Dunkirk and Film Format Snobbery

I’ve been accused of being a film snob numerous times. Any time you disagree with someone about the merits of a film, particularly a blockbuster action film or comedy, you open yourself up to accusations of snobbery. In general I say, each to their own. We all like what we like, and hate with equal individuality and vigour. I reserve my right to prattle on about Footloose but turn my nose up at Step Brothers; there’s no accounting for taste.

The advance of digital filmmaking and projection has brought with it a new flavour of film snobbery; one that focusses on what format the film is projected in. This snobbery tends to favour 35mm film projection over digital and when Christopher Nolan gets involved it goes even further.

A few weeks back after the first press screenings of Nolan’s Dunkirk my Twitter feed was littered with critics and more successful bloggers tweeting about how everyone has to go see Dunkirk and more importantly how they must see it:

A. On the big screen

B. Projected on film

C. In 70mm

D. In IMAX

Seeing it in any other format simply will not suffice apparently.

I have lots of issues with this fetishisation of projection format. But first, some concessions. Yes, I have seen Nolan’s Interstellar projected in 70mm. Yes, Christopher Nolan does specifically use IMAX cameras because he ideally wants people to see the film that way. But… The fact is that not everybody can, nor should they.

If I want to see Dunkirk tonight I have the choice of heading to Waterloo for a 70mm IMAX screening and pay £18.50 or go down to the excellent Peckhamplex and pay £4.99. I will get different experiences at both and the IMAX isn’t necessarily the better. I would say roughly 70% of seat in an IMAX screen are in suboptimal positions that will result in a cricked neck or awkward viewing angle (this is not a scientific measure). Add to this the increase in cost and IMAX is simply too pricey for everyone to consider seeing the film in this format.

I suppose my real problem with the snobbery around film projection format is that it is inherently elitist. Suggesting that there is a proper, and more expensive, way to watch a film creates a strange hierarchy of viewers that only benefits the larger wallets. Let’s not forget that the critics, and sometimes little old me, have seen this film in their “best” format for free with the occasional glass of wine thrown in. They have also only seen the film in the one format so have no comparison to make.

I remain of the opinion that if a film is any good then it doesn’t matter how it is projected. A film that is beautiful and immersive should draw you in whether projected from celluloid of any size or whatever science happens inside a digital projector. So long as the format isn’t obstructing you then stop worrying about pixels or film grain, sit back, and enjoy the film.

Heck, Nolan himself doesn’t mind you streaming his films so long as they’ve had a chance in the cinema first.

Films are, and should remain, an accessible part of British culture. The obsession with 70mm over 35mm over digital may be grounded in truth but the most important consideration should be what film to watch, not what box it comes in.

Interstellar – Blu-ray Review

MM and MC

I’ve tried to explain to you all before why Interstellar is worth your time and now it is out on a variety of shiny discs I think it bears repeating. I’ve watched every single one of the special features so my opinion is valid and should be respected.

Film
In the near future life on earth has become almost untenable as crops fail and dust storms barrel across the landscape. Thanks to a bizarre gravitational anomaly astronaut-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles across the secret residual base of NASA; an organisation now seen as frivolous in an age where farming comes before scientific exploration. After a bit of exposition from Michael Caine Cooper finds himself travelling with a small crew through a wormhole in search of a new planet that can sustain life and ensure the future of mankind. As Cooper travels on his interstellar journey his science-loving daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy & Jessica Chastain) stays behind on Earth growing up fast without her parental unit. Thanks to the relativities of space and time as days pass in space years are flying by back on Earth. Cooper and his crew not only have to contend with running out of fuel but running out of time to find the new home for the human race.

On the big screen Interstellar was an absolute marvel. The music was original but somehow timeless, the visuals were stunning and unlike anything I had seen before, and the sheer ambition and craftsmanship from director Christopher Nolan was admirable. Though some sitting close to me disagreed it was love at first sight for me and Interstellar. It was not a perfect film but it was an experience I wouldn’t forget soon. Sitting down with the Blu-ray on my less than stellar TV I was a little nervous that the experience would be tricky to replicate.

