Variety‘s Kris Tapley has proclaimed that Christopher Nolan‘s Dunkirk is “the first slam-dunk Oscar contender of 2017.” It’s a Best Picture contender, you betcha, but Nolan’s masterpiece is the second 2017 film to be so honored. The first was Luca Guadagnino‘s Call Me By Your Name, and I don’t want to hear any ifs, ands or buts about it. Okay, Nolan’s film is the first 2017 release to so qualify. I saw it tonight with my mouth open. I’m catching it again on a super-sized IMAX screen this weekend. IMAX is the only way to go in this instance.
Awareness of the Interstellar sound-mix issues have been kicking around since before the Paramount release opened two days ago. (I first complained about it on 10.24, or the day after the first elite-media screening on 10.23.) You’d have to be deaf and blind not to have heard about them by now, but reporters for the trades and the major print outlets have so far been asleep at the wheel. It’s obviously a huge story — a major filmmaker mixes a film in such a soupy and muddy way that people across the nation and in parts of Europe can’t hear certain portions of the dialogue and are tweeting complaints left and right — but for whatever reason the pros at Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, TheWrap, N.Y. Times, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal and other print publications aren’t touching it.
From HE’s “Actionman,” received today: “You’re not lying. Either the sound mix was terrible or the people at IMAX said turn it up and keep it up because at the Cinemark in Manchester, CT, in their Imax-lite, you could barely hear dialogue that should’ve been heard. I don’t understand how something like this could happen.”
I not only sat through Interstellar again last night, but in the same theatre (TCL Chinese) and almost in the same seat I sat in when I saw it nearly two weeks ago, on Thursday, October 23rd. I’m still of the opinion that this earnestly oppressive, partly breathtaking, level-11 space epic deserves points for reaching out and dreaming big and breaking “bahhriers,” but it’s too confounding and exposition-heavy and generally exhausting, and the dialogue is too often buried under the heavy sauce of Hans Zimmer‘s organ score and is basically too damn hard to hear. I did, however, understand a few more particulars last night, possibly because some Nolan techie tweaked the TCL Chinese sound system in the wake of that disastrous 10.23 screening.
I know now that I have given Interstellar my all, and that I don’t have to ever see it again. Two times = almost six hours = more than enough for the rest of my life. But I’m also glad I did round 2 because now I understand the feelings of those who are basically saying “it’s a mess but a good mess” or “it’s laughable but great for that” or “it’s typically cold and at the same time overly emotional, but in a cool way” because they’re all basically saying “look, it’s not perfect but at least it’s crazy and ‘out there’ in its own deranged way and isn’t that a good thing?”
They’re reacting largely to the film, of course, but also, I suspect, to the first wave of naysayers, some of whom focused on the film’s apparently dashed Best Picture hopes. They want the world to know that they’re more sensitive and perceptive than guys like Scott Feinberg or Tom O’Neil or whomever. Or me.
If, as one or two HE commenters have written, the first wave of internet malcontents went into that 10.23 screening looking to take Interstellar down (an absurd hypothesis — serious online movie hounds always want movies directed by big-name auteurs to succeed), last night’s second wave went into it determined to push back against the first wave. “We hear you, Chris,” many of them were saying last night on Twitter. “We get what you’re going for or at least we get that you went for Something Big, and we’re giving you a pass for laying it on the line and swinging for the fences and wearing your heart on your sleeve. Fuck those shallow Oscar-handicappers…we are in touch with our souls, Chris, and particularly with the soul of your movie, which is emotional and celestial and a little bit cuckoo, which is fine by us.”
Nobody would love to see Chris Nolan‘s Tenet (Warner Bros., 7.17) in a big, swanky theatre more than myself. But can someone explain what it means to “work overtime to ensure theaters can re-open and that movie exhibition business can come roaring back to life,” as IMAX honcho Richard Gelfond said earlier this week about Nolan? How does anyone “work” to make the pandemic go away?
