Interstellar on IMAX 70mm VS. Standard 70mm

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InterstellarIMAX_70mm

Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic Interstellar is now in theaters and it might be the most divisive film that I could remember in a long time. Some loved it (including yours truly), some didn’t care for it and others just thought it’s way too long and/or boring. That’s what great about films, we all have different opinions about them and if we all like the same thing then the world will be quite boring.

Since Nolan is a huge proponent of film, Paramount and Warner Bros. decided to release the film in 6 different technical formats, it maybe the first time in history that Hollywood studios had released a film in so many formats. Here are the different formats the film was released in:

  • IMAX 70mm with aspect ratio switching between 2.39:1 and 1.44:1
  • IMAX Digital with aspect ratio switching between 2.39:1 and 1.90:1
  • Standard 70mm with constant aspect ratio at 2.20:1 (my favorite aspect ratio and I use it for my mini home theater)
  • Standard 35mm with constant aspect ratio at 2.39:1
  • 4k and 2k Digital with constant aspect ratio at 2.39:1

As you can see the studios spare no expense when it comes to pleasing Nolan and of course us the paying customers. Since I saw the film on IMAX 70mm and standard 70mm, my review will only cover the two formats and which I think is the better viewing experience.

NolanFilmingInterstellar

I first saw the film on IMAX 70mm, Nolan shot over an hour of footage with IMAX cameras and I think this might be the best IMAX presentation I’ve seen yet. Although I have to admit that some early scenes bothered me with the quick switching back and forth of the different aspect ratios, thankfully that problem went away as the film progresses. To me digital presentation cannot match 70mm’s bright and vibrant color, the contrast and black levels were so much better too. I forgot how much I miss seeing film’s texture since so many movies today were shot and presented in digital form. Two sequences in the film that just blew me away were the tidal wave in the water planet and when they tried to dock the space ship to the main one, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who have yet to see the film but for those who saw it, you know which scenes I’m referring to.

[Ruth’s note: I found this photo posted on a tweet that seems appropriate to include on this post]

Seeing those sequences on the tall 7-story screen and bright color of 70mm, I felt like I was in the movie with the actors. With so many scenes ripped right out of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, I now know what it must’ve have been like seeing Kubrick’s masterpiece for the first time on the big screen back in those days.

Another reason why I love seeing this film on IMAX is the loss-less surround sound. Nolan mentioned that he really want the audience to be part of the movie so he and his sound designer created the most immersive surround sound I’ve heard since Gravity, it’s really too bad that he didn’t use Dolby Atmos for this film. I’m planning to see this film again on IMAX 70mm because it’s truly was an experience.

So a couple of days later, I’ve decided to go see the film again, this time on a standard 70mm screen. For anyone who wants to know more about 70mm, you can go here. Alas, their website is horrendous looking, but I got in touch with the site’s owners and told them I’m willing to redesign it for free, so once I have some downtime from my full time job, I’m going to redesign that site and it will look much better! Anyway, back to 70mm, the format was quite popular back in the 50s and 60s, some of the epic films from those eras were filmed in this format including Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ben-Hur, West Side Story, Patton, Cleopatra and much more. Heck even Quentin Tarantino will shoot his new flick The Hateful Eight in 70mm, so I can’t wait to see that.

The local theater here in MN is one of the only 9 in the whole country that’s currently projecting Nolan’s picture in 70mm so it’s definitely a treat to have experienced it. Also, I haven’t been back to this theater in over 20 years because they stopped showing films in 70mm. Unfortunately though, the viewing experience wasn’t as immersive as it was on IMAX. The smaller 2.20:1 screen didn’t really give the visual grandeur like on an IMAX screen but I still love the rich color and brightness of 70mm. Also, this 70mm theater uses an old DTS surround sound and it just couldn’t hold a candle to IMAX’s lossless surround sound.

InterstellarIMAXSo my recommendation is if you want to see Interstellar like it’s meant to be seen, please see it on a true 70mm IMAX and if there’s a standard 70mm theater near you, you might want to check it out too. Of course I understand not many people are able to see it on these formats since there aren’t a lot of IMAX and 70mm theaters around. Nolan said in an interview that if the audience felt like they were part of an experience in his film then he succeeded, that I totally agree with. Sure the film has its flaws and some of the scientific mumble jumble didn’t really make a lick of sense to me but it’s still one heck of a ride.

Final Scores:
IMAX 70mm 5 stars out of 5
Standard 70mm 4 stars out of 5

TedS_post


So which format did you see Interstellar in? Are you a fan of seeing films on IMAX?

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30 thoughts on “Interstellar on IMAX 70mm VS. Standard 70mm

  1. Ted S.

    Ha ha, that’s a cool photo of the huge film print. The Great Clips IMAX posted a video of how they prepped for the film’s showing, they had to reinstall the film projection system because they switched to digital. But they were told to keep the old projector because Nolan wanted to show the film on film.

