Interstellar: The IMAX Experience
Note: This review is specifically for the 70mm IMAX presentation of Interstellar.
To reach this film, I had to trudge through the rain in a seedy neighbourhood to reach the sole IMAX in the city projecting on 70mm film, where I paid $20 for my ticket. That’s a lot of money, and before seeing this film, I was concerned that perhaps Interstellar might not live up to the hype, and that I just lost $20 I could have spent on lunch.
I am sad to say that some of these concerns, in retrospect, were completely founded. Interstellar is a science-fiction epic that attempts to rank straight up with 2001: A Space Odyssey. This film is directed by Christopher “Give Me Your Money” Nolan, and stars Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a former astronaut-turned-farmer in the case of a global food crisis. Interstellar follows his mission throughout space with Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and the robot TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) because apparently this global food crisis is actually a Class-6 Apocalypse in slow motion.
Except it takes about an hour of real-life time before they leave Earth on their mission. The mission which is supposed to be the entire damn point of the movie. The action the audience is paying twenty dollars to see. This movie is three hours long and they used up one-third of that hanging around in corn fields.
They did a good job building the world here without delving into specifics, and more importantly they succeeded greatly in developing Cooper’s relationship with his daughter. The problem was spending more time there when they had already succeeded in doing this, and boring the audience by stalling on getting to the action. They already know the world is going to hell in a handbasket, it was in the trailer.
The presentation of exposition was actually another problem. In fact, it was the main problem with the film, due solely to the lunacy of sound engineers Gregg Landaker and Gary Rizzo. Interstellar has been advertised as an experience built for 70mm film projected in an IMAX theater, so it’s surprising that the audio was mixed so terribly for the IMAX speaker system. The soundtrack in itself was of typical good quality, so props to Hans Zimmer, but the mixing was just abhorrent.
How the IMAX system works is that the front speakers are behind the screen, and the porous screen allows that sound through. The problem was that both the music, effects and dialogue all came through the front, with minimal sound from the back, muffing dialogue beyond comprehension, which is unacceptable. Nothing kills the viewing experience more than a character saying a crucial piece of info that you missed because of a deep bass “THWAAAAM” repeating every two seconds.
So boo on you, Mr. Landaker, and you, Mr. Rizzo. It is absolutely ludicrous that Rizzo somehow managed to win an Oscar at some point in his career. Your terrible sound mixing is a blight on an otherwise spectacular film. Mr. Nolan, for the love of all that is sacred and holy in this world, never hire these two deadbeats again. They quite possibly ruined your magnum opus.
Luckily that deafening “thwaaam” sound only appears at the beginning of the movie, and at some point near the middle. And it is somewhat overshadowed by the stunning visuals created by Double Negative and New Deal Studios. The CGI in this film is minimal, and does not extend to either the robots TARS or CASE, or to the spaceship Endurance itself. Those are all practical effects built in real life, and they look absolutely breathtaking. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema needs to pride himself on an Oscar-worthy job, especially seeing the additional challenges of using the 70mm IMAX film cameras. They are heavy and they are loud.
Which leads into the impressiveness of how much footage was actually filmed using these cameras. Usually an “IMAX Film” will use about 10 minutes or so filmed on an IMAX camera. Interstellar is at least one-third IMAX footage. That is an absolutely amazing technical feat, and since the 70mm film is able to capture such a gigantic amount of visual detail, projected with a certain degree of visual warmth, it is obvious this was put to good use.
The problem is the shots on 35mm film spliced in with it. IMAX 70mm film is shot at an aspect ratio of 1.43:1, while 35mm film is shot at a ratio of 1.85:1. This means that when you see a scene shot on 35mm, black bars will appear on the top and bottom of the screen.
Not only does the picture quality visibly decrease during these points, the immediate cutoff of any image on the bottom of the screen actually serves to drag the viewer out of their immersion. It reminds one that the events aren’t actually occurring, but rather they are just an image projected on a wall. This is more of a problem with the format and the fact that IMAX 70mm film is ludicrously expensive and hard to use, but nonetheless it is a hindrance to the experience.
Additional problems can be found in the characterization of secondary characters. Some secondary characters possess a much larger amount of screen-time and interpersonal interaction than others, even though they have equal importance to the plot. This develops one character to the detriment of the other, and makes one question why the vestigial character is even still present since the other character is usually filling their role.
On the flip side, the principal characters gain an enormous amount of development due to the three hour runtime, but that’s something that can be found in any good film, with secondary character development included.
So, do the positives outweigh the negatives here? No, no they really do not. Visually, Interstellar is a very appealing film, but on an auditory level, it is guaranteed that you will miss all the important plot details and be jostled out of your seat by the THWAAAAM of Doom. Readers, don’t bother seeing a movie you can’t fully enjoy. Wait for it to come out on home video and use the subtitles.