LOS ANGELES — How do we see thee, Interstellar? Let us count the ways.
You can see Christopher Nolan’s space-time warp of a movie in no less than five formats when it opens in select markets on Wednesday. Depending on where you live, you can either see it in full-blown 70mm IMAX or settle for plain old digital projection — with several options in between.
You might think the maxed-out 70mm IMAX is only available in major cities, but that’s not the case. The 41 worldwide locations include theaters in Des Moines, Iowa; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Buford, Georgia; and Huntsville, Alabama (at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center; how cool is that?). The Interstellar website has all the location details.
Whether the format actually matters is a debate for the cinephiles, the purists and the ages. The sweeping global switch to digital projection has been hailed as a savior of cinema — digital prints are infinitely cheaper and easier to ship and zap to various locations — and a scourge.
Light passing through celluloid is a more organic process, producing a sharper and more luminous result than digital, which breaks the images, colors and sounds into 1s and 0s and reassembles them at the point of projection. But film is bulky (a single 70mm print of Interstellar weighs several hundred pounds), prohibitively expensive and requires expertise to project properly.
It really comes down to your own tolerance for price, proximity of options and how much you give a damn. Your mom and dad will probably enjoy Interstellar in the digital theater down the street as much as they would in the IMAX 70mm format playing in the theater two hours away. But your movie nerd friend might offer to buy gas and passive aggressively pout if you don’t make the trek.
Below, starting with our top preference, are the five ways you can see Interstellar.
1. 70mm IMAX (film)
If you like Matthew McConaughey as big, bright and clear as technologically possible, 70mm IMAX is the surefire way to go. Nolan loves to shoot as much of his films in IMAX as possible (the massive cameras limited him to a little over an hour’s worth of Interstellar), and the result is a clarity and depth of field that, in many ways, beats even the best 3D in terms of seeing into the picture.
The individual image frames of 70mm are actually 65mm (2.6 in) wide, with 5mm set aside for magnetic sound tracks. The format boasts almost 10 times the resolution of standard projection formats, which is especially important when you’re blowing it up on a full-sized IMAX screen. Standard screens are roughly 72 feet x 53 feet, but can be as large as Darling Harbour in Sydney, Australia, which is 117 feet x 97 feet (and will be showing Interstellar starting Wednesday).
2. 70mm (film)
This has all the benefits of 70mm; it’s just not blown up on the big, big screen. “Standard” movie screens vary widely in size depending on the size of the auditorium, from inching up on IMAX-sized all the way down to about 50 feet wide. You’ll still be impressed by the clarity, light and high definition, which is still three times the resolution of standard formats.
The “Interstellar” poster.
Image: Paramount Pictures
3. 35mm (film)
This is the next best thing, and it’s still considered by many as superior to digital projection. With nearly 200 theaters worldwide (most in North America) showing Interstellar on 35mm, it should be easy to seek out.
4. IMAX digital
Most commercial, wide-release IMAX movies are shown this way, and most of us would never know the difference. The process involves two projectors that line everything up with lasers for great precision of both image and sound. But in the same way that CDs just aren’t vinyl, digital just isn’t film.
5. 4K digital
Almost all major movie chains project digital in 4K these days, so it’s less likely that this will be offered as an “option.” Either your theater is 4K or it isn’t. If it isn’t, at least you’re seeing it in…
You probably also always fly coach, rent economy cars and couldn’t get by without your Costco membership. Either that or you live in Palookaville. Or both. Nothing is wrong with either: You’ll still see what it’s like to enter a black hole, and by the time you get there, you’ll have long since forgotten that the Big City movie snobs saw it with a little more clarity.
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