Paramount Pictures

Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is the last big blockbuster of the year. Or at least  it's the last big blockbuster with the likelihood of uniting critical praise with popular fervor, absent some of the cultural crutches (superheroes; YA) that have bolstered most popcorn flicks these last few years. It helps that the last time a film did that, it was Nolan's own Inception.

Interstellar screened for select critics last week, and those early reviews were unleashed from under the studio's review embargo this morning. It's fascinating watching the critical consensus of a movie form right before your eyes. So far, the notices tend to be generally positive, though not rabidly so. In brief, the most frequent points of interest about Nolan's race into the far reaches of space to save humanity are:

Ambition

Many critics seized on the sheer size and scope of Nolan's film, for understandable reasons. Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway travel to deepest space in order to find a new home since poor Earth is dying. Even among those who didn't think the movie ultimately succeeded, the breadth of Nolan's effort couldn't help but get applauded.

The best the film can hope for is that it will remind young viewers that there is something else besides this planet, and there is so much of this universe that we don't remotely understand, and if there's any hope for us, it is by looking up. Nolan's fervent belief in that message alone makes this something worth seeing, and if it can inspire a new generation of dreamers, then even better. - Drew McWeeney, HitFix

This is a film that takes genuine risks, sometimes succumbs to its own self-indulgence - it’s perilously close to three hours long - but strives unceasingly to put on one hell of a show. - Tim Grierson, Screen Daily

Interstellar aspires to the same cross-cut crescendo that made the last hour of Inception so momentous, but it doesn’t have the ingredients required to reproduce that feeling. - David Ehrlich, Little White Lies

Interstellar, for all its faults, is filled with sequences, moments and concepts worthy of deep, lengthy essays and arguments about morality. All of which will have to come after release. - Devin Faraci, Badass Digest

2001: A Space Odyssey

Obviously, any sci-fi epic from a respected director is going to draw comparisons to Kubrick's masterpiece. Interstellar does not disappoint in that regard. Almost every review references 2001 in some manner, along with any number of other contemporary outer space films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Contact.  "As in 2001," Grierson's review reads, "Interstellar portrays space as an airless, silent sea that’s both gorgeous and terrifying. This is but one allusion to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece: Interstellar also slyly references that film’s music and visual cues, and even a plot point."

The McConaissance

If you were worrying that we might be reaching a saturation or exhaustion points with Matthew McConaughey, these reviews have to come as quite the relief. He's the star of the show here, with only Jessica Chastain even approaching the amount of ink he's getting.

He’s a hero with all of the honesty and idealism of our the sanitized figures in elementary school history books. That may sound like a knock, but it isn't - McConaughey can embody that kind of goodness without coming across as cloying or phony.  - Faraci

The McConaissance continues with a performance that doesn’t require much capital-A acting yet delivers every ounce of truth needed to sell its oddities.  - Matt Patches, Vanity Fair

TARS, the Fun Robot Character

It's only appeared in the latest trailer for the most brief moment, but the reviews have been all over the android character TARS, voiced by Bill Irwin. If anyone was wondering whether Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, or Casey Affleck was going to end up as the breakout favorite from the film's supporting cast, it looks like they've all been upstaged by the new R2D2.

A pair of obelisk-droids known as CASE and TARS, whose resemblance to the black monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey is a long way from unintentional. Bill Irwin, the actor who gives his voice to TARS – much the more loquacious of the two – operated these machines on set as a hydraulic puppeteer, but they can also perform more acrobatic, CGI-assisted feats of rapid rotation: as surplus military machines, they’re reminders of human conflict from a planet that’s just about given up the fight. - Tim Robey, The Telegraph

TARS, a prolonged mechanical slab of data-processing and sarcasm, is the movie’s greatest innovation. He’s ridiculous and inventive, the wry Bill Irwin lending his voice for the automated companion. TARS instantly joins Wilson from Cast Away as one of film’s great inanimate objects. - Patches

The crew also has its own smart-ass robot sidekick, voiced by Bill Irwin. Presumably, this is Nolan’s cheeky way of tipping his cap to metallic forerunners like the ones in Lost In Space and Star Wars, but it’s not clever or resonant enough to leave much of an impression. - Grierson

The other big win for nerds is TARS, the movie's awesome robots. Prepare to see TARS and his buddy CASE listed in all future "best movie robots ever" lists. They take up space like Forbidden Planet's Robbie, are "in the system" like 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL, and they look like nothing you've ever seen. At rest, they are gray-ish chrome slabs. They walk like Jacob's Ladder toys. But when the other-worldly excrement hits the fan (and there's one humdinger of an action set-piece), they can contort themselves into useful geometric shapes and crack jokes at the same time. (There's a little green light that appears when they're kidding, just so everyone is on the same page.)  - Jordan Hoffman, Popular Mechanics

Hans Zimmer's BRAAAAAM-less Score

Zimmer's score for Inception (which is excellent and actually a bit underrated) was made the butt of a few jokes for its bombast and blunt, foghorn-y sound effects ("BRAAAAAAAAAM"). Thus far, his Interstellar score is getting much better notices.

It's exciting to hear just how out-of-his-comfort-zone Hans Zimmer is here, and it works to the movie's advantage. It feels like a score written from a very direct and emotional place, and it helps cement the yearning that underpins so much of what Nolan shows us in the film. - McWeeney

Augmented by Hans Zimmer’s exceptional and uncharacteristically measured score (some of which sounds like Philip Glass if he were sedated and launched into orbit)... - Ehrlich

For oomph, drama and all-important awe, meanwhile, the director is falling back heavily on the gifts of a long-time collaborator, Hans Zimmer. The film alternates the actual total hush of dead space – take that, Gravity – with the vast sounds of a composer set loose on his grandest ever assignment. - Robey

Aided by Hans Zimmer's energizing score — a far more colorful effort than the intentionally abrasive ones found in earlier Nolan collaborations—"Interstellar" is Nolan's most well-rounded movie to date. - Eric Kohn, Indiewire

See It in IMAX. No, Really.

If there's one universally agreed-upon element of Interstellar, it's this: See the thing on the biggest screen possible. Find your local IMAX. Reserve a seat. Show up early. Melt into your seat.

Faster than you can say "For All Mankind", Cooper and his crew are gliding by the rings of Saturn on awe-inducing 70mm IMAX (don't even bother seeing the movie in any other format). - Ehrlich

Nolan once again uses IMAX in his film to give a greater sense of scale, and now that he’s moved out of Gotham City and into the universe it makes more sense than ever. There are gorgeous vistas in Interstellar, and Nolan knows exactly when to open up that aspect ratio and get big (my advice is to only see this film in IMAX)... - Faraci

Nolan shot generous chunks of the movie on 65mm IMAX stock, and if you are lucky enough to see Interstellar at a true IMAX theater, the gorgeous images of planets are like a punch to the heart. - Hoffman

The space travel stuff is beautiful and realized though largely physical means. It works both inside the ships and outside, and there's a lot of "Interstellar," particularly in 70MM IMAX, that is just jaw-dropping. - McWeeney

Because you want to see Interstellar on an IMAX with film projection. The voluminous film demands the space. And watching McConaughey's adventure explode into the IMAX format whenever it damn well pleases is as exhilarating as the action being captured on camera. - Patches

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