The MovieChristopher Nolan’s long-awaited space drama Interstellar hit cinemas late in 2014. My theatrical review is here and I stand by my comments having seen it several more times. The film has a chewy emotional centre and is very impressive technically, with Nolan's commitment to physical filmmaking permeating every frame. But because so much emphasis has been placed on how much of a visual experience it is, moreso than Nolan's other movies, it loses part of its power in the home viewing environment (oh, how I wish had one of these in my basement: IMAX Private Theater) and the storytelling is so concerned with spelling it out for the audience that it actually takes some of the mystery away.
The genius of something like 2001: A Space Odyssey (and also Contact, Interstellar's spiritual stablemate) is that it doesn't hold the audience's hand throughout, it doesn't stop the movie dead in its tracks again and again to deliver a ream of clunky exposition. We don't know who or what is pulling the intergalactic strings, which is what gives Kubrick's movie a sense of enigmatic majesty that still has people puzzling over it today. Some folks would say that that's not the point of Nolan's movie, that it's about how flawed but determined we are as a species and how love can transcend time and space. While I don't disagree with that assessment I feel that the narrative doesn't give the audience enough credit, that the filmmakers could've been bolder and didn't need a resolution for every single thread. But it's still a fine effort nonetheless.
The Blu-rayThis UK Blu-ray is from Warners and presents the film & extras on two Blu-ray discs along with a UV digital copy, enrobed in an unremarkable slipcase.
Christopher Nolan and IMAX have become synonymous with each other, the director having been so enamoured with the horizontal 65mm process he employed its use in a full-length feature film for the first time with 2007's The Dark Knight. He combines it with traditional 35mm anamorphic to create a unique presentation which changes aspect ratios from wide to tall depending on the scene. Given how beautifully clear and sharp the large format images are, some people wonder why Nolan wouldn't just shoot a whole movie like that, but that's not the point: the taller IMAX shots have that much more impact when bookended by the wider 35mm ones, and the director is too much of an anamorphic fanboy to let it go just yet. Nolan and his new DoP Hoyte Van Hoytema even had some specially adapted anamorphic lenses made for the Interstellar shoot because the walls of the spaceship sets were not 'wild' - they couldn't be removed to allow the camera to move in and out - so the glass had to be tailored for use in such a cramped space with such a limited depth of field.
The movie was finished as a photochemical show with no overriding Digital Intermediate process, although a 4K master was created from the timed interpositive for the digital cinema deliverables (and also for home video, I'd imagine). This Blu-ray takes its cue from the IMAX version and retains the shifting aspect ratio, albeit with the IMAX footage cropped from the original 1.44 to 1.78, so as to appear as "full screen" when viewed on a 16:9 display. This is par for the course, as Nolan did the exact same thing with the two Dark Knight movies on Blu-ray. It's not an arbitrary crop either as the Digital IMAX edition had an aspect of 1.89 which also needed to be catered for by the filmmakers, so the 1.78 home version isn't far off, it adds just a touch more height. The widescreen scenes retain their native 2.40 ratio.
One of the first things you'll notice about this 1080p AVC encode is that the 35mm scenes are often extremely soft in terms of overall sharpness. This was true of the cinema version(s), so please do not adjust your set. Nolan is happy to let the peripheral acuity fall off just as long as his subject is kept in focus (a difficult job with such a reduced depth of field, so you may even spot central focus issues occasionally), which gives the 35mm shots a classical anamorphic look. The orangey, sodium-vapour style skin tones are 100% in keeping with Nolan's aesthetic, although the black level is curiously thin in a couple of instances. This isn't entirely consistent with the theatrical versions I saw (on 15/70 IMAX and 2K digital) nor with Nolan's other movies on Blu-ray which positively revel in their inky blackness.
As for detail, there's still plenty of minutiae on display and a fine layer of grain with it, but if you're used to the overt sharpness of modern digital finishes then you may be left wanting more. However, when the IMAX scenes kick in you'll get everything you want and then some, because the quality is exquisite. The large format footage conveys an incredible sense of depth thanks to the astonishingly crisp images, which are free of noise or grain but still look amazingly detailed, and there's no errant noise reduction or overblown sharpening to ruin the wonderful texture of the IMAX shots. Even though the movie has been digitally dust-busted it still retains some other analogue trademarks, as there's a very slight 'flutter' detectable throughout and the end credits even have a tiny bit of lateral instability, like the telecine transfers of old. All in all, this Blu-ray encode is as transparent to the theatrical intent as a 1080p HD version will allow, aside from the strangely undercooked blacks.
The audio is presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and before people start kvetching about it "lacking" 7.1 or even Dolby Atmos, it's worth considering that Nolan is as old-school with his audio as he is with his visuals; the traditional 6-channel layout suits him just fine. The intense theatrical mix of the film provoked a great deal of debate in any case, with many patrons complaining that the sound effects & music overwhelmed the dialogue while others reported no problems. I fall into the latter camp, and even though my two viewings couldn't have been more disparate in terms of location I had no issues with the mix being too overbearing. It's very loud by design so some elements are certainly prioritised over others, but I didn't leave either cinema thinking I'd missed out on some crucial piece of dialogue and the power of the audio was intrinsic to my enjoyment of the film.
This Blu-ray incarnation is of a similar bent, and although the mix is often dominated by Hans Zimmer's resounding music score I didn't miss out on hearing a single piece of dialogue. The bass will make your room groan and shake with the pressure, and the rears do an excellent job of painting a three-dimensional aural canvas. But silence plays its part too; as with the juxtaposition of aspect ratios in the visuals, the contrast between the soundless vacuum of space and the aural assault of other scenes enhances the enjoyment of both. There's a certain moment in the movie which never failed to get the audience jumping at the screenings I attended, and if your Blu-ray experience doesn't do the same thing for you then you haven't got it turned up loudly enough. But it's not just volume that's key to getting the most from this mix, you also need a wide dynamic range to be able to reproduce the quietest whisper and the loudest blast of the spacecraft without fiddling with your levels all the time.
On a second Blu-ray disc you'll find almost 3 hours of extras. The Science of Interstellar is a 50-minute documentary focussing on the real life science behind the story as relayed to the production by noted astrophysicist Kip Thorne. It's all a bit simplistic and plays like a Discovery Channel fluff piece, truth be told (apparently it's an "extended broadcast special", so that explains it). Then there's Inside Interstellar, a near 2-hour collection of 14 featurettes which look at the making of the film, examining some areas in moderate detail (like the recording of the music, the fabrication of the sets and the creation of TARS and CASE) and providing a short overview of others. There's some interesting stuff here but some of it is repeated in the other documentary and it feels a bit straightforward considering how gruelling the shoot was (rumours abounded of tension between Hathaway and McConaughey, for example). Still, that's to be expected from contemporary extras as they rarely drill down into the marrow. Finally there's a selection of four theatrical trailers, which I always appreciate. There's no commentary or deleted scenes though because Nolan doesn't like such things, not for his movies anyway.
OverallInterstellar's colossal scale is diminished in the home and as a result its flaws are amplified without the distraction of the immense visuals, yet the emotional core of Christopher Nolan's space epic remains intact. The Blu-ray video encode is a typically idiosyncratic example of a Nolan feature that touches on greatness but loses a point for the occasionally milky blacks, and it's accompanied by powerful 5.1 audio. The second disc of extras is a welcome sight, even though its contributions are a touch cursory.
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