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'Interstellar' is an ambitious, imperfect sci-fi epic, reviews say

'Interstellar' is an ambitious, imperfect sci-fi epic, reviews say
Anne Hathaway and Wes Bently in "Interstellar." (Paramount)

Like the astronauts at the center of "Interstellar," director Christopher Nolan is on an ambitious mission. His new film, which stars Matthew McConaughey as a single dad piloting a space mission to find a new home for humanity, is visually expansive, nearly three hours long, and densely layered with big ideas about love, science and resolve.

But does it work? According to reviews, yes -- for the most part. Film critics largely agree that "Interstellar" is an entertaining, emotional and thought-provoking sci-fi saga, even if it can also be clunky and sentimental at times.

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The Times' Kenneth Turan gave a glowing review, writing that "though it's a big studio blockbuster with all the traditional plot elements the term implies, 'Interstellar' turns out to be the rarest beast in the Hollywood jungle. It's a mass audience picture that's intelligent as well as epic, with a sophisticated script that's as interested in emotional moments as immersive visuals. Which is saying a lot."

Though the script, written by Nolan with his brother Jonathan, incorporates some "familiar science fiction tropes," he said, it also "manages to investigate some compelling emotional material." And for all the film's effects wizardry, "all those logistics didn't stand in the way of the personal dimension, of a story that understands that the qualities that make us human is the most special effect of all."

The New York Times' A.O. Scott wrote, "It may be enough to say that 'Interstellar' is a terrifically entertaining science-fiction movie, giving fresh life to scenes and situations we've seen a hundred times before, and occasionally stumbling over pompous dialogue or overly portentous music."

But the ambitions of the movie, and of Nolan, are greater than that, Scott said, concluding that "'Interstellar' may take its place in the pantheon of space movies because it answers an acute earthly need, a desire not only for adventure and novelty but also, in the end, for comfort."

USA Today's Claudia Puig was more measured in her appraisal, writing, "While it reaches for the stars, director Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar ' is a flawed masterpiece. The story is ever-ambitious, sometimes riveting and thought-provoking, but also plodding and hokey and not as visionary as its cutting-edge special effects. And at nearly three hours, the film would have benefited from more judicious editing."

The Associated Press' Jake Coyle said that at its heart, "Interstellar" is "a father-daughter tale grandly spun across a cosmic tapestry. He continued: "There is turbulence along the way. 'Interstellar' is overly explanatory about its physics, its dialogue can be clunky and you may want to send composer Hans Zimmer's relentless organ into deep space. But if you take these for blips rather than black holes, the majesty of 'Interstellar' is something to behold."

For the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday, the film didn't quite come together. She said that "there are moments of genuine awe and majesty in 'Interstellar,' but there are just as many passages that play as if Nolan is less interested in value for the viewers than proving a point, whether about the arcana of quantum physics, his technical prowess or the enduring power of love."

McConaughey makes for "a compelling, even believable hero," she continued, but "too often, the father-daughter dynamics that propel 'Interstellar' ... feel shrewdly calculated, the emotionalism ginned up to a hysterically maudlin pitch." Ultimately, the film "tries so hard to be so many things that it winds up shrinking into itself, much like one of the collapsed stars [McConaughey's character] hurtles past on his way to new worlds."

And the Boston Globe's Ty Burr wrote, "there's only so much you can pile on the pie plate before it starts spilling rhubarb on the floor. The parts of 'Interstellar' that don't work ... struggle against the many parts that do. Nolan is one of the few working filmmakers with the skill set to take us far beyond our normal moviegoing orbit, but his vision keeps coming up against the curves of the known pop universe. He's the showman who fancies himself a philosopher."

Even so, it's "quite a show," Burr conceded. Despite its imperfections, "the movie deserves to be seen, and on the largest screen possible."

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