission (Michael Caine). Interstellar is built on spoilers like a Janga tower, so it's hard to describe why it disappoints so. That includes Amelia's secret, the midpoint at which the plot starts wobble-spinning like Sandra Bullock in a better space movie.

Many of Interstellar's finest moments are familiar; visual allusions to The Grapes of Wrath and Field of Dreams, and of course Kubrick's 2001, including TARS, a robot shaped like a walking monolith, with Bill Irwin wisecracking about ejecting someone through an airlock.

The movie regularly pauses its exemplary special effects for the next dissertation on whatever science directs, chance offers and Nolan's on-the-fly logic allows. When stuck for an explanation, the answer is "they," unknown entities from another dimension. "They" led Cooper back to NASA. "They" positioned the wormhole access to another galaxy. "They" will offer more assistance, especially in Nolan's third act, that is coincidentally an hour feeling like seven years. Thankfully in space, no one can hear you yawn.

Contact Steve Persall at @spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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