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post #1 of 385 Old 11-12-2014, 09:44 PM - Thread Starter
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Interstellar in Imax 70mm Film



Christopher Nolan's new space epic lives up to that moniker in the sheer scope of its visuals. But is the story equally impressive?

Last night, I saw Interstellar in Imax 70mm film at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Normally, I much prefer digital presentations, but this is a special case—director Christopher Nolan is a real filmophile, and this is the format he favors to present the movie exactly as he intended it to be seen. Unfortunately, only 54 Imax theaters worldwide are showing it in 70mm film (32 in the US), but it's also being presented in standard 70mm film, 35mm film, Imax digital (dual-projector), 4K digital, and 2K digital. It was not shot or processed in 3D, and the soundtrack was not mixed in any immersive-sound format.

First, the movie itself; I will offer no real spoilers here, only basic plot points that most people know already, even if they haven't seen it yet. In the near future (it's not clear just how near that future is supposed to be; I'd say in the neighborhood of 50 years from now), humanity is struggling to survive and grow enough food in an environmentally devastated world. Led by a mysterious message, ex-engineer and pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his tween daughter Murph (Mackennzie Foy) end up at the secret headquarters of the remnants of NASA, which has discovered a wormhole that could provide a means for the human race to migrate to another world.

Cooper agrees to lead a small team to see if any of the potentially habitable planets near the other end of the wormhole will suffice as humanity's new home. Meanwhile, the elderly Professor Brand (Michael Caine) works to complete a formula to control gravity and thus lift massive cylindrical structures filled with people off the surface of the Earth. But in order to save the world, Cooper must leave his beloved daughter (Mackennzie Foy as a child, Jessica Chastain as an adult, Ellen Burstyn as a senior) and son (Timothee Chalamet as a teen, Casey Affleck as an adult) as well as his father-in-law (John Lithgow), possibly forever. On the plus side, his intrepid team includes Professor Brand's daughter (Anne Hathaway).

For the most part, the science of wormholes, black holes, and relativistic time dilation depicted in the movie is quite accurate as far as we understand such things—which shouldn't be surprising with CalTech physicist Kip Thorne acting as an executive producer and science advisor. I have a degree in physics, and I read about developments this field a lot, so I was pleased to see that Nolan made a real effort to get the science right.

As for the story, I found it to be somewhat simplistic, though there is some higher-dimensional time looping that might give some viewers pause along with the heavy-duty physics. And there are several major plot holes that I won't go into here. Emotions run very high, almost to the point of melodrama, and everything is relentlessly depressing—which, I suppose, is to be expected in an end-of-the-world story. The only respite is TARS, a wisecracking robot (voiced by Bill Irwin), whose design and persona seem highly improbable and incongruous. I'm really glad there are no alien monsters, but there are many sequences of growing intensity that reach a fever pitch and then suddenly relax—so many that I felt wrung out and exhausted by the end. Finally, the movie is simply too long with too much expository dialog; many scenes could have been shortened or even eliminated without compromising the story.


Cooper explores the surface of a frozen planet on the other side of the wormhole.

Even though the story is basically simple, many plot points were completely obscured by truly terrible dialog intelligibility. I've heard this complaint from several people, so I'm inclined to think it's in the soundtrack, not the theater's sound system. (In fact, the Chinese Theatre had installed additional acoustic treatments per Nolan's specifications at a cost of $600,000!) Contributing to this problem is McConaughey's mumbling delivery, but he's not the only one who can't be understood at least some of the time. Another problem with dialog intelligibility is that quite a bit of dialog is delivered amid very noisy conditions—dust storms, flying through the wormhole, etc.

Speaking of noisy conditions, the levels during the presentation were pretty outrageous. The average level (Leq) over the movie's entire length was 99.8 dBC, and the highest 1-second level (Lmax) was 117 dBC! The level remained above 101 dBC 10% of the time and above 79 dB half the time. Also, the subwoofers got a serious workout during the loud parts—32 Hz and surrounding frequencies reached 120 dBC near the end—shaking the seats almost like a ButtKicker! I brought my earplugs, but I ended up putting my fingers in my ears during the loud parts so I could better hear the dialog in the soft parts—not that it helped much in that regard.

