November 6, 2014

Christopher Nolan Wants You to See 'Interstellar' in 70mm. Here's Why You Should

What's round, sexy, and weighs in at over 600 lbs? The 49 reels of 70mm film that make up Christopher Nolan's latest IMAX extravaganza Interstellar.

Nolan's film about a group of explorers searching for a new habitable planet has finally hit theaters, and if you've been waiting to see this cosmic spectacle and are heading out to your local multiplex to experience it -- you might want to rethink that decision. No, we're not suggesting that you shouldn't go see the movie, but maybe you should try first to see it the way the filmmakers and IMAX want you to see it -- in all of its ginormous galactic glory -- at a 70mm screening.

Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema decided to shoot Interstellar on 70mm film, which not only provided them with gorgeous imagery and unmatched detail, but also with ample opportunities to overcome a range of challenges, like going handheld with a hulking IMAX camera that weighs as much as a small child. Nolan, DP Hoyte van Hoytema, and IMAX talk about the film in the short video For the Love of Film, revealingly the lengthy, complicated, and labor intensive process of getting the film ready to be screened -- 169 minutes, 49 reels of 70mm film, over 600 lbs. Check out the video below:

And here are a couple of videos that give you a sneak peek at the actual preparation process of projectionists:

Believe me, I understand that digital projection is great for a bunch of reasons (it saves the environment, limits waste, etc.). However, I know I'm not alone when I say that seeing a screening of a movie on its original 35mm film is a special experience, which is probably why Interstellar opened in film-only theaters two days early.

If you can, it'd definitely be worth it to see Interstellar the way the filmmakers intended for it to be seen -- screened in an IMAX theater on a 70mm projector. Knowing that'll be a challenge for a great many of moviegoers (myself included), IMAX has compiled a list of theaters that will use a 70mm projector to screen the film. You can check it out here to see if your city's on the list -- or maybe if there's one within, I don't know, six hours of your house.     

Your Comment

38 Comments

I'm most impressed that Chris Nolen knows what a GoPro is.

November 6, 2014 at 11:14PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1082

I just read that Chris doesn't have a cell phone. Maybe he just doesn't know that he can do things digitally now. Should someone tell him?

November 8, 2014 at 11:36AM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1082

Or he knows exactly and also how the rest of the world works and therefor try to live in an old fashioned way to save his own happiness.

November 9, 2014 at 8:05AM

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Hampus Lager
Dreamer
228

I just saw an IMAX film print and I feel like Nolan is living in the past. It didn't look any better than Gravity did on digital IMAX projection. In fact to me it didn't look nearly as good. Think of all the labour and resources that go into shooting, printing and lugging film prints.

Using miniatures and real props rather than CGI on the other hand is an argument I'm much more open to. Anyone want to discuss the directing technique in the film?

November 6, 2014 at 11:40PM

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Stu Mannion
writer/dir/dp
561

Saw it (in the Hollywood Cinerama theater) in 70mm as well, haven't ever seen a 70mm projected film, but there was some very bad flickering throughout the film, especially apparent in any highlights. I hope this isn't what all 70mm projections look like... perhaps a projector issue? Anyone know about this?

November 7, 2014 at 12:57AM

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I saw the 70mm screening of 2001 A Space Odyssey there just recently and an IMAX of Interstellar at the Chinese theatre. I think it might just be their projection system. Flickering is something I find kind of normal for film projection but it was more apparent in the 70mm screening at the Cinerama.

November 7, 2014 at 1:02AM

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Peter Phillips
Filmmaker
610

So wrong Stu. Or the projectionist didn't do his job right. It looked breathtakingly better than Gravity's digital projection. The color depth and richness to the image is profoundly better. The Master stands up there as well. I like Gravity, and Chivo is probably my favorite DP, but film, especially large format, stands at the top my friend.

November 7, 2014 at 1:14AM

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Adrian Centoni
Writer, Director, Photographer
91

I too thought the projection at The Dome was bad. The flickering, the shadows were really dark (some faces were completely lost), the image was not crisp, and there was a vignette around the entire screen. Overall, the show I watched (7pm 11/6) just made a so-so movie even worse.

