It has not been a good week or two for space travel. But "Interstellar", the new Oscar-tipped movie starring Matthew McConaughey, may just get a boost from the bad news.
Days after a privately owned rocket exploded on take-off for the International Space Station (ISS), followed by the crash of a Virgin spaceship designed for tourists, film-goers just might have space on their minds -- and pick "Interstellar" as their weekend movie.
If they do, they will see a moving ode to conquering space by Christopher Nolan, the director of the "Dark Knight" trilogy and the mind-bending science-fiction film "Inception".
"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," says Cooper, McConaughey's character.
Cooper is a former astronaut who has become a farmer, having abandoned his dream of space exploration to grapple with the crisis on Earth caused by giant dust storms throttling agricultural harvests.
With his daughter Murph (played by Mackenzie Foy as a child, and Jessica Chastain as an adult), Cooper by chance discovers an underground NASA lab secretly planning a space mission led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine).
He agrees to return to space to seek out a new home for humans as their old planet dies, via an intergalactic "worm-hole" near Saturn.
The only problem -- well, not the only problem, but one of them -- is that one hour on the other side of the wormhole equals seven years on Earth, meaning he risks never seeing his daughter alive again.
"For me, this movie is about being a father and how hard it is to leave your kids to go to work," Nolan told reporters in Los Angeles ahead of its general US release Friday.
- Inevitable for human race -
Nolan has a daughter, Flora, whose mother Emma Thomas is the producer of "Interstellar", which was filmed in Canada and Iceland.
The movie is also "about what I see as a kind of inevitability (for) the human race, this moment where the human species will have to leave the planet and find another place in the universe," he added.
The film comes out as the space community licks its wounds following the October 28 explosion of an Orbital Sciences Corporation rocket in Virginia, and Friday's crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo in California.
"I've been asked a lot -- is it worth investing in space travel rather than take care of the problems we have here on Earth?" said the 44-year-old filmmaker, whose past films include "Memento" (2000) and "Insomnia" (2002).
"I think that's a false choice. We have to carry on exploring the universe. And I hope within our lifetimes we'll be able to do more because I'd like to be around to see it," he added.
Visually, "Interstellar" is as spectacular and inventive as Nolan's previous films -- notably 2010's "Inception", which explored people's dream worlds.
The movie was shot using old-fashioned film as Nolan is an ardent fan of celluloid, even if digital has become the norm in the industry -- especially for big-budget films with lots of special effects.
It also nods to past sci-fi classics, including a sarcastic robot -- a cross between R2D2 from "Star Wars" and HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey", as well as drawing on films like last year's Oscar-winning "Gravity".
McConaughey, who took home the best actor Oscar this year for "Dallas Buyers Club", joked that it would be tough to be locked in a space ship with him -- a suggestion contradicted by Anne Hathaway, another Oscar winner who plays a scientist on the spaceship.
"Matthew would be the perfect person to go on a space trip with because he's a very deep thinker. So you know you'd have interesting conversations," Hathaway said.
As awards season looms, "Interstellar" is generating buzz, including a 70 percent favorable rating on the RottenTomatoes movie review website.
Indiewire.com noted that Nolan has never picked up a Best Director Oscar nomination.
"So most would agree that he's due for further recognition at this point, and there's a lot to suggest that 'Interstellar' could be the one to provide it," it added.