    1. Ahah yeah, when I saw that I knew I had to include it here! No doubt the IMAX 70mm is the better viewing experience Ted, now I wish I had seen Interstellar there but w/ the 3-hr running time I don’t think I’ll go again. I saw Transformers at Great Clips IMAX but I didn’t care how good the visuals were as the movie was atrocious.

      1. Ted S.

        Oh I wouldn’t sit through that Transformers movie again either. Like I said, the only reason I didn’t walk out was because of how good the 3D on IMAX was. I’m sure the digital LieMax was descent in showcasing the film but yeah the bigger IMAX is much better.

  2. I saw this in standard digital projection and now really want to take it in again with true 70mm IMAX (as we’ve the IMAX flagship Chinese Theatre here in L.A.). Alas, I’d have to do it soon as they have “Mocking Jay” set for this Friday to replace it. Thanks so much, Ted 🙂

    1. Ted S.

      Hey Michael, I read somewhere that Nolan actually went to that IMAX Chinese Theater just to see how people react to his film. Also, he apparently was there also when the film was first tested, I assume since he lives in CA, that theater is the one he prefers. Hope you’ll get to see it on 70mm IMAX soon!

  3. Interesting post, Ted. Yeah, I’m not a big techie when it comes to these sorta things (I don’t really know all that much between 70mm and 35mm and all that), but I did see it in both IMAX and standard versions (pretty sure IMAX was digital, however), and I will say that the IMAX really did make a difference, especially with regards to the sound. We do also have a “true” IMAX theater in my town with a much, MUCH larger screen, so I’m eagerly waiting for them to pick this up some months down the line so I can check it out again there. 🙂

    1. Ted S.

      Hey Chris, the two main differences between 35mm and 70mm are that the aspect ratios are different. Most 35mm films are presented in 2.39:1 while 70mm are at 2.20:1. And second 70mm films has more details when it comes to color and brightness. But when these films are transfer to HD for TV and Bluray, you can’t tell the difference that much. If you want to see the difference between the two, watch The Dark Knight on Bluray, the IMAX 70mm sequences looked much better than 35mm.

      Hope you’ll get to see Interstellar on a true 70mm IMAX soon!

  4. Ted, outstanding post! “To me digital presentation cannot match 70mm’s bright and vibrant color, the contrast and black levels were so much better too” Couldn’t agree with you more. I was fortunate I was around for 70mm films and there’s no comparison with digital. Kudos to Cameron for staying true to an under-appreciated medium. I ♥ Douglas Trumbull a visionary leader in cinematography. If you have time, I invite you to check out a post I made a year ago regarding 70mm.
    https://cindybruchman.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/douglas-trumbull-kubrick-effects-and-the-future-of-films/

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Cindy! Yeah I’m a huge fan of Trumball too, he’s the man behind the scenes who had influenced a lot of famous filmmakers today. His work in 2001, Star Trek and Blade Runner were quite spectacular. I’ll head over to your site and read the article!

  5. Fascinating! I didn’t know that. Great informational post on the different formats. I think that’s awesome! I still remember that scene with the wave, and it was just INCREDIBLE to behold.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Kristin. It’s very unusual for studios to comply to such demand from a filmmaker but that’s where Nolan is at now in his career. Whatever he asks, the industry will bow to his commands. Unfortunately the film is not well loved by many people and it’s not a big hit like they’d hoped, so I don’t think we’ll get to see this kind of release ever again. And yes I love that scene in the water planet!

      1. That’s too bad. I think it’s such an ambitious film, and although I wouldn’t consider it perfect, I would consider it cinematic greatness. I’m glad that Nolan is getting what he wants, even if it’s a short-lived thing.

        1. Y’know I’m actually glad that Interstellar is not gonna be a huge hit, perhaps it’ll tone down Nolan’s ego a bit. Every filmmaker, no matter how great, should never think they’re invincible. I like the guy’s work and I admire his ambition, but I’d like to see him going back to perhaps a smaller film like Memento and just focus on characters and a really compelling story and less on special effects. As we all know, it doesn’t take a huge budget to make a memorable film.

          1. Memento is my second favorite film of his, right after Inception. I love what he did with both those films, although of course as you said, Memento didn’t have a huge budget – yet it is a remarkable film.

            I was actually surprised two years ago when I heard Nolan was making yet another big blockbuster. I’m not disappointed with his work, and I do respect what he made. He’s such a talented filmmaker. I don’t know whether or not he has a big ego, or whether Interstellar is proof of it. I do love his films, and while I wouldn’t call Interstellar his biggest success, I wouldn’t consider it a failure either.

            I can see where you’re coming from, and there’s a part of me that is also happy Interstellar isn’t as massive a hit as many of us imagined it would be.