I needn’t have worried. While I wasn’t going to be able to create the visual impact of a 70mm print at home I dimmed the lights and let the film do its work. The picture was crystal clear on my vintage flat screen with the scenes on Earth looking suitably grubby and dust-covered while the planetary visuals were sublimely realised in cold sterile clarity. My non-existent sound system even managed to do some justice to Hans Zimmer’s excellent organ-based score which lends the film a religious feel befitting a film with the fate of our species at its core.

You may despise Interstellar, some certainly do, but for those willing to turn down their scorn temporarily there are moments of real awe to be had. Even on your TV at home.

For more pro-Interstellar rambling please see my full review.

Christopher and Matthew

Extras
Once you’ve finished the film allow yourself a short comfort break before getting stuck into the special features as the two-disc Blu-ray is full of the things. Proceedings start with a 50 minute documentary about the real scientific theory that went into the making of Interstellar that will fascinate or bore in equal measure depending on just how much physics you are willing to indulge in for the sake of cinema. I can take a lot of physics so was very pleased with this in-depth look at black holes, relativity, and space-time. Lovely stuff.

From there we get no less than fourteen featurettes of decent length detailing every aspect of the production from physical and computer generated effects, through farming and simulating zero-gravity, to recording the music in an actual church. On a Christopher Nolan film as much is done without the aid of computers as possible and a lot of what I had assumed was CGI was actually done for real. It’s hard to appreciate all this while watching the film itself so the extras allow the hard work to be fully appreciated.

As with the physics I know not everyone wants to get too stuck into the behind the scenes but for my fellow nerds there is plenty to enjoy here.

Everyone else can be quiet.

Interstellar is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, and super-special-Blu-ray. Extras vary depending on which one you buy.

Interstellar – Film Review

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Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to this review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Before we begin I would like to flag up that I will be referring to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at various points throughout. Such a comparison may seem obvious, lazy, or unhelpful but I hope you will trust me when I say that comparing this latest Sci-Fi epic to The Greatest* Science Fiction Film of All Time™ helps to put the film, and its critique, into context. Happy? Then I shall begin.

A few generations from now the world is not the technologically advanced utopia we have come to expect. Instead our planet is slowly dying. All crops fail apart from corn as dust storms roam across the harsh landscape of America. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former pilot and engineer whose time is now best spent running a farm with his children, Murph (Mackenzie Foy & Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet & Casey Affleck), and their Grandfather (John Lithgow). While Tom is happy enough following in his father’s footsteps Murph is fascinated by science. Sadly this is a world in which the scientists have failed and government money is better spent feeding the population instead of inspiring a generation.

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Life is dirty and bleak; Cooper seems resigned to the daily struggle to put food on the table and keep dust out of his children’s lungs. After a certain series of events too convoluted for me to explain here, Interstellar‘s own large black monolith, Cooper and Murph stumble across the secret base of what is left of NASA. Now headed up by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) NASA are not looking for a way to save the world but for a whole new planet for our species to move to. With the help of a wormhole pioneering explorers have already travelled to distant parts of the universe to find a viable planet but now one final scouting mission is needed to travel through the wormhole and see how they got on.

Naturally Cooper is the best man for the job and after some contemplation, and vehement disagreement from Murph, he blasts off into the void with Amelia, Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Principal (David Oyelowo). As Cooper and company search for a new home for the human race they are forced to confront whether a human can truly put the interests of mankind ahead of personal safety and the lives of their loved ones. In an adventure involving relativity, the fifth dimension, and interstellar travel Christopher Nolan bends space, time, and your mind.

But is Interstellar any good?