By far the best aspect of Interstellar is the visuals, which are absolutely stunning. The scenes in space, near the wormhole and black hole, and on the surface of the extrasolar planets are gorgeous, well worth the price of admission alone. Amazingly, Nolan used very little CGI, building full-sized sets and intricate models instead. And I was surprised that the image was rock steady with no visible gate judder, and I saw only a few scratches in the film.

As he has done in several of his movies, Nolan uses different aspect ratios, including Imax film-native 1.43:1, "flat" 1.85:1, Imax flat 1.89:1 (which is mostly used in museum- and planetarium-based Imax theaters), and 2.39:1 for shots on 35mm film. The shots in space were mostly 1.43:1, providing an awesome sense of immersion, while many of the more intimate moments were in one of the wider aspect ratios. I noticed the switches sometimes, but it never bothered me—in fact, I thought it served the experience well. The image was mighty impressive on the 66x46-foot screen, which had been masked from its full size of 86x46 feet.

After the movie, I met up with the Chinese Theatre's head projectionist, Thomas Larsen (who has been a guest on my Home Theater Geeks podcast), and the onsite Imax projection specialist, Pat Caldwell, who gave me a tour of the projection room. I learned that the film itself weighs 600 pounds and stretches 10.67 miles. An Imax film projector had been installed for this movie, and its unique film-handling and shutter system are responsible for the lack of gate judder.


Unlike 35mm film projectors, in which the film is oriented vertically, the Imax 70mm projector orients the film horizontally. The film is drawn from the center of the spool outward and returned to the take-up spool in the same way, leaving it ready to be played again immediately—no rewinding necessary. Interstellar fills the spool so completely, there is no room for trailers, and the end credits are drastically shorter than in other presentation formats.

Larsen told me that the open-gate peak brightness for Imax is 22 foot-lamberts, whereas 35mm film and digital are spec'd at 16 fL. The movie was plenty bright, but the blacks were not all that deep; I found myself wishing for high dynamic range to deepen the blacks and reveal more detail in the shadows of some very dark scenes.

I've read some reports that put Interstellar in the same league as 2001: A Space Odyssey. I don't agree—I think 2001 is a much better movie. Granted, both portray space science as accurately as possible—a revolutionary idea in 1968 and still somewhat uncommon today—and both deal with existential issues in a sophisticated manner. However, whereas 2001 is uplifting and almost spiritual, I found Interstellar to be depressing and rather banal by comparison. That's not to say I was bored—as I mentioned earlier, the visuals alone held my attention for the entire two hours and 49 minutes.

If you decide to see Interstellar, I recommend seeking out an Imax theater showing it in 70mm film; click here to see if there's such a theater near you. Also, different presentation formats don't necessarily use the same set of aspect ratios as Imax 70mm film. In any event, be sure to protect your hearing one way or another and make a pit stop before finding your seat.

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Last edited by Scott Wilkinson; 11-12-2014 at 11:29 PM.
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post #2 of 385 Old 11-12-2014, 09:56 PM
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Thanks Scott,

I'm taking the trip down to Philly this weekend specifically to see it in this version. Other than heading to the local science museum's IMAX, this might be the one and only time I get to see a film this way...definitely looking forward to the experience!
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post #3 of 385 Old 11-12-2014, 10:00 PM
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Watched it last night at the Boeing Imax in Seattle. What would have otherwise been a spectacular movie event was marred by the horrid sound mix. I was physically tired from the volume levels and the difficulty I had during a good portion of the film understanding the dialogue. It takes away from the immersive experience of IMAX when you constantly have to ask yourself, "What did they say?"

I've decided that as long as Hans Zimmer does the soundtrack and Nolan has a hand in the audio mix I'll wait until the BR release so I can have some control over the mess that's created.

What a shame, it's a beautiful movie with space imagery that brought tears to my eyes at times.

I told my wife that I felt "Zimmered" afterwards. When she asked what that meant I told it's when a soundtrack is so loud and abusive it simply beats you into shell of your former self.

That said, I prefer it over 2001, but I'm not a huge Kubrick fan to begin with so there's a little bias there.

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post #4 of 385 Old 11-12-2014, 10:22 PM
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This movie was such a disappointment. Like it better when it was called Gravity meets Contact.

