We Saw Interstellar and Here are Five Reasons You Should Too

By Richard Jordan on at

Interstellar, the much-anticipated space epic hitting UK big screens on November 7th, follows the adventures of Pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his team of explorers as they attempt to find a new home for the inhabitants of a dying Earth. We've been so excited about it, we donned virtual reality googles to get inside McConaughey's spaceship.

Anyway, yesterday we saw it and can confirm it is both a grand throwback to a 2001: A Space Odyssey and a bold, spectacular new vision in sci-fi. A flawed vision, mind, that doesn't quite justify its three-hour running time with a plot that unravels pretty majorly towards the end, but a spectacular one nonetheless. Here are five reasons its cinema seats are well worth your warming – with as few spoilers as possible (but obviously if you want to go in cold, turn away now).

1.) Nolan's BIG Visuals Just Got Bigger

Director Christopher Nolan has always been one of Hollywood’s main champions of IMAX film-making, as evidenced by the huge-scale set-pieces of Inception and The Dark Knight, and with Interstellar he takes his love of the format even further, showing off some of the most spectacular and beautiful space visuals ever put on screen.

Working alongside Let The Right One In cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who retooled one of the notoriously unwieldy IMAX cameras to shoot scenes inside Cooper’s spaceship as well as out, Nolan uses the format more here than on any of his previous films. It makes for a dizzying and uniquely immersive experience – especially during the film’s out-there finale. Who needs 3D, eh?

2.) 'Wormholes 101' and Other Real Science

Interstellar was inspired by the work of theoretical physicist – and the film’s own scientific consultant – Kip Thorne, in particular his theories surrounding wormholes and the space–time continuum. But wise to not confusing a mainstream audience, there are no dull science lectures here.

One character explains a wormhole simply by drawing two points on either end of a piece of paper – yes, they still use paper in the future – folding it in half and skewering through the two touching points, before explaining that in real life it would look more like a sphere than a hole because of its three dimensions.

Cooper and his team soon face the wormhole itself and – true to the theory – it takes the form of a huge, spherical, glass-like space-ball. It’s just one example of the film’s stunning CG creations, designed by British FX house Double Negative. The team worked up many of the special effects before filming began, displaying them behind the actors and through windows using digital projectors during shooting. It certainly gave McConaughey and co something a bit more tangible to work with than the usual green screens.

3.) Real Places Trump CGI

Interstellar is not all computer-generated visuals, mind. Nolan took his cast and crew on location to shoot in Iceland, which doubles for two of the planets that Cooper’s team visit to assess their suitability for human life. Both are spectacular, providing a stunning natural edge to two of the film’s best-looking set-pieces.

One is a planet covered with water – which sees the explorers facing some terrifying (and admittedly CG-enhanced) skyscraper-tall waves – while another is covered in ice, for which the film-makers shot atop the impressive Svínafellsjökull glacier. Nolan captures the landscape in all its glory; one meticulously shot fight scene has its characters framed as tiny ants compared to the enormity of the icy mass they’re traversing.

4.) The Lo-Fi Future Tech Looks the Part

One of the film’s best characters is a robot companion named TARS, a former military droid recommissioned by what’s left of NASA to help in their interstellar space program. Voiced by comedian Bill Irwin, TARS might initially seem like a clunky block of stainless steel with a dual-screen display that looks like it's running MS-DOS, but he's more than capable on field missions and has the (artificial) intelligence to match.

He also has a sense of humour – his "sarcasm levels" are "set to 90 per cent" – meaning the interaction between him and McConaughey’s charismatic Cooper gives the film some much needed levity among all the philosophising and the solemnity of the mission in hand.

With TARS, Nolan's opted for a charmingly lo-fi look, as he has with much of the film’s other near-future tech. Check out the Alien-style hypersleep chambers, in which space travellers are sealed in a rubber sack before being covered by embryonic-like fluid – much like a human-size sous-vide.

5.) Hans Zimmer Scores Again 

It’s not just the visuals that astound in Interstellar, it’s the sound design, too. Nolan has once again teamed up with regular collaborator and Inception/Dark Knight composer Hans Zimmer, whose bombastic yet classical score blasts out to mesmerising, sometimes discombobulating (presumably intentionally so), effect. It’s especially effective when matched to the lingering, almost abstract, shots of collapsed stars and new solar systems. Like we said, it's very 2001.

Zimmer’s score isn’t the only soundtrack, though. Like Gravity before it, some of Interstellar’s key space exteriors are accompanied by nothing more than the sounds of silence, making for a rich and varied soundscape. Find a cinema kitted out with Dolby Atmos if you can – you won’t regret it.

Here's the trailer again to get you "space ready":

Richard is associate editor of Total Film. Read his full review here.