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Whatever my fellow audience members may have thought about Interstellar they have to admit that it is an ambitious and brave endeavour. Well… brave in the way a film can be; lives are not being put at risk here. The ambitious bravery comes in the form of including tricky science for the audience to absorb and risking people not understanding what is going on or simply getting sniffy because the science isn’t 100% accurate. It’s a difficult line to tread, teetering between incomprehension and derision, but for my money Interstellar succeeds. To fully understand the plot one has to take on a certain amount of understanding of relativity, the concept of time as a resource just like fuel, and experiencing the world in dimensions beyond time. In my opinion Nolan manages to get the basic scientific principles across well enough that nobody who is paying sufficient attention will find themselves adrift. Go to the toilet at the wrong moment though and you may want to borrow somebody else’s notes.

As for those who feel the need to take Interstellar to task for not being 100% scientifically robust, as happened with Gravity, I have very little patience. I am assuming that this a modern trend to make people feel superior by allowing them to apply derision to films that are otherwise enjoyable. No Interstellar should not be used in a science lesson but I wouldn’t use 2001: A Space Odyssey either. Did Kubrick get assessed badly for suggesting that evolution was sparked by the arrival of a large black obelisk or were critics able to accept this as a forgivable plot device essential to the story being told? Science Fiction is what it is because it is not factual. It is fiction. What is important is that the film in questions takes its own fictional science seriously and does not contradict itself. Interstellar has its own rules, explains them, and applies them. Turn your nose up and I will confiscate your light saber.

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Rather than debate the laws of physics I suggest you instead just enjoy the unimaginable visuals and infectious sense of adventure that Interstellar has in abundance. Films with this scope and imagination are few and far between and should be appreciated as such. What Odyssey lacked in emotional weight (or baggage) Interstellar is bursting with. While Odyssey‘s Dave struggled in space without any sign of a family, his wife only appearing in a sequel (played by Mary Jo Deschanel), McConaughey’s Cooper is constantly aware of his family back home on Earth. The weight of the mission to rescue mankind is made apparent through the adversity experienced both in a distant galaxy as well on the planet we call home. Interstellar wants to tug at your heart as well as muddle your mind and is mostly successful. While I did feel the struggle felt by Cooper and family occasionally the Nolan brothers’ script pulled a little too hard. One particular speech by Hathaway’s Amelia is more likely to deliver sniggers than sniffles. Bend space and time all you like but don’t over deliver on the sentimentality. In a film with two prominent female scientists it is a shame that one finds herself compromised by emotions.

The overall effect of Interstellar is one of awe. Despite some flaws the film as a whole is a visual feast and dramatic juggernaut that explores the flaws of humanity as much as it does the far reaches of the universe. Below you will notice that I have given the film a full five stars and I do this not because it is a perfect feature or my greatest film of the year, let alone all time. I give it five stars for ambition and execution. For trying something a little different. You may not like it; it might be too convoluted, too simplistic, or just try too hard for your tastes but hopefully it will give you at least one moment when your eyes widen in surprise and wonder.

Interstellar is in UK cinemas from 7th November 2014.

*Arguably/allegedly

The Dark Knight Rises – Trailer Dissection

With so many people rediscovering our teaser dissection for The Dark Knight Rises, I thought it only fair to provide a dissection of the full trailer, and give people something slightly more worth their time. It is Christmas after all. And as the only comment on the previous dissection was “This isn’t much of a dissection”, I am going to take this way too far and show every single shot from the trailer regardless of interest or sanity.

If you haven’t seen the trailer yet it is embedded below:

Now onto the dissection… Continue reading

Not at the Oscars – Christopher Nolan (Directing)

Alright, alright. Inception hasn’t exactly been ignored by the Oscars with its 8 nominations which include Best Screenplay and Best Film, but what about Best Director?

As a sci-fi action film Inception isn’t going to win Best Film and will be relegated to the technical categories. But how can such a richly and carefully shot feature be nominated for Best Art Direction AND Cinematography but not Best Director? It’s almost as if they think Nolan just watched while everyone else did the work for him.

I haven’t seen The Fighter so I’d let Inception take their slot in the directing category. Again, I’m not after a win, I just want good work to be recognised. Alright?