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post #5 of 385 Old 11-12-2014, 10:24 PM
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Nolan actually addressed the Kubrick comparison, he very humbly said that He'd be embarrassed to show it to Kubrick due to the blatant 2001 inspiration.

I agree that it's no 2001... but sadly I think it's the best sci fi movie that's come out in a loooong time. I still think the movie was great... at least as far as visuals are concerned. I really can't think of any other sci fi that has visuals that good since 2001... maybe the original Alien film or Star Wars.

In either case I liked it enough that I plan to see it a 2nd time @ a 70mm IMAX theater this weekend.

I agree about the sound too... painful volume levels! Like seriously what gives? When I went to see it the first time a friend of mine who likes to listen to music obnoxiously loud sometimes even commented on it... it was the first thing he mentioned when we left the theater.

I heard Nolan personally visited theaters to preview the film to make sure the sound was just right. Are both he and the mixing engineer like totally deaf? (Along with everyone in the film sound industry?)
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post #6 of 385 Old 11-12-2014, 11:15 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aras_Volodka View Post
I heard Nolan personally visited theaters to preview the film to make sure the sound was just right. Are both he and the mixing engineer like totally deaf? (Along with everyone in the film sound industry?)
According to Thomas Larsen and the announcement before the movie started, Nolan has visited the theater many times during showings to make sure everything was as he wanted. I am also disheartened that he approved of the sound I heard.
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post #7 of 385 Old 11-12-2014, 11:35 PM
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Given there are no 70mm IMAX theaters here in Oregon, would you recommend tracking down a location to watch it on film as opposed to digital?

I only saw the first trailer and have strayed away from reviews so I'm pretty ignorant to what much of the movie is about. In fact, this is the most information I've gathered about it. I am expecting a visual feast and hopefully some epic space sequences. I guess I shouldn't expect Inception or TDK quality film making with this one though.

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post #8 of 385 Old 11-12-2014, 11:43 PM
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Thanks for the heads up on the crappy sound and shifting ARs. Will pass on this one unless it's on one of my upcoming flights.
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post #9 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 12:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robnix View Post
Watched it last night at the Boeing Imax in Seattle. What would have otherwise been a spectacular movie event was marred by the horrid sound mix. I was physically tired from the volume levels and the difficulty I had during a good portion of the film understanding the dialogue. It takes away from the immersive experience of IMAX when you constantly have to ask yourself, "What did they say?"

I've decided that as long as Hans Zimmer does the soundtrack and Nolan has a hand in the audio mix I'll wait until the BR release so I can have some control over the mess that's created.

What a shame, it's a beautiful movie with space imagery that brought tears to my eyes at times.

I told my wife that I felt "Zimmered" afterwards. When she asked what that meant I told it's when a soundtrack is so loud and abusive it simply beats you into shell of your former self.

That said, I prefer it over 2001, but I'm not a huge Kubrick fan to begin with so there's a little bias there.

Sadly I have to agree. I saw it in imax digital at the AMC 20 in downtown Spokane and the sound mix was awful. As was already mentioned the dialogue was lost in the noise and the overall loudness level was bearing on just noise. I cringed several times throughout the film. The bass was very good but thats the only good part of the sound mix. For most of the action scenes there was just a wall of noise, there was very little separation of sounds. I also found some quit scenes had excessive bass or background noise that set the wrong tone.

I loved the film and its message but I hope the blu ray will be bettered mixed. I honestly ended up loving the movie inspite of the sound mix not because of it.
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post #10 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 12:32 AM
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Saw it twice in 4K digital and loved every moment. The sound was loud and amazing!!! The soundtrack should win an award. Wow!
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post #11 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 12:51 AM
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Curious as to why you show the film reels rather than the projector. 35mm film has been using horizontal systems for more than 2 decades in various typical movie theaters. - These are platter systems. Beyond digressing ... I'll have to say that 70mm done right is glorious.
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post #12 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 01:03 AM
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I found the movie to be quite good, visually breathtaking at times -- but not quite great. I saw it in 35mm at a local theater and it looked great though. I too had trouble picking a lot of the dialogue out over the soundtrack, but couldn't be sure whether it was the mix itself or the fault of theater. Guess I know now.

