Interstellar director Chris Nolan remains a purist and continues the use of film as an acquisition format in the digital age where the market provides images cleaner and sharper than ever. Interstellar gets 70mm projection treatment in IMAX theaters.
Interstellar, Film versus Digital in IMAX
Christopher Nolan, one of a handful of directors left who shoots his motion pictures exclusively on film. In the case of Interstellar, his latest motion picture, departing past the infinite reaches of space and playing with the concepts of gravity as it relates to time, is no different in it’s image acquisition than the rest of his movies.
Interstellar, shot on 35mm and 65mm IMAX has a few different formats in which it can be viewed. The version I chose to see, was in 70mm IMAX mostly because of the epic size of the film’s story, cinematography and sound score. It’s been some time since I’d seen film projected and was excited to see it again on the largest format available. For more technical information on its screening formats and print processing, check it out here.
I had the pleasure of watching it at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13. With recent HFR or High Frame Rate projection disappointments the likes of The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug, watching Interstellar, strictly from a film format standpoint was nothing short of incredible. Make note, I’m only talking about the viewing experience. I’ll get to my opinions on the film shortly.
So why is it that people seem to be complaining? Because some of them are. Complaints about soft or out of focus shots and milky looking blacks are being tossed around. I beg the question as to why is this really important? While I say that there are certainly a few steadfast rules to filmmaking, some things just doing matter in the larger scheme of things.
Now that statement surely set off sensitivities in all of the best technicians I know. As a filmmaker I should care. Because we strive for perfection in our respective craft. But what I’m seeing is a problem where people become accustomed to acquisition trends they are familiar with, hold steadfast to them and call it “correct.” Take for one example the RED Camera Fanboys. Only shoot on RED cameras. Wrong. Pick the right tool for the job.
How does this make sense? Lets take out of focus for example. While it’s true, things out of focus can be distracting or jarring when not done intentionally to serve a story’s purpose, within reason, it does not make a film better or worse overall. Truthfully told, if focus slips but the film grips you emotionally, the minor technical slip-up does not take away from the overall emotional impact the scene has.
The same goes for milky blacks. Where the color of black is not rich enough due to the blowup from 35mm to 70mm for the IMAX projection in the case of Interstellar. While this may be remedied in a digital screening of the film, how is it any different than knowing the viewers experience will be altered on ANY given format from the big screen, to flat screen TV’s of every flavor, to laptops, tablets, and the worst offender, the smartphone?
If the movie moves you in the theatre, chances are it will move you at home on your TV, or on that flight from home to anywhere on your tablet, all of which have differences in appearance in terms of color, image resolution, and sound quality.
Using acquisition format as a tool not a rule in Interstellar and other films
Now I get to the point where some folks may really want to come down on me! From the on set perfectionist to the casual viewer, as a film director myself I say choose the format that best tells the story. With a few legitimate technical exceptions, the argument on Film versus Digital for acquisition or viewing is moot. The real choice comes down to, what does your story justice? If that means shooting a short film on your iPhone *gasp* then do it.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with the majority of top of line cameras and formats in both episodic television and feature films of varied budgets. The gear changes all the time. Trends come and go and new bars are set everyday as to what is considered an “acceptable” image. I put that word in quotes because I feel acceptable is a disposable term. A good story and how we choose to tell it however, is not disposable.
So for the folks who criticize over the few technical imperfections, (keeping in mind the crews on films like Interstellar are all top notch) I hope to remind you that all the moving elements in any motion picture are in place to serve the story. If you don’t believe me, then go back and watch a little film the likes of Dogville, and tell me that it was no good because it was not shot on the latest flavor of technology.
Continuing the conversation on Filmmaking
The exploration and discussion on all mater of filmmaking from small indie films to big budget summer blockbusters will continue in a new series coming to my site. Make sure to sign up below to receive updates on the latest articles, interviews and information on all aspects of filmmaking.
And of course, since the opportunity won’t be around forever, I HIGHLY, recommend you see Interstellar in the 70mm IMAX projection. Because the truth is in the age of Film versus Digital, sadly, who knows how long film presentations will last.