Interstellar wormholes its way onto Blu-ray
By Jim Bray
Christopher Nolan's first movie since his epic Batman trilogy is an epic science fiction adventure that either hearkens back to or steals liberally from some previous epics in the genre. And some not as epic ones as well…
Interstellar blends some 2001: a space odyssey with a tad 2010, a bit of The Black Hole, Contact, Queen's song 39, Heinlein's novel "Time for the Stars," and a smattering of few other sci-fi stories good bad and indifferent. The result is an epic film that offers a compelling yarn and looks and sounds gorgeous at the same time. It's a very big movie that deserves to be seen on as big a screen as you can muster.
Interstellar is the story of a guy named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who used to be a pilot but who now is a corn farmer on an Earth that's on the verge of starvation. It's a dry and dusty place, but we don't get beaten over the head with Global Warm-mongering; this isn't movie about politics, it's just a ripping yarn. That's a nice change.
Anyway, one day, Cooper and his daughter, Murphy (played at various parts by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn) discover - thanks to a blast of dusty wind invading their home – a pattern in the dust that's similar to one Murph finds on her bookshelf sometimes, the work (she says) of a ghost. We will find out what the ghost is, but not until the end of the movie, so you'd better stick around. In the meantime, they figure out the pattern is actually map coordinates (shades of Close Encounters of the Third Kind) that takes them to what they're surprised to discover are the hidden remnants of NASA.
The folks at the space agency know the earth's days are numbered and want to find new worlds to which humanity can be relocated. As it turns out, they've already sent out a few people to scope out space, launching them through a wormhole some alien race apparently has stuck out around Saturn. Cooper is tasked with piloting the mission, and sets out for the stars accompanied by crew members Brand (Anne Hathaway), Doyle, (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi), and a couple of droids: TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart). I assume the second robot is along just in "CASE…"
The film cuts back and forth between Cooper's mission and his family back at home as they grow up, build lives of their own, and eventually succumb to the human life span (well, some of them do). The most interesting stuff is the space stuff, which is filmed and staged beautifully, but the movie needs the Earth parts because by the end of Interstellar all the various parts end up coming together in a type of whole. And that's about all I'm going to tell you about the plot because I don't want to ruin it for you – and you really should see this movie.
And unlike many sci fi films, including ones that happened long ago in a galaxy far, far away, they've at least tried to keep the science true while they spin the fiction.
I was particularly interested in seeing Interstellar because I loved Nolan's Batman films but wasn't a huge fan of his Inception and The Prestige – the only two of this other films that I've seen to date. Also because I'm a sci-fi nut and "good" science fiction is hard to find. And even though it runs some 168 minutes Interstellar never, ever drags, though on the other hand, I wondered at times if it would be even better if it were a half hour shorter – or maybe an hour longer.
Nolan, as was his wont with the last two Batman films, shot the movie in both IMAX and conventional film, and this causes the aspect ratio to jump around. It actually works out pretty well, though, because most of the IMAX sections are spectacular and take great advantage of the large, 1/78:1 format film. The "cinemascope" sections (2.39:1) use the wider screen aspect ratio to impart a more intimate feel. If I had my druthers I'd probably want to see the whole thing in IMAX, like James Cameron did with Avatar, but that's a minor quibble at best because the multiple ratios work well.
The special effects are worth the price of admission, and in many ways build on Kubrick's ground breaking work on 2001 by using similarly conceived shots, but with today's state of the effects art on hand to help sell them. Nolan also gets good performance from the cast, which also includes Michael Caine as Cooper's former mentor and crewman Brand's father.
The 1080p picture looks best during the IMAX scenes, to no one's surprise, but it can be a tad soft in places. That said, this is a very nice looking disc overall; not as reference quality as some, but still a delight in the home theatre. Black levels are very good, the colors are rich where they should be (and pale when they should be) and the overall image is quite satisfying.
The lossless audio track is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and I was pleased to note that the bass isn't as overpowering as it was with The Dark Knight Rises. Oh, there's plenty of it, but rather than being as in your face that you want to turn down your equipment it blends in better with the overall soundtrack. One thing that does overpower the sound track at times is Hans Zimmer's musical score, though apparently this was by Nolan's design so if you don't like it you can take it up with him. Sometimes I found dialogue hard to hear over the music, but it's the exception rather than the rule.
And of course there are oodles of extras, some three hours' worth on a second Blu-ray. There isn't space to go into them all, but both "The Science of Interstellar" and "Inside Intersellar" are fascinating looks at the story, the film, their attempts to be accurate scientifically, and more. It's well worth seeing, not only to get behind the scenes movie magic info, but to put the story into scientific perspective as well.
There are also four theatrical trailers.
Visions of Kubrick's masterpiece 2001 kept going through my head while watching Interstellar, which is high praise, but I believe Christopher Nolan's movie is the more accessible of the two. Both films deal with alien encounters, trips into deep space through some kind of gate, with some seemingly mystical stuff thrown in for good measure, but Interstellar also adds the type of action and exposition that Kubrick's more visual and cerebral extravaganza eschewed.
It'll be interesting to see which one's considered better in another 50 years.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.