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post #13 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 01:03 AM
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That was the screen size? AMC lincoln square in NYC is way bigger. Unless i'm reading that wrong. I don't like how IMAX doesn't have consistent sizes for their screens. The first time i saw this at a regal theater the screen wasn't that big. AMC's screen dwarfed it by a large amount. You guys have to make sure you're seeing it in a real IMAX. Or the biggest one. Even the fake ones are showing Intersteller in 70mm. Seeing it on a proper IMAX screen is something else. Even the 35mm scenes looked good at that size. I'm not even going to bother watching it on a regular screen. Especially not in 4K digital.
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post #14 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 01:34 AM
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Great review, Scott! And I'm not saying that because we wrote almost identical review.

The science of this film was the star, for me. Almost brought tears to my eyes seeing parts of the universe with such scope and scale. It wasn't perfect, but it's the best for a large-scale film since the still reigning king of sci fi films, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I had the exact same experience with the sound. It's almost as though he doesn't want the audience to hear the dialogue, for some obscure reason. The fact that he heard this at the IMAX you were at, and approved it, tells me he has lost hearing and doesn't realize that he has memorized the script and doesn't have to fully hear it to understand it. That, or he actually wants it this way. He did similarly in The Dark Knight Rises. You'd think after the complaints he would have wanted to improve the sound this time around. Instead, he managed to do the same thing without the characters wearing masks to muffle their speech. By the end, I felt like Nolan, Zimmer and the post mixer cornered and had thoroughly pummeled me.

I found certain shots to look soft, or out of focus at times. I'm still convinced digital trumps film.

There was so much potential in this film and only a portion of it was ever reached. Too bad. Could have been one of the best sci fi films ever made.
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post #15 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 03:11 AM
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I couldn't possibly disagree more.

While I respect 2001 as a film, it has never really grabbed me, but rather has always felt like a film I needed to soldier through.

Interstellar, by contrast, had the feel of an important film, and I absolutely loved every minute of it.

Intelligibility was a bit down in spots, but it never obscured the dialog. Just because the Chinese spent big money on acoustic treatments doesn't mean they got it right. In the 70mm IMAX presentation there were times the dialog may have been hard to hear, but it was always intelligible.

Frankly, I found the sound mix both very good and something that will be impossible to reproduce in a home theater without a wall of subwoofers.

I wholeheartedly believe Interstellar is as important as Kubrick's film and will be the film that rekindles interest in serious Sci-Fi for a new generation.

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post #16 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 04:16 AM
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I didnt have any issues at all with dialog intelligibility, but I saw it in my local Big D theater instead of an IMAX.
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post #17 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 04:26 AM
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I watched the movie in Imax (Digital) in Europe.


Sound was very load, and very awesome.


In some scenes the black level was really not good enough. Biggest flaws of modern cinema vs. watching at home.


On the very big screen ( I don't go often to the cinema, and mostly only in Imax Digital) you could see the imperfections of film, like light fluctuations in bright scenes, some scenes were bit out of focus, and that super sharp picture like in Skyfall (shot on Arri Digital, also seen in that Imax Cinema), yea well it was not that sharp.


The movie is a awesome adventure trip. I loved it.


No spoiler, no comment on the plot.


;-)
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post #18 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 04:47 AM
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I just saw this last night at the IMAX at the King of Prussia mall in P.A. I think it's a 70mm theater. I won't give away anything about the movie except to say that I enjoyed it as did my friend who saw it with me. The visuals were really impressive. On all fronts. I will also agree that this was a very loud mix. I really did not have any problem with Mathew's dialog, but I can see where people might. But besides that, it was freaking loud. I mean, in an IMAX theater, that was a nice size, maybe about 200-300 seats(I don't know how many for sure), the bass was so intense that I felt my seat vibrate. Maybe once or twice did I think it hurt the dialog but as a whole I did not have an issue. But I am pretty sure that it was pushing the limits of the system. I am just worried how this soundtrack will translate to Blu Ray.

People were saying similar things about The Dark Knight Returns in regards to dialog. How people could barely understand Bane in the movie. At home, in my HT I have zero problems understanding every word Bane says in that movie. I hope they do a good job with the home mix because I enjoyed the story, add the visuals and the audio and it's a winner. As long as the audio is not severely clipping like we have had in other films. If he can mix the home versions like Inception or The Dark Knight movies, I will be happy. In the end I did like the film and I can easily see myself buying this when it comes to BR.
BTW, maybe I am not used to it, but in this theater I did not notice any aspect ration shifts.

