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Warner Bros.

“Interstellar” feels like a deft cross between last year’s “Gravity” and Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey,” spiced with a bit of “Inception”-style mind-bending. It also happens to be the best argument for going out to the movies in some time.

Trust me: you definitely shouldn’t wait for the DVD on this one.

Directed by Christopher Nolan and co-written with his brother Jonathan, “Interstellar” begins at some undetermined point in the near future, as the Earth is degrading into a 21st-century dust bowl, one failed crop at a time.

Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former pilot and single father who has been reassigned as a farmer, like many of Earth’s struggling survivors. He manages a farm with his two kids and their grandfather Donald (John Lithgow).

The regular dust storms are tough enough, but Cooper’s daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), is getting into fights at school and is convinced that the family homestead is haunted by a ghost that is trying to send her coded messages.

(The reason for Murph’s fight? She refuses to believe her “corrected” textbook that suggests the Apollo moon landings were faked. NASA fans are going to love “Interstellar.”)

Though Cooper is skeptical at first, Murph’s evidence eventually leads the two of them to the secret headquarters of NASA, where they meet Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway). Brand’s team is hard at work on a special project that, instead of saving the world, is determined to find the human race a new one.

The plan: pilot a spacecraft through a wormhole near Saturn that connects to a galaxy featuring three prospective planets. Plan A is to rescue the human race. Plan B is to simply recolonize the human race with their genetic cargo.

Despite Murph’s protests, Cooper joins the mission, and “Interstellar” becomes a journey across time and space that encounters alien planets, wormholes, black holes and more dimensions than you can shake a quantum stick at.

While Cooper is off surfing the cosmos with relativity’s own fountain of youth, Murph (now played by Jessica Chastain) grows up, joins team Brand at NASA and discovers that the plan is not what it seems. Christopher Nolan ensues.

“Interstellar” may give some heavy nods toward “Gravity” and especially “2001” (the mission is accompanied by a talking robot that looks like the Monolith), but to its credit, it doesn’t feel derivative. Rather, “Interstellar” feels like a film that has been built on a sure foundation of predecessors. And in spite of a couple of expository stumbles, it is an impressive piece of science fiction.

It is a film built for the biggest of big screens. “Interstellar” makes the most of its oversized IMAX scale, and the nearly three-hour film is packed with the kind of incredible visuals that define all that’s special about the moviegoing experience. At various points, the camera follows the ship past Saturn or across alien landscapes. Juxtaposed against the Rockwellian images of the farm back home, the resulting impact is as intimate as it is vast.

McConaughey does a fine job as the down-to-earth cowboy Cooper, who comes off like a 21st-century Chuck Yeager. It’s hard to think of an actor audiences would rather see flying through black holes. Hathaway and Chastain are strong in their supporting roles, and nobody plays Michael Caine like Michael Caine. (Also, watch for an unexpected cameo on the other side of the wormhole.)

In spite of all the quantum physics talk, the narrative is mostly straightforward until the third act, where things get a little crazy and Nolan’s space train wobbles on its rails a little bit. This kind of mind play is nothing new for a director who made his mark with a film that told its story backward (2000’s “Memento”).

But even if the story gets a little muddled (which actually may have as much to do with the megawatt sound system obscuring dialogue), “Interstellar” is worth repeated viewings for its visuals alone.

“Interstellar” is why we go to the movies.

“Interstellar” is rated PG-13 for extended intense passages, as well as some violence and profanity (including a muffled use of the f-word).

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.