2014-11-20

Interstellar – IMAX 70mm vs Digital 4K – Is it worth it in IMAX?

by Yo Snyder

Interstellar – IMAX 70mm vs Digital 4K – a brief bit of
background:

  •  Interstellar was shot using a combination of
    35mm film and 65mm IMAX film.  Christopher Nolan is one of the few
    directors/filmmakers left that use film as oppose to digital formats (others
    include Tarantino and Abrams – nod to Star Wars next year likely being in
    film).
  • Christopher Nolan is quoted as saying “For the
    last 10 years, I’ve felt increasing pressure to stop shooting film and start
    shooting video, but I’ve never understood why… it’s far better looking, it’s
    the technology that’s been known and understood for a hundred years, and it’s
    extremely reliable.” 
  • Film experts state “35mm and 70mm film can look
    brighter and clearer than digital projection, though the latest IMAX and 4K
    digital projection technology comes close. Digital projection has caught on
    because it’s cheaper to distribute, among other reasons.”

Here is a brief look at the IMAX process on Interstellar:

So I did my research and wanted to know for myself; is IMAX
a unique immersive experience that enhances the film making it worth the extra
$$ and chance that you can get to a city that has a true IMAX experience? 
The short answer is; not in this reviewer’s opinion.

To expand on that,  I saw Interstellar in a true 70MM
IMAX theater with floor to ceiling 4:3 aspect ratio on a 76’ x 97’ enhanced
screen with digital laser timed sound.  So I got the “true” IMAX
experience.  And I paid the $19.50 to get it.  To list what to expect
in the experience:

  • For sections shot in 35mm traditional film, the
    movie is standard wide screen in the middle of the IMAX overall screen
  • For sections shot in IMAX 65mm, the entire
    screen is used.  These scenes include just about every space travel
    scenes, planet exploring scenes and most of the ending.  Any time the
    drama music is cranked, chances are you are in true IMAX format.
  • The sound will vibrate and rattle your eyeballs
    and the background score (orchestra music for the most part) is much louder
    during dialog scenes.

Now to give my opinion on the experience.  First, did I
think the IMAX film had a noticeably better picture quality over the digital
4K?  No, I could not see some “stunning details that can only come through
in a true IMAX uncompressed format”.  Did the film have a better sound
quality over RPX theater?  Barely, I think they adjust the sound levels
more than anything else as oppose to having some laser perfected sound, but I
could say I noticed a difference.  Did I think the film took on a more
immersive experience, did it have a quality that truly set it apart from the
Digital 4K RPX experience?  Not really.  I mean, yea it’s kind of
cool to see the movie projected in front of you on a screen 6 stories high with
sound to make your ear drums rattle… but it did not giving this movie goer some
level of experience that sets it far and above a normal screen.  It has
been a while since I went to one of the museum quality IMAX movies that seem so
immersive when you see them, but to me Interstellar did not have but a small
handful of scenes that really take advantage of the size and sound to make the
space travel seem other worldly.  Whereas when I saw Walking with the Dinosaurs
at the Denver Museum, I felt like I was in the Jurassic with the
dinosaurs!  I think this is a consequence of having to cater to both IMAX
and standard movie theaters.  True IMAX experience is about giving you an experience, for example, walking with dinosaurs, or flying the space shuttle.  Its not about telling a story with dialog in a traditional movie format.

I saw the movie with two older friends from work, one said
the sound totally detracted from the movie for him and that having the
background score turned up really made it hard to follow dialog.  Both
said the sheer size of the screen was distracting at times as you could only
focus on certain spots at any given point, even sitting further back. 

Here is the bottom line for me; unless you are making a film
purely for IMAX with no consideration to how it will appear on any other screen
(e.g. your museum type IMAX experiences), you are not getting a true IMAX
film.  I think those who want to claim they always get the biggest, best,
newest, etc. will always flock to an IMAX experience like this, just to say
they did.  This reviewer however can now sit content in a digital theater
in his hometown of Albuquerque and not feel he is missing much from his big
city brothers with a true IMAX experience.