Stellar picture, sound and extras
Interstellar Film Review
Bold and audacious, Interstellar is another masterpiece from Christopher Nolan that depicts near-unattainable concepts like wormholes, relativity, and five-dimensional thinking with consummate skill.Whatever its faults, it earns a perfect score for sheer ambition and originality. It demands to be watched, absorbed, and rewatched. In some ways failing to reach the giddy heights of his earlier masterpiece Inception in terms of all-round perfection, in other ways, it somehow raises the bar. It delivers science fiction with a distinctly factual flavour; positing a palpably realistic future, and revelling in complex scientific concepts which most filmmakers eschew in favour of preserving audience sanity. Interstellar’s dystopic future sees mankind desperately searching to find another habitable planet and, with the last space mission gone awry, and see Matthew McConaughey with a daring mission to save the human race. Nothing can prepare him and his crew for what they encounter on the worlds beyond.If Gravity took us into the cold, unforgiving abyss of space, and Sunshine took us towards the unrelenting blast of the sun, Interstellar takes us way beyond both, to wormholes and space anomalies, ice planets and water planets and other dimensions. It's the perfect sandbox for Nolan to play in, exploring string theory and relativity with jaw-dropping on-screen results; bringing such highbrow concepts down to earth with very real set-pieces and sequences that blister with tension and leave you yearning to get to grips with some very elusive ideas. If you thought Inception delivered some visionary set-pieces in terms of scale and ambition, then Interstellar will blow your mind. If you look past its flaws then you'll likely see that this truly is a visionary work of frequently opulent majesty.
Blu-ray Picture QualityChristopher Nolan films often appear crafted for demo purposes, with fantastic visuals and jaw-dropping IMAX sequences that demand to be shown off. Yet they’ve almost universally been peppered – not plagued, mind you – with minor issues that tend to leave them always running just shy of perfect. Interstellar, though not an exception, is so predominately stunning that the scattered anomalies are little more than passing space dust in the vastness of its otherwise spectacular universe.
Presented in the same variable shifting aspect ratio that the film used for its IMAX theatrical release, Paramount’s region free UK Blu-ray promotes the movie with a 1080p/24 AVC-encoded video rendition in both the wider 2.39:1 format and, predominantly on the space sequences, the 1.78:1 IMAX ratio. The shifting from one ratio to another is obvious, but perfectly timed nonetheless as it basically kick-starts the space side of things, and furthermore feels like a natural transition in doing so.
Although if you use a 2.40:1 projection screen and can't mask the top and bottom you're forced to either watch with the opened up image appearing above and below the screen or compose the film at a 1.78:1 ratio within your Scope screen, which is hardly epic. Some people might enjoy this variable aspect ratio approach but many find it annoying and it can hardly replicate the IMAX experience on a TV. It ultimately ends up feeling like a gimmick rather than a genuine artistic statement.
It’s a stunning video presentation which, for the majority of the runtime, will make your jaw drop.
However regardless of your feelings on the multiple aspect ratios, there are a lot of positives to this impressive presentation which, for the majority of the runtime, nails all of the elements necessary to make for strong video. Detail is excellent, with incredible clarity which sits beneath the healthy layer of grain that permeates the photography, which was done entirely on actual film stock (35mm anamorphic and 70mm IMAX). Close-ups bring forth striking skin textures, and background nuances, whilst longer shots are impressive both in scope and scale. The colour scheme smoothly shifts from the dusty, farm-dominated first half to the later space-based sequences, balancing earthy tones in the former before descending into abyssal blacks in the latter.
Across all this it’s possible to find a few flaws that arguably should not be there – one or two shots that look just that little bit softer than you’d have liked; slightly hotter skintones which aren’t necessarily consistent across the piece; black levels that aren’t anywhere near as impressive during the Earth-based sequences (but thankfully remain largely flawless in space; arguably where it counts). There’s even a hint of banding for those trawling the picture to find it. Yet despite all of these minor gripes, the overall presentation is so utterly stunning that the flaws suddenly become palpably insignificant, and eminently easy to overlook in the magnificently grand scheme of things. As a result the picture quality ultimately achieves a reference performance thanks to the same ambition and scope shown by the film itself.
Blu-ray Sound QualityThe accompanying lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is similarly sheer perfection, with one exception, only here the exception is not technical so much as at the director’s intent. Basically this is a track which is perfect at presenting Nolan’s intended audio, although that intended audio, however, is far more open to criticism.
Let’s get the controversy out of the way – Nolan’s choice on how to present the dialogue. Now, it should be remembered that this was his choice, and that choice lies entirely at the discretion of Nolan, squarely where it should be. So he was perfectly within his rights to mix the sound at unquestionably inaudible levels for several key dialogue sequences in the movie. And audiences are perfectly entitled to question his judgment in doing so. In interviews, he justifies the decision as presenting an unconventional approach to absorbing the story – drowning the words in the true sound of effects, whether trucks on a dirt track or rockets blasting a ship into space. Even the most puzzling of choices – to smother a character’s final revelatory words – was explained away. But it’s still somewhat odd to see all this from somebody supposedly championing a return to cinemas, as it undoubtedly affected the experience for many.