November 7, 2014 at 11:16AM

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Michael Ryan
Editor
15

I actually went back to the theater today and saw it in digital to compare, and it was a lot cleaner than the projection, at least to my eyes as an enthusiast. No flickering problems, clean image through and through.

November 7, 2014 at 8:51PM

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I saw it at the bow tie in Manhattan. I thought the 70mm film print looked amazing but did notice flickering in the highlights. Once the film started I was too engrossed in the plot to notice or care. I think for this particular movie film was a good aesthetic choice. I kinda wanna go see the digital projection and compare.

November 9, 2014 at 11:58AM

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Yeah, I would watch it in IMAX if there was an IMAX theatre in my country.

November 6, 2014 at 11:48PM, Edited November 6, 11:47PM

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Hampus Lager
Dreamer
228

Yup, seeing this in 70mm Imax. Film is slowing crawling to its last few legs, and I don't want to miss an opportunity to see this film the way it was meant to be seen, I really hope film doesn't go away, just hold out a little longer until we are there digitally ;). It would be a disservice for me not to see it in this format, especially since I can and so many others can't, its almost a privileged since I adore film.

November 7, 2014 at 12:36AM

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Gvickie Xiong
Editor/Cinematographer/Director
782

It should be referred to as IMAX™ instead of 70mm. Although IMAX is a 70mm format, it shouldn't be referred to as that since regular vertical 70mm is what is generally called "70mm".

IMAX is run through the projector horizontally instead of vertically (much the way VistaVision™ is 35mm run through the cameras/projectors horizontally, as opposed to regular 35mm) and is 15 perfs long (as opposed to 5 perfs like normal 70mm)

To confuse it more, I believe there are regular 70mm prints of Interstellar as well as IMAX.

November 7, 2014 at 12:45AM, Edited November 7, 12:45AM

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Daniel Mimura
DP, cam op, steadicam op
2233

IMAX is actually 15-65mm

November 14, 2014 at 7:30PM

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Bill Montei
Owner MEG Filmworks
81

The film wasn't quite captured on 70mm film. 70mm is the projection format whereas the capture format is 65mm. That extra 5mm added on are from the magnetic audio strips that are put on the outside of the perforations. Specifically IMAX is horizontal pull across 15perf 65mm as a capture format and 70mm when it goes to film projection.

November 7, 2014 at 12:58AM

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Peter Phillips
Filmmaker
610

Other than some distracting black dot that came up on screen a few times throughout the screening (I'm starting to think it might have been a moth) the IMAX screening I saw of the film was one of the best theatre experiences I have ever had.

November 7, 2014 at 1:05AM, Edited November 7, 1:05AM

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Peter Phillips
Filmmaker
610

That black dot is called a cigarette burn. It's a marker to tell the projectionist where the end of the reel is. It's a holdover from the old days when projectionists would use two projectors and a changeover system between the two. This is before platter systems became the standard thus negating the need to change reels every twenty minutes or so.
You can see this in action in "Inglorious Basterds" and "Fight Club"

Why those marks would be on an IMAX print is beyond me, they serve no purpose, other than to distract.

November 7, 2014 at 8:32AM, Edited November 7, 8:32AM

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Kenneth Kotowski
Cinematographer / Director of Photography
139

I don't think it was a cigarette burn. This was projected on a platter. The dot was in the middle of the screen on actors faces at times. I thought it might also be like a scratch or something getting built up in the gate.

November 7, 2014 at 4:18PM

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Peter Phillips
Filmmaker
610

Saw it lastnight in 35mm in the theater. The characteristics of the film was distracting for me. Flickering, specs of dust, lack of detail even. I did like the story though. But I think this film is better served digitally. Maybe it's because I haven't seen a movie on "film" in a long time. It actually seemed really dark, almost vignetted. Anyone else notice this? Maybe there was an issue with the projector?

November 7, 2014 at 2:01AM

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Nick
283

I liked it for the exact opposite reasons.... The lack of detail felt much more organic that those oversharpned things coming out of hollywppd these days.
I absolutely love the lighting and grading. Every single bit of it....

