Blu Reviewed: Interstellar

Andrew reviews the technical merits of the Interstellar Blu-Ray release.

By now, the dialogue over Christopher Nolan’s ode to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with a dash of Tarkovsky’s Solaris thrown in is something of an old news topic among filmgoers still split on the validity of the Dark Knight director’s extravagant effort. But what’s most certainly not old is how Paramount Pictures is handling the recent Blu-Ray release of Interstellar. Much like the rollout for Darren Aronofsky’s equally divisive Noah, Paramount Pictures is offering numerous editions of the Blu-Ray disc to consumers: a standard edition with a paper slipcase available everywhere, a Best Buy exclusive of the same edition with more extras, a Steelbook edition from Target and finally a collector’s edition from Wal-Mart which includes excerpts from the hardbound book Interstellar: Beyond Space and Time and a film cell taken from an actual IMAX 70mm print. The disc contents are the same on all the releases, but as far as extras and packaging, the Wal-Mart edition wins out as the best available version for purchase. Now, let’s get on with how it looks and sounds.

The Video
The theatrical release of Interstellar is a curious one given just how many versions were presented to the public and debate over which version was the truest to Nolan’s vision. Since a majority of the film was shot on 35mm in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 with key sequences shot in 65mm at 1.43:1, the press release explained how each and every edition from digital IMAX to uncompressed 70mm IMAX film would affect the viewing experience. IMAX 70mm film got the native ratio shifting unaffected, where IMAX Digital shifted between 2.40:1 and 1.90:1 for the IMAX sequences, general release at 2.40:1 and 70mm film at 2.20:1. For this Blu-Ray edition, Paramount went with the 2.40:1 and 1.90:1 edition, finding a moot point by slightly cropping the IMAX footage but maintaining intended the aspect ratio shifting masked by the general and 70mm release versions. Needless to say, the transfer on Blu-Ray is flawless and accurately reflects the theatrical experience on home video! Images are pristine and the depth of the 65mm cinematography is rendered beautifully on Blu-Ray. For those who are eager to demonstrate their new HDTVs, this is prime material for the task! Among the film’s most stunning visual moments comes early in the film as the rocket ship leaves the Earth’s atmosphere. The images of Earth are as vibrant and rich as anything you’ve ever seen on a home theater! Detail is sharp and free of digital noise, and distant stars and objects aren’t lost in the transfer process. While there will never be anything quite like seeing it in IMAX 70mm film, this Blu-Ray comes pretty close.

The Audio
The experience of Interstellar wouldn’t be anywhere near as powerful without the thunderstorm that is the film’s soundtrack. Presented in DTS-HD 5.1 surround, the sound design is deep and enveloping with surround effects and a balance between pin drop quiet interspersed with moments of deafening howls of noise. Sounds of grains of sand from violent dustbowls or tidal waves with white caps bristle against the ears with crystal clarity. The shift between silence and furious racket is reflected both in the sound effects and in particular, the music, which seems to play into the IMAX sequences. Take, for instance, the scene where Cooper pleads with his daughter to allow him to leave on a positive note, one which sadly ends in desperation and grief. Hans Zimmer’s Oscar nominated score emerges as a low rumble of strings and synthesizers before roaring into a firestorm of amplified emotion, augmented by the rise in volume and IMAX shifting. Later still, there are a number of scenes that genuinely reminded of the nuanced sound mix in The Exorcist with how sounds of rocket boosters, black holes and airlocks explode with sound before abruptly cutting to silence, making the jarring moments all the more startling. While some listeners have of course complained the mixers should have gone with a 7.1 surround track, the 5.1 mix packs quite a punch and won’t detract from how it sounded in theaters.

The Extras
While some editions of the film offer unique extras over others, the discs themselves have the same eclectic lineup and they don’t skimp on that department here. Included on a second Blu-Ray disc, the set includes several making-of documentaries detailing nearly every aspect of the production and an extended version of the televised science documentary The Science of Interstellar. What Christopher Nolan fails to provide in terms of an audio commentary he more than makes up for with his frequent involvement in the extras, from how the visual effects were achieved, how sets were constructed, Hans Zimmer’s evocative score, shooting in Iceland for interplanetary scenes and how the numerous scenes involving artificial zero gravity were created. I’ll admit I was somewhat disappointed when I found out how the Tesseract sequence was pulled off, but was impressed nonetheless by how little CGI was used in lieu of building a full sized set with the effects happening in front of the camera instead of post-production.

Nolan’s space opera will, like others before it (Sunshine, Silent Running, Event Horizon, Contact, just to name a few), continue to divide viewers and provoke conversation in the years to come. And yet you can’t fault the man for attempting to bring the big screen theater event movie back into mainstream cultural consciousness. Films like How the West was Won in Cinerama, Oklahoma! In Todd-AO and of course 2001: A Space Odyssey in Super Panavision 70mm were all movies you went out of your way to see and experience in specially equipped theaters, intending to transport you into the movie in ways gimmicks like 3D never could. If nothing else, it presents a sound argument as to why digital film presentation simply isn’t up to par to technologies predating it by more than half a century. For Blu-Ray owners, fans of science fiction as thrilling melodrama echoing the Golden Age of Hollywood, Interstellar is essential to any home video library and from the looks of things, the Wal-Mart edition is the way to go!

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-Andrew Kotwicki