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post #19 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 05:07 AM
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I saw it at the Cinemark Tinseltown IMAX in Rochester NY which is a 15p 70mm Film IMAX, visuals were stunning and to me and the person I was with the sound was fine. It was loud but the level of loudness was akin to how I watch movies in my own HT so it didn't bother me, I also didn't have any issues understanding dialog. We were sitting roughly in the center left to right and maybe 1-2 rows down from screen center. I only missed a single word in the dialog which was then repeated about 3 min later in the film where I understood it just fine
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post #20 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 05:08 AM
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I really disliked 2001. While it produced amazing visuals, the pacing felt way off (and I like slow movies like Lawrence of Arabia)
In fact I only managed to finishing after multiple sittings (falling asleep during the jupiter trip)

As for sound, I can't stand watching movies in cinemas anymore.
The loudness race has truly arrived, and Nolan's movies are among the worst in this regard.
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post #21 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 05:19 AM
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I saw it in an "IMAX" branded theater, so not a true IMAX, and it had one of the best sound mixes I've ever heard. Also easily my favorite sci-fi movie of all time.
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post #22 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 05:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post
According to Thomas Larsen and the announcement before the movie started, Nolan has visited the theater many times during showings to make sure everything was as he wanted. I am also disheartened that he approved of the sound I heard.
If so, I'll wait until the movie comes out on the BD. Hope the sound mix will be improved.
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post #23 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 05:21 AM
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Scott you like Transcending more than this Interstellar?

I thought this was a well round sci fi, intelligent well acted film that we seldom see these days. Sure they were a if predictable things, and plot holes, but what movie escape such things.

I get to see few movies these days, and I'm glad I paid to see this one.


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post #24 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 05:52 AM
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Thanks Scott,

I'm taking the trip down to Philly this weekend specifically to see it in this version. Other than heading to the local science museum's IMAX, this might be the one and only time I get to see a film this way...definitely looking forward to the experience!
You are better off in King of Prussia, IMO. The Franklin Institute uses an Omnimax dome, which grossly distorts movies and has obvious visible seams in the screen. The King of Prussia IMAX is a 70mm-capable theater, showing the 70mm IMAX print. Do not make the mistake of going to the Franklin for a cinematic IMAX presentation, it's not compatible with the format.

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post #25 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 06:03 AM
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Hi Scott, thanks for posting your impressions of the film. I absolutely agree with your remarks regarding dialog intelligibility and melodrama. In certain scenes, the emotional content reaches the point of campy-ness. Having said that, I love the ambition of the film, and the blending of human emotions and cosmology, so I find myself forgiving its shortcomings.

FYI I saw the film in a 'regular' theater. The sound wasn't too loud, and there were no AR shifts.
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post #26 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 06:08 AM
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I loved this movie. I thought the sound and visuals were fantastic. The ending was awesome and one of, if not the best, Nolan films.
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post #27 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 06:33 AM
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I saw this in the Ft Lauderdale Imax which was amazingexcept during loud scenes the dialogue became distorted. Is this what everyone is referring to? It sounded like a blown speaker almost.
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post #28 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 06:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cembros View Post
I saw this in the Ft Lauderdale Imax which was amazingexcept during loud scenes the dialogue became distorted. Is this what everyone is referring to? It sounded like a blown speaker almost.
Hard to believe that's in the mix, but I'm gathering its true. "Does Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ Have Major Sound Mix Issues?" - slashfilm.com
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post #29 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 06:40 AM
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Hope the BR has a fixed aspect ratio, since it's being shown that way in regular theatres, but I fear it won't.
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post #30 of 385 Old 11-13-2014, 07:07 AM
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So it seems that even in that link some people said that non-IMAX was not too bad. Maybe the IMAX theaters just have level too high? As I said, I really did not have that much of an issue with the dialog but I was thinking that at some points the music and effects were covering up some of the dialog. As I mentioned before, people seemed to have the same issue with Bane, but at home, the dialog is fine for me.

They do remixes for the home market right? Maybe they will remix this one also to be a little more intelligible for the dialog.

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