            1. Ted S.

              Hey Kristin, I do think Nolan has a big ego, heck most of big named director and all directors should have big ego. They have to be arrogant to work on such huge scale films, if they can’t then their career will be over. I don’t think Interstellar is a result of Nolan’s ego though, he mentioned many times that he wanted the audience to experience what he experienced when he first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen as a young boy. He’s basically created his dream project and wants people to be a part of it.

  6. I thought about seeing Interstellar in a 70mm format but money and location reasons forced me to watch the film in a 4k version which was only a few minutes away from my house.

    I’m dying to see a film in 70mm as I was hoping that The Master would be shown in Atlanta but it never arrived and I had to see it in theaters that showed it digitally. I also hope to see The Hateful Eight in 70mm as QT always delivers and that seemed like the kind of film that says to see it in 70mm. I hope Terrence Malick has a film presented in 70mm. It’s something that I feel like today’s generation of filmgoers are missing as of right now.

    1. Ted S.

      Yeah I totally understand, it’s unfortunate that there aren’t a lot of IMAX 70mm theaters around the country. I’m sure it looked great in 4K too.

      I didn’t get to see The Master in 70mm either, no theater here in MN was willing to show it. I hope when The Hateful Eight comes out, the our only 70mm theater will show it on film. Yeah most people today are use to seeing movies on digital and don’t know what they’re missing when seeing films on film.

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    1. Ted S.

      You know I don’t understand why people complains about the sound, I mean most of them have seen Nolan’s films and many of them including Inception, The Dark Knight trilogy were quite loud in theater. I think that’s just how he designs the sound for his films. Also, some theaters just don’t have the surround sound to match his sound mix. The IMAX theater I went to have one of the best surround sound system and this film sounded spectacular.

      1. Hey Ted, I don’t mind the loud sound when there’s no dialog but when you’re trying to discern what the characters are saying, esp. when it’s about a crucial plot that includes a bunch of science jargon, the loud humming sound is VERY distracting. I know you love Nolan and everything he does but I think he gets to be over-indulgent and comes across a bit arrogant that things has to be set EXACTLY the way he wants it, regardless of how it affects some (or even most) of the audience’s viewing experience.

        1. Ted S.

          I didn’t notice any sound issues when I saw it the IMAX theater but when I saw it on the regular 70mm, the sound was kind of all over the place. And my friend complained he couldn’t hear what some of the characters were saying. I think Nolan only focused on making sure the true IMAX theaters gets the best picture and sound, while he didn’t really care about other theaters. I didn’t care for his response though when he was interviewed after the film opened and he said it’s the way it’s supposed to sound, I call BS on that and he IS being arrogant about it. He messed up and refused to man up to it. Same thing happened when he didn’t mix the sound correctly for The Dark Knight prologue preview a few years ago. Remember we couldn’t understand what Bane was saying and Nolan said that’s how it’s supposed to sound like? Then when the film came out, he fixed the sound and we could hear most of what Bane was saying.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks! Yeah Nolan is in this exclusive league of filmmakers, I think the only other directors Hollywood will bow to are Spielberg and Cameron.

  8. Unfortunately there aren’t any true IMAX theatres in the country (only the digital “fake” ones), so I didn’t have the opportunity to see it the way it is meant to be seen.

    1. Ted S.

      Yeah it’s really too bad that IMAX isn’t willing to build more real IMAX theaters and they’re not going to do it now since digital LieMax has taken off and most people don’t even know the difference between digital and 70mm IMAX.

  9. I still haven’t seen the film yet so don’t want to comment specifically on the film but I have seen other Nolan films in IMAX and was thrilled and enthralled by them. IMAX is an awe-inspiring experience and the future of film in the theater in my view. Nolan is a master of using it too.

    This is a great article Ted – very informative. That picture of the of 70mm print is fascinating – these days you think that films turn up in digital storage boxes and are simply plugged in and played by the projectionist. It’s great to see the traditional form. I haven’t seen a film print projected in the cinema for probably a decade – such a shame.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Dan! Hope you’ll get to see it on 70mm IMAX when you finally see the film. Nolan did a great job of presenting the film on the best format and like I said it’s probably the best IMAX presentation I’ve seen so far; well until Nolan comes out with his next flick then I’m sure he’ll try to outdo this one, ha ha.

      Yeah I forgot how great film looks when projecting on a big screen, we’re use to seeing movies projecting using digital projectors and it’s great to see film textures and bright color again. The last film I saw projected on film was last year’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, other than one all the movies I saw were digitally projected. I’m not against digital but I think some filmmakers tends to get lazy and not make their movies looks cinematic anymore. But some filmmakers still cares and their movies still looks great on digital, Fincher is a good example of filmmaker who cares about the look and feel of his movies even though he’s not using film anymore. Skyfall was also a good example of how to shoot digital correctly, the movie looked like it’s shot on film.

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