Of course the more obvious technique would have been to merely mute the dialogue and let the score and effects take over, but by merely muffling it, audiences are left feeling like they are missing something, rather than hearing what the director wants you to hear. Indeed one has to wonder whether Nolan’s own personal predilections have prejudiced his attitude towards dialogue (remember the IMAX preview of The Dark Knight Rises, where you couldn’t hear a word Bane said? Why was that magically corrected before release?). So in presenting the audio ‘perfectly’ here, the dialogue is rendered in much the same way, i.e. far less than perfect. Sure, you can make out more than you likely would have done at the cinema, but the reality is the same: you turn the volume up to near-reference levels and the effects and score drown out the words.
Interstellar makes for one hell of an audio experience, but in staying faithful to the material it brings the same problematic dialogue issues to the home format.
Whenever Nolan chooses to allow it, of course, we still get clear and coherent dialogue as you would only expect; largely disseminated from the frontal array. Effects are wonderfully powerful, bringing the LFE into the fold and engulfing you with strong atmospheric presence. In certain scenes the surrounds come violently to life, totally immersing the listener. The low frequency effects are equally as impressive with certain scenes filling the room with bass energy. Hans Zimmer’s score is also a thing of beauty, engaging you and ripping through you with emotion and impact. Indeed, whilst the material falls short of the perfection that is so readily in its grasp thanks to those intentional dialogue choices, the presentation – in staying true to the director’s questionable choices – certainly hits the mark.
Interstellar Blu-ray ExtrasInterstellar comes in two flavours, the standard keep case version and a more expensive digibook alternative but both contain the same two discs. Aside from the picture and sound elements already mentioned, the Blu-ray includes foreign language soundtracks and subtitles, as well as an audio descriptive track for the sight impaired and English subtitles for the hard of hearing. The film is on the first disc, the extras are on the second disc and there is also a digital copy.
The disc includes a great set of extras that reveal all that went into making such an ambitious film.
The included extras are all presented in high definition and provide an in-depth look at the making of the film and are generally excellent, in fact our only real complaint would be that there's no 'play all' feature for the various sections which means you have to select each one individually.
The Science of Interstellar (50:20) - This documentary narrated by Matthew McConaughey details the scientific theories that under-pin much of the plot of Interstellar, with specific emphasis on scientific adviser and executive producer Kip Thorne's work on wormholes and black holes.
Plotting an Interstellar Journey (07:49) - The filmmakers discuss the genesis of the project and their ambitions.
Life on Cooper's Farm (09:43) - The story of the lengths the filmmakers went to to create a corn working outside Calgary in Canada, including building a farm house for exterior and interior photography and growing 500 acres of corn.
The Dust (02:38) - The real life effects of the dust bowl of the 1930s are recreated for the film.
TARS and CASE (09:27) - A detailed look at the two intelligent mobile machines in the film, how they were designed and brought to life for the film.
The Cosmic Sounds of Interstellar (13:40) - Hans Zimmer discusses how he wrote and recorded the score for the film.
The Spacesuits (04:31) - The design and construction of the film's spacesuits is covered along with the challenges of acting in them.
The Endurance (09:24) - The design and construction of the film's main spaceship including a walk-through of the set by production designer Nathan Crowley.
Shooting in Iceland: Miller's Planet/Mann's Planet (12:42) - Director Christopher Nolan likes to shoot as much for real as possible and Iceland conveniently provided the ideal locations for two of the main planets in the film.
The Ranger and the Lander (12:20) - The design and construction of the Ranger spacecraft and the Lander spacecraft with another walk-through from production designer Nathan Crowley.
Miniatures in Space (05:29) - Less miniatures and more like full-scale mock-ups as the filmmakers use the actual full-size vehicles for many of the space shots, adding another level of realism.
The Simulation of Zero-G (05:31) - How the filmmakers created the illusion of weightlessness using many techniques that were originally pioneered on 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Celestial Landmarks (13:22) - How the visual effects team created the most realistic representation of a wormhole and a black hole ever depicted on film.
Across all Dimensions and Time (09:02) - The design and realisation of the tesseract seen in the film's final act.
Final Thoughts (06:02) - The filmmakers final thoughts on the finished film.
Trailer 1 (02:34)
Trailer 2 (02:35)
Trailer 3 (02:29)
Interstellar Blu-ray VerdictIf several of Nolan's features earn top scores in terms of sheer blockbuster perfection, then Interstellar doesn't technically reach this same standard, but for sheer bold, audacious, ambitious and original storytelling, nothing comes close. If you look past its flaws then you'll likely see that this truly is a visionary work of frequently opulent majesty. The film might struggle in its third act but in an age of reboots, remarks and sequels, we should applaud original filmmaking.
If Gravity took us into orbit and Sunshine took us to the sun then Interstellar takes us beyond both with wormholes, space anomalies, alien planets and other dimensions.
The Blu-ray does a superb job of delivering this ambitious film with reference quality video and audio, not to mention an impressive set of extras. This easily makes the disc a must-have purchase - whichever release you pick up - from the standard two-disc package to the more expensive digibook version. Interstellar was one of the must-see films of last year, so it only seems fitting that the Blu-ray is already one of the must-own releases of this year.
You can buy Interstellar on Blu-ray here
You can buy the Interstellar Digibook Blu-ray here
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.