I think the easiest comparison to make is with Blade Runner. Blade Runner, in its theatrical release, had an annoying voice over, a discordant ending which undercut most of the ideas it was trying to convey, and there was a pacing issue as well. It was still a wildly imaginative film, but seriously flawed. Side note: It literally took decades for the best version of Blade Runner to come out.
For me it was the voice over in Blade Runner that hurt it the most. It was also the easiest fix, because by removing it, suddenly the story was opened up, and all those marvelous ideas were left to the audience to ponder. I believe it was because that voice over was a kind of an exposition dump in the form of a noir cliché, and it reduced all the thoughtfulness of the movie, and all the questions we had, down to an inner monologue that wasn't all that interesting.
So why am I talking about a thirty-year-old movie? Well, Interstellar suffers from basically the same problem, and unfortunately I don't think there is an easy fix to solve it -- primarily because the exposition dump here isn't internal. Sci-fi has to tread a difficult line between ideas and accessibility. If it is too hard and the concepts are too difficult, then it isn't fun. If it is too watered down, then the whole point is lost in absurdity. In Interstellar there's an imbalance between grand ideas and translating those ideas to the viewer, because the film tries to explain everything.
At least there is a real sense of urgency and tension throughout the film, even if some of the plot choices were a little bit odd. There is also a sense of inevitability about things, maybe because we are given too strong a hint about what's really going on pretty early in the story. Still, if that hint is looked at as a narrative tool it allows the film to present some rather difficult conceptual ideas in a way that even the average viewer can accept and absorb. Now I'm not sure how much of a good thing that is, because it is a bit of intentional dumbing down for a mass audience. That, or it is simply sloppy script-writing.
When there are giant plot issues, everything else has to make up for those issues. Thankfully the acting, visual effects, direction, and sound design were all top notch. I want to start with the acting and mention Mackenzie Foy's performance as Murphy first. She managed to be an inquisitive and somewhat whiny character without once being annoying. We care for her, and we can see why Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) seemed to love her most of all.
The rest of the actors also deliver, imparting a sense of emotional connection to a world history that is never fully explained. Jessica Chastain has a thankless role as a scientist working on a major problem with the space mission. Then there are Michael Caine and John Lithgow, who both have small supporting roles that serve as emotional anchors for the primary characters. Anne Hathaway also does well as the lone female presence on the space side of the story. She does have a bit of an uneven character arc, but she's still a good character. Then there are the robots, which aren't the most visually appealing (yet still cool), but are fully fleshed out and provide some of the best lines of dialogue. But this was really McConaughey's movie. He is in practically every scene, and he carries most of the emotional weight of the film.
As for the visual effects, they were all simply outstanding, from believable space ships to space vistas that take your breath away. If there was one thing to go see this movie for, it would be the visuals. And the sound matched those visuals -- except on occasion, the music was a bit too loud. Even the editing and directing were impressive. There were several times where things slowed down, allowing the audience to bask in the awesome special effects for a long breath, instead of jump cutting to something bombastic to keep our attention.
It's that discordance between brilliance and sloppiness that bothers me the most. With just a few minor tweaks, this could be the best film in a generation. Sigh. In the end, though, this was a very well made film with some plot and dialogue issues. Perhaps on rewatch those issues I had with the plot won't be as bothersome, but given the film's two hour and forty-five minute running time I'm not entirely sure I want to do that.
3 out of 4 Black Holes
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.