By Anthony Breznican
July 24, 2014 at 11:06 PM EDT
Alex J. Berliner / ABImages for Paramount Pictures

Comic-Con fans may want to spin a top to make sure they’re not dreaming: The man behind Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan, made his first-ever appearance at the San Diego fan convention Thursday to show off his upcoming sci-fi epic Interstellar.

Entertainment Weekly editor Matt Bean introduced the film’s leading man, Matthew McConaughey, to the crowd of more than 6,000 con-goers packed into the event’s fabled Hall H—the biggest venue at the biggest entertainment gathering of the year. After coaxing some cheers from the audience, responding with his signature “Alright, alright, alright …” the Oscar winner then welcomed Nolan to the stage.

Interstellar, which hits theaters Nov. 7, was inspired by theories that wormholes could potentially be used as a short-cut for long-range time travel. Even with a previous trailer out, Nolan has kept the details of the plot mostly secret.

McConaughey said Nolan even kept the story secret from him for as long as possible. “I got a call from my agent who said Christopher Nolan has a film and he wants to meet,” the actor told Bean. After visiting the director’s home for dinner, “three hours went by and he didn’t say anything about a new film or me having a role. Then a week later the script came.”

What we know is that the world is on the brink after climate change takes its toll on the planet, and McConaughey plays an engineer who teams up with a group of other researchers and astronauts (including Anne Hathaway) on a scientific mission to save the rest of us, leaving behind family that doesn’t know if they’ll ever see their loved ones again. Jessica Chastain and Nolan stalwart Michael Caine co-star.

The story was inspired by the theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, whose studies on the theory of relativity delves into the idea of so-called wormholes in space and time that could be used as shortcuts for human exploration of the universe. Thorne is not just a scientist whose work they study from afar, he’s an executive producer of the film, Nolan added.

“For me, in working on the script, there were a lot of very intense conversations with somebody who is much better informed than me. It actually made my head hurt a bit,” the director said. “I actually said to Kip, ‘Well, I don’t want to understand this stuff too much, because I have to be able to explain it to the audience.’ He’s a very generous collaborator, and somebody who has spent an incredible amount of time thinking about these concepts.”

In his presentation Thursday he showed off the new trailer, which offered a little more insight into what lies beyond for moviegoers when Interstellar hits theaters November 7.

The new footage — which won’t be released publicly until much later — certainly had its enigmatic moments, but it also offered a few more clues about the plot. It turns out that what these particular astronauts are looking for is another Earth, a habitable planet where human life can thrive again. “We used to look up at the sky and wonder about our place in the stars,” McConaughey’s character says. “Now, we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

We see some of his astronaut/engineer asking Caine when (or if) he’ll see his daughter again, followed by a promise to her that he will come back. And if he doesn’t, “I’ll love you forever.” Cue tears as the music swells, followed by stunning vistas of what can only be far-off worlds (or maybe Iceland.) Although beautiful, they seemed hostile to life, particularly the lives of the explorers. One sequence featured the pioneering scientists escaping a massive chasm with icy, rocky peaks on the top and bottom like a fearsome terrain of mountainous teeth.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction,” Nolan told the crowd. “I’d grown up being amazed by science fiction of the past, obviously Star Wars and 2001. These are things that made an incredible impression on me. But more than that, I grew up in an era when to be an astronaut was the highest ambition of any child.”

Bean asked what Interstellar meant to him, and Nolan responded: “It’s really about human beings, and what it means to be human, and what our place is in the universe.”

Nolan said the script, by his brother Jonathan, focuses on a new era of technological pioneering, with “a journey that would take you not just into the solar system, our solar system, but to a whole other galaxy.”

The director told Hall H he had never visited the convention before because he was always busy elsewhere. “I’ve heard a lot about this really being a place where people are most passionate about movies and popular culture in general, so I thought I’d come see what all the fuss is about,” Nolan said to cheers of approval. “I’m not disappointed and extremely honored to be here.”

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 169 minutes
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