I am not exactly a Christopher Nolan fanboy. Sure, I've enjoyed almost every film he's directed, from Following to his latest and most ambitious production, Interstellar, at least on initial viewings. But only a select few have kept me coming back for more, whether through attempts to peel off layers or decipher riddles (Memento, The Prestige) or just appreciate on a more straightforward level (Insomnia, Batman Begins). Still, there's a coldness and sterility that keeps me at arm's length during most of his movies, and I can't quite put my finger on why I'm not always fully invested in something made by a clearly gifted filmmaker who consistently appeals to critics while enjoying massive commercial success. But even if I don't love many of his films, they're all worth watching at least once.
Interstellar feels mighty impressive on first viewing, and every bit as ambitious as its lofty title implies. It's a bold film about uncharted territory, abandoning a planet, and a father leaving his children to save humanity...and oddly enough, this far-reaching story feels like the director's most intimate, effective, and personal effort to date. It's also uncharted territory for Nolan, who enters the dangerous genres of science fiction and family drama simultaneously. Our story follows ex-NASA engineer and current farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) whose corn crop, like everyone else's in the dust-choked landscape, has fallen victim to blight. Irresponsibility and overpopulation have hit the remaining citizens of Earth hard in this worn-out dystopian future, and it's painfully obvious that humanity is on its last legs. Still, plenty of folks have learned to adapt, and Cooper's surviving family---daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), son Tom (Timothee Chalamet), and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow)---runs like a well-oiled machine.
But they're still treading water, and one day things change drastically. Convinced that her room is haunted by a ghost trying to communicate, the brilliant Murphy and her father deduce that binary coordinates are being left in dust patterns...and the destination turns out to be what's left of NASA headed by Cooper's former boss, Professor John Brand (Michael Caine). For the past several years, they've been developing the means for a team of astronauts to literally leave our planet for greener pastures, courtesy of a wormhole just outside Saturn that leads to a distant galaxy with three potential Earth replacements near a supermassive black hole. Three astronauts have already gone ahead to investigate each planet, but the lack of two-way communication has left many questions unanswered.
Cooper is asked to co-pilot the shuttle, so he's immediately burdened with the choice between abandoning his family in a dying world or trying to save them by leaving it. "Plan A" means that Cooper and company will return for survivors. "Plan B" involves a one-way trip and frozen embryos designed to jump-start humanity's second chance.
The above summary encompasses the first 45 minutes of Interstellar, which takes a huge risk by clocking in at almost three hours. But I not only didn't check my watch once, I could have easily stayed in its world for another hour without flinching. Interstellar is the rare film whose reach doesn't exceed its grasp; it attempts to be almost half a dozen kinds of story at once and succeeds admirably almost every step of the way. To Saturn and beyond, through desolate landscapes, sporadic one-way messages from his family, and several unexpected jumps brought on by gravitational time dilation, Cooper and his crew---the Professor's daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Romily (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and the monolith-like TARS and CASE (Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart)---are basically flying blind and we're along for the ride. As expected, strong left turns are made; depending on your suspension of disbelief and acceptance of a mind-bending trip to the fifth dimension, you may not enjoy the whole ride.
I certainly did, and enough so that Interstellar practically begged for a second viewing almost immediately after the credits rolled. This is a film that lives or dies entirely by its visual ambitions and sheer degree of confidence...which, for me, were more than enough to keep my brain happily engaged and my imagination compelled for the entire journey. It's a film that wears a few subtle influences on its sleeve (visual design elements of 2001, Alien, etc.), as well as a few not-so-subtle ones (Philip Glass' soundtrack for Koyaanisqatsi), but in a way that feels complementary instead of derivative. But most importantly, it's a film that pushes the genre forward by placing research and educated guesses at the forefront, largely through the work of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who doubled as an executive producer and scientific consultant. His long-form equations can even be seen on NASA's blackboard.
Also joining Nolan behind the scenes are brother Jonathan (a frequent collaborator who spent four years writing this story, originally to be directed by Steven Spielberg), executive producer Lynda Obst (who conceived the film's premise with Thorne), and other Nolan regulars like composer Hans Zimmer and production designer Nathan Crowley. The latter two turn in some of their best work to date. Zimmer's highly influenced but supremely confident soundtrack offers Earth-shaking organ hits and subtle ambient touches. Crowley worked with Nolan and company to achieve a surprisingly high number of in-camera effects, from the brutal dust storms to several ship fly-bys and the less superhuman feats of TARS and CASE. All things considered, Interstellar is a far-reaching film that feels considerably down-to-earth, partly due to the anchor of historical events (such as interview clips from Ken Burns' The Dust Bowl, shown during the opening moments) and terrific performances by its lead and supporting actors.
Paramount's fantastic Blu-ray release of Interstellar feels a little late for a film of this pedigree, but the end result is certainly worth the wait. Featuring a top-tier A/V presentation and roughly three hours of compelling bonus features (including comments from Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, Kip Thorne, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and more), it's an excellent package for a film that absolutely, positively deserves the extra attention.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
The analog-sourced Interstellar is presented in a mixed aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and 1.78:1 which, like Star Trek Into Darkness and two-thirds of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy (among other films), mimics the shift between scenes shot in 35mm and those shot in 70mm IMAX. The results are consistently strong, almost seamless, and very effective in the way they present certain segments as slightly less claustrophobic than others. Image detail is fantastic, the stylized color palette is represented accurately, textures are crisp, and film grain is present without feeling intrusive. Interstellar's slightly washed-out appearance during certain sequences (specifically, at least one of the potentially habitable planets) looks accurate by design...so even if its rudimentary appearance doesn't feel 100% uniform, this appears to be as faithful a home video presentation as we're likely to get for some time.