And ofcourse I was busy been sucked in instead of pixelpeeping a movie in the theatre. Seriously, even when you work in this business why would you spend time looking for whats wrong? Just enjoy the damn thing..... In opposition I felt like the story of Gravity was so damn BORING and her character immensely annoying that I didnt get to enjoy the visuals. But I recall them being not as fantastic as Interstellars.

November 7, 2014 at 2:20AM

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Torben Greve
Cinematographer
532

I saw the film in 70mm this week and found it to be a very poorly made film. The dialog in many scenes feels like first draft material. There is very little character logic/motivation and very flimsy connections made between the "real science" elements researched for the film. Aside that I found the sound mix to be poor (there were multiple scenes where the dialog could not be completely heard, and not in a good Malick kind of way). The cinematography was also pretty questionable. Far too much of the film was shot tight in a way that seemed clunky and didn't serve the story. It also seemed like a waste of the vast 70mm canvas. I'll go to see just about anything in 70mm. The Master was gorgeous in 70 and I'm really looking forward to The Hateful Eight, but this was a real waste of the format.

November 7, 2014 at 2:35AM, Edited November 7, 2:35AM

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Have you read the script to Hateful Eight? It really doesn't seem like a film for a large format. It looks like this is just the cool guys format right now.

November 7, 2014 at 4:51PM

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Brooks Reynolds
Director/DOP
409

Have to say I more or less agree with you. I'm not sure Nolan is a good visual director despite creating many great visuals. The difference is the way they're put together. Also the score was unexciting. It failed to capture a sense of awe a lot of the time. Compare it to the vastly more effective Gravity soundtrack.

November 7, 2014 at 6:22PM

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Stu Mannion
writer/dir/dp
561

I'm going on a 5 hour trip just to see it in IMAX (digital, no film here in Croatia)

November 7, 2014 at 5:30AM

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Dominik Belancic
Cinematographer/Director
268

70mm is impressive of course but it doesn't make a film better. Actually I would suggest to watch Interstellar in a classic DCP theatre. The amazement coming from a 70mm screening can easily hide the flaws of the film. And this one has many, even if it's still a very entertaining SF film.

November 7, 2014 at 6:31AM

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Vincent Galiano
Filmmaker / Screenwriter / Photographer
139

Christopher Nolan is getting on my nerves with his damn imax. Isn't it actually a huge sign of insecurity when someone has to repeat over and over which gadget he used to shoot a movie? Does he really need to distract people from the core, the story? He is the annoying photochemical counterpart to digital-S3D James Cameron.

November 7, 2014 at 7:39AM

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Stunning film. Saw in 70mm and it blew me away (even if the projectionist didn't get sound working the first try!!!). Certainly a much more immersive way of watching something. Thought the story was very well played out and the visuals for representing some of the more abstract concepts were really creative.

I think 70mm simply allows for more immersion as you can really fill your field of view with a sharp image in a way that 35mm probably wouldn't blow up to. It certainly wont be the same watching it on a smaller screen if i get that chance.

November 7, 2014 at 9:14AM

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Tom Hornblow
Camera operator, Steadicam
295

Was already planning to see it in IMAX tomorrow! Gotta savor the film while it's still here. Plus IMAX is just fun.

November 7, 2014 at 9:23AM, Edited November 7, 9:23AM

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Kyle Sanders
Editor
259

Did anyone else notice that while Nolan is making his case for film, he's actually making a stronger case for digital to some producers? By talking about the beauty of film and how it takes a small army and a ton of money to pull it off right...it would push more people to digital for ease of use.

November 7, 2014 at 12:41PM

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Caleb Price
Director
429

I disagree, I think it makes films more of an event and worth not sitting at home and watching it on netflix. It's an experience. More stuff is being pushed out on digital but I also care less, I feel like I go through a ton of movies a week on netflix but when I go to the theater I have a way better time enjoying the actual film. I agree the ease of use is good for some, but I think its kind of cool to make it a big deal.

