Monday, January 12, 2015

Science Screen: Interstellar IMAX

Home of the space shuttle Endeavor, a Pompeii exhibit and much more, the California Science Center is a beautifully modern piece of architecture in the middle of a rundown part of town.  Housed across from the main hall is the $8 million dollar IMAX theater opened in 1998, complete with full snack bar offering candy, nachos, Coke and Icee's.  Ironic that the actual theater has no cup holders.  Remember when IMAX was for educational films to give you a giant, up close look at space, animals and nature?  Now it's hocked at every theater to give you a more immersive experience while ripping you the BLEEP off.  A true IMAX theater is uncomfortable.  The seats are far from the padded, reclining lounge chairs of stadium cinemas and the aisles are usually quite narrow.  The screen is so large that sitting in the front row would mean missing part of the picture.  AMC touts the IMAX experience, converting existing theaters with improved sound and picture quality.  The real IMAX screen at CSC is something like 90' wide and 70' tall.  Around town, the giant screen in the Arclight Cinerama Dome is 85' x 32' so you just know some 1990's built AMC ain't coming close to that.  In fact, a typical large auditorium screen runs 40' x 20' or not even half a real IMAX yet you're paying an upcharge.  While IMAX quickly points out that it's not just about screen size, let's be honest, it kind of is.  The huge image and sound is the point.  Then again, movies need to be shot in the format to really take advantage otherwise you're just getting to see imperfections on the flick like I did on Iron Man III where some fuzzy something or other kept popping up.

Since Christopher Nolan is a huge supporter of film, he decided to shoot space opera Interstellar on 70mm and partially in IMAX.  Nolan had already shot portions of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX which require a huge camera and less movement from actors and the scene.  Watching Interstellar, the picture would go from rectangle a la widescreen for dialog scenes to square a la IMAX for outdoor, space or flying segments.  Seeing the corn fields, water planet, space vistas, station destruction and the ice planet on the big, big screen was amazing.  The lack of sound in various dramatic scenes works incredibly well as does the use of the organ on Hans Zimmer's score that hits you in the heart.  I know everybody is aiming for this immersive experience thing but I wasn't sitting dead center and could still see people around me.  Guess they'll just have to perfect that Oculus Rift thing sooner or later to really put people into the action.

I enjoyed Interstellar upon first viewing, harkening it more as an experience than a movie.  There's some very ambitious ideas regarding mankind, science, technology and exploration as well as excellent performances from the cast including Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and the voice actors playing the helpful robots.  There's been a lot of jabs thrown at Interstellar since it's release, picking apart the science, it's theme of love and an ending that goes a little bonkers with extra dimensions and future, future living.  Then there was the whole sound issue when people complained they couldn't understand what McConaughey was saying in a dream during a turbulent flight or when a character is mumbling on their death bed.  When I first saw it, I figured it was done on purpose as the dialog had no bearing on the story, you didn't miss anything and someone clarifies it later.  Do we really need to be able to hear every little thing or have it broken down in childlike terms?  I say no.  For a near 3 hour flick, Interstellar kept me engaged, even on a repeat viewing with it's mix of exploration, science, space and human drama.  While steeped in real science, Nolan and company had to create a film.  Interstellar isn't touted as a documentary so I'm not sure why it's being treated as such.  Just because you had fun watching Guardians of the Galaxy means you overlook glaring plot holes where thousands of innocents are killed off screen, the comedy negates any type of drama and that there are no risks taken, at all.  I appreciate Nolan and company telling a story that asks it's characters to yearn for more as individuals and a community even at great cost.  It's a firm reminder to the viewer to look up and keep reaching.

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