New sci-fi film 'Interstellar' is a hit with Huntsville's real rocket scientists

An audience of scientists, rocket engineers and aerospace executives left a 70-mm IMAX premiere of "Interstellar" at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Monday night buzzing about the new film's stunning images of space and hoping it can inspire a new generation.

Comments like "that's my kind of movie" and "I loved it" were heard in the lobby afterward, and several who saw it were still talking about it a day later.

"Interstellar" is filmmaker Christopher Nolan's nearly 3-hour story of a space voyage to find a new home for humanity before the Earth collapses from overpopulation and extreme climate change.

"It was well-done, pretty realistic," Aerojet Rocketdyne executive Gene Goldman, the former head of NASA's Stennis Space Center and acting director of Marshall Space Flight Center, said today. He's seen space movies that made him want to throw something at the screen, but Goldman said, "This was not like that."

A key feature for Goldman and others is the movie's setting in the still-recognizable future. Screenwriters could assume solutions to some challenges of long-term space travel NASA is still working through. "They're a generation ahead of us," Goldman said.

Todd May, the man leading development in Huntsville of NASA's new deep space rocket called the Space Launch System, said he hopes the movie reaches young fans.

"Movies like "2001 A Space Odyssey" had a large impact on me as a kid," May said. "This movie can be that inspiration for a new generation as it speaks very strongly on our need to explore and push our boundaries."

May won't be the last to compare Nolan's movie to Stanley Kubrick's classic 1968 film. From spinning space stations and visions of humanity's destiny to robots with snarky personalities and bad things happening outside docking doors, nods to Kubrick's film are sprinkled through "Interstellar."

Huntsville's rocket builders and their families seemed especially to like the black hole in the film called Gargantua. It's a major presence - practically a character - and is modeled on work by leading theoretical physicist Kip Thorne.

Matthew McConaughey, delivering another strong performance in a recent string of strong performances, plays a widowed engineer and test pilot named Cooper. Cooper became a farmer in the new American Dust Bowl after NASA was shut down as an expensive luxury, but he insists humans are meant to explore and not just to farm.

But space travel isn't dead, and Cooper is chosen through an intricate plot sequence to fly scientist Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and her small crew on a mission to explore new homes for humanity. But is there time?

The story shifts between Cooper's increasingly desperate family on Earth and his race through space. Battles on alien worlds mix with interludes exploring what it means to be a parent, a crewmate and a leader. Some of the latter scenes impressed Goldman most. The crew's debates about the issues facing them, what they were trying to accomplish, and their choices are very much the way real astronauts work, Goldman said.

Filmmaker Nolan is one of Hollywood's great advocates of film and of the IMAX film system. Other filmmakers like Paul Anderson and Quentin Tarentino are giving "Interstellar" rave reviews.

"It's been a while since somebody has come out with such a big vision to things," Tarantino told The Guardian. "Even the elements, the fact that dust is everywhere, and they're living in this dust bowl that is just completely enveloping this area of the world. That's almost something you expect from Tarkovsky or Malick, not a science fiction adventure movie."



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