November 12, 2014 at 8:37AM

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I spoke with the only theatre capable of presenting the film in 70mm here in the Netherlands. He said they were not allowed to screen the film 70mm by the distributor... :/. They said the film was very well represented in the country. It's playing digital and IMAX digital. That's it. Guess that means a ticket to London.

November 7, 2014 at 1:58PM

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Gilles van Leeuwen
Filmmaker
363

All of you are going way too deep into the tech aspects of this film. It was a spectacular film. The story was captivating and Chris Nolan and team did amazing work on this. Did I see flickering? Yes. Were the shadows too black at times? Yeah... but pfft. Who even cares?! It was humongous screen! I felt like I was IN space. Especially the 70mm (65) shots. I'm so glad I saw it in 70mm.

November 7, 2014 at 3:54PM, Edited November 7, 3:54PM

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Will Watkins
Cinematographer // Editor
246

*a humongous screen. Glad I could really drill this point home. Haha

November 7, 2014 at 3:56PM

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Will Watkins
Cinematographer // Editor
246

I can discuss the merits of the story if you want but this is a filmmaking website and Nolan has been very vocal about the technical side of things. It is a valuable conversation.

That being said, I'm glad to see I wasn't coming into this alone. After seeing in IMAX 70mm I was baffled as to why one would make that choice. Digital is here and this glimpse into the current status of film and film projection now make the evangelists feel like inferior luddites.

November 7, 2014 at 4:27PM

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Brooks Reynolds
Director/DOP
409

I found the film a frustrating mix of amazing ideas and sentimental silliness, of astounding visual scenes and clunky pacing. I wanted to like it, and it wanted to be 2001 but in the end I found it not emotionally engaging enough. All that cross-cutting between fascinating space scenes and sub-Speilberg emoting back on earth took me out of the film. I wanted to be awed but found it ultimately less than profound.

That said Mcconaughey was more than solid and the production design was pretty great. Don't get me started on the robot though. It reminded me of R2D2 in the way they would conveniently cut away every time it had to move in a way that design clearly couldn't.

Rant over.

November 7, 2014 at 6:41PM

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Stu Mannion
writer/dir/dp
561

I felt the same way about the robots...except that they were worse than the droids from 1977. At least when Artoo was talking, I knew he was talking. And Threepio...when he talks, his face has absolutely no expression or articulation (because the mask doesn't do anything except the eyes light up), but through Anthony Daniels' performance, you always know what he was thinking and feeling. These robots were entirely unrelatable. They had cool voices, but I couldn't tie it to the physical machine. Even Holly on Red Dwarf (the computer ship, which was just an actor talking head in black space on a video monitor) is immensely more relatable than these robots. I wasn't even sure they were talking when I first saw them.

November 11, 2014 at 7:11PM

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Daniel Mimura
DP, cam op, steadicam op
2233

I saw it in IMAX and, well, I am glad I did. I will forever be able to say "The last film I saw projected in film was Interstellar". It looked amazing. Because of how big it was.

Every grainy scene, every speckle of dust... reminded me of how clean digital is when it's done well.

(Oblivion being a great example)

I am now, more than ever, convinced that (to me) digital looks WAY better. After this, I have no desire to ever see anything projected from a film print. I had forgotten how film looked, now I have to forget again.

Bye bye, film !

November 9, 2014 at 3:31PM, Edited November 9, 3:31PM

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Dat promo video. Y'all could learn a lot about editing from that.

(Clearly I'm talking about the middle video here)

November 13, 2014 at 6:58PM

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Saw the 15-65mm at Grauman's Chinese (yeah I know)
where I heard Nolan QCed his prints.
And it was very dissapointing.
Flicker, way too much grain and soft images.
Even though 15-65 is theoretically approx. 18k,
IMHO the 2k screening of Gravity was better.
I guess my eyes are spoiled by the 4k work I'm doing.

And the sound was way off.
Dialog was obscured by MX and FX...
And the subs were ridiculous.

I'm going to see the 35mm and the digital print masters for comparison this week.

November 14, 2014 at 12:41AM, Edited November 14, 12:41AM

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Bill Montei
Owner MEG Filmworks
81