The film is smartly given its own dual-layered Blu-ray, which thankfully eliminates potential compression issues. While a few stray digital imperfections can be spotted along the way (minor banding and slight digital smearing, for example), such "problems" are infrequent enough to barely warrant mentioning, let alone complaining about.
DISCLAIMER: The promo images featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent this Blu-ray's picture quality.
Equally impressive, if not more so, is Interstellar's default DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, also available as lossy Spanish or French dubs. Those who experienced the film theatrically may have balked at its volume levels, as some claimed that the background music sounded...well, more like foreground music. Christopher Nolan defended Interstellar's theatrical audio, calling it an "adventurous" sound mix that was produced with a specific intention.
Having not experienced such problems firsthand, I can't echo any complaints about this Blu-ray's incredibly potent mix: sure, it's high on dynamic range---which means "not specifically mixed for small home theaters", so keep that remote handy---but not unnaturally so. Dialogue is clear when necessary and, at times, occasionally buried in the mix...but considering when this occurs during the film, it's completely acceptable. Rear channel activity is ample, Hans Zimmer's score pushes the aural experience into overdrive (especially during the third act), and the black hole encounter might test the limits of your subwoofer and/or neighbor's patience (if you live in an apartment, tough luck). Optional English, SDH, Spanish and French subtitles are included during the film and most of the extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
After a short, spoiler-free introductory clip from the film itself, Interstellar
's menu proves to be surprisingly dull and basic for such a visually ambitious film. But I can deal with a static, silent black-and-white interface, because this one's easy to use and clutter-free. This three-disc release is housed in a hinged keepcase and includes a matching slipcover and a Digital Copy
redemption code. Also tucked inside, for a limited time, is a 70mm IMAX Film Cell
; I'll admit that I got a pretty good close-up of Cooper aboard The Endurance
, but your results may vary.
There's a good mixture of stuff to dig through here, and it's all grouped together on the second Blu-ray disc. And, although Interstellar
sadly doesn't include an optional audio commentary, those pining for a suitable replacement might want to look into executive producer and consultant Kip Thorne's accompanying book
Speaking of which, our first supplement is "The Science of Interstellar" (50:20), a stand-alone peek behind the research, formulas, and educated guesses that went into the story behind the main feature. As expected, Thorne is front and center during portions of this session; it also features contributions from Nolan, who worked closely with the noted theoretical physicist. Among other topics, we learn about the real-life search for suitable Earth replacements, Einstein's theory of relativity, fitting elements of science into the film's narrative, adapting cosmic anomalies into visual effects, learning from The Dust Bowl (or, more specifically, the possibility of a repeat performance), the effect of gravity and speed on our perceptions of time, and much more. It's a fabulous and entertaining slice of science that's incredibly easy to digest and, like the film itself, probably could have gone on a little longer.
The lion's share of supplements is an assortment of Behind the Scenes Featurettes that, when combined, serve up more than two hours' worth of solid information about Interstellar's development, production, and completion. In order (and mostly self-explanatory by their titles), these include "Plotting an Interstellar Journey" (a summary of the film's development and themes), "Life on Cooper's Farm", "The Dust", "TARS and CASE", "The Cosmic Sounds of Interstellar, "The Space Suits", "The Endurance", "Shooting in Iceland", "The Ranger and the Lander", "Miniatures in Space", "Simulating Zero-G", "Celestial Landmarks", "Across All Dimensions and Time", and "Final Thoughts". At roughly five to 15 minutes apiece, all of these featurettes include participation from key cast and crew members and provide a well-rounded amount of detail about each respective topic. Hans Zimmer's comments during the music featurette are especially welcome, as is the footage of select live music performances. The lack of a "Play All" option is a little annoying, as fans will undoubtedly want to tear through all of these in one or two sittings.
Last but not least are one Teaser and three excellent Theatrical Trailers that summarize Interstellar's atmosphere quite nicely without spoiling too much. Like everything else, these are presented in 1080p and look and sound quite good. Optional subtitles are available during all applicable bonus features in the languages listed above.
Interstellar is a riveting film. It's sci-fi on the surface, family drama down below, and the resulting combination hit me exactly right almost every step of the way. Time lurches forward with the narrative and unexpected turns are made, but in a manner that excites and compels viewers to keep up with the story. Its potent mix of well-researched visuals, powerhouse music cues, educated guesses, and rock-solid acting anchors Interstellar in a way that might make you wish it lasted even longer. Simply put, this is a supremely well-made and memorable film experience and, like it or not, I've got a good feeling that Interstellar will still be talked about in decades to come. Paramount's Blu-ray package is perfectly well-rounded in a time when new releases usually come up short, offering an excellent A/V presentation and three hours of entertaining, informative supplements. It may not appeal to everyone, but Interstellar is so massive that it's almost impossible not to get sucked in and want to stay there. DVD Talk Collector's Series.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.