By the way: In my mind Dunkirk is one of Nolan’s greatest films, right up there with Memento and The Dark Knight. I’ve never watched a 4K version of Dunkirk at home (and that in itself might tell you something) but it’s certainly gained upon reflection.
And yet after the curious plot gymnastics of Inception, the deliberately muddy sound design and infuriating storyline in Interstellar and the atrocious yellow and teal-tinted nostalgia version of 2001: A Space Odyssey that Nolan oversaw, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a very slight trepidation about Tenet.
Consider what the trailer might amount to if you take away the reversed action sequences and one-two punches like “what happened here?” and “it hasn’t happened yet”. Seriously, it feels like a kind of cinematic three-card monte.
And don’t forget that aside from being a moderately engaging, good-looking actor, John David Washington lacks that tingly, charismatic “it” factor. Nolan hired him because his BlacKkKlansman performance had generated a certain amount of heat, but remember that old remark about Marilyn Monroe‘s star quality, about how “you can’t take your eyes off her when she enters in a scene”? This is precisely what JDW doesn’t have.
From Justin Chang‘s Variety review: “In his Pixar triumphs The Incredibles and Ratatouille, writer-director Brad Bird proved himself not just a wizardly storyteller but also an ardent champion of excellence — of intelligence, creativity and nonconformity — in every arena of human (and rodent) accomplishment. All the more disappointing, then, that the forces of mediocrity have largely prevailed over Tomorrowland, a kid-skewing adventure saga that, for all its initial narrative intrigue and visual splendor, winds up feeling like a hollow, hucksterish Trojan horse of a movie — the shiny product of some smiling yet sinister dimension where save-the-world impulses and Disney mass-branding strategies collide. A sort of Interstellar Jr. in which the fate of humanity hinges on our ability to nurture young hearts and minds, the picture runs heavier on canned inspirationalism than on actual inspiration.”
From Todd McCarthy‘s Hollywood Reporter review: “How many sci-fi/fantasy films of recent years have climaxed with anything other than massive conflict and conflagration? Whatever the number, Tomorrowland is one of the few to place far more emphasis on talk than action, which is what will probably contribute to what, for some, will make for a softer experience than the genre norm. The film’s general coolness and vision of a potentially serene future reminds more of Spike Jonze’s Her than of anything in the Marvel, George Lucas or James Cameron-derived worlds, not to mention other far more violent ones. As thoughtful and sympathetic as the intentions are here, perhaps it all goes back to the point often made about Dante; what do people read and remember, Paradiso, Purgatorio or Inferno?”
A 3.19 article by Nerdist contributor Kyle Hill reveals that Interstellar co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan didn’t agree with the ending that his brother Chris went with. Speaking on 3.28 during a seminar at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Jonathan said that he would have preferred a “much more straightforward” finale. He basically said that Matthew McConaughey would have died in the middle of the “Einstein-Rosen bridge” or wormhole.
The second I read this I realized that I don’t ever want to see Interstellar again. I honestly wouldn’t sit through it if you paid me $50 or even $100 to do so. Okay, I would see it again for $1000. But the more I think back upon that exasperating film, the more repelled I feel.
The Interstellar Bluray screener has been mailed to Academy and guild members, and sooner or later I’ll get a copy. And then the viewing I’ve been dreaming about for several weeks (i.e., ever since I realized at the initial TCL Chinese screening on 10.22 that I was missing whole chunks of dialogue due to Chris Nolan‘s decision to bury much of the exposition under Hans Zimmer‘s score and numerous sound effects) will finally come true. I’ll watch the Bluray with my own perfectly tuned sound system plus I’ll have the published screenplay on my lap, and I’ll be able to pause the film whenever I want and re-read each line whenever I feel like it, and finally every last line and every last reference will be completely clear to me and all the other dummies out there. Nothing will be obscured. I can’t wait.
As I said on 11.9 (“Over The Hump“), I’ve let the whole Interstellar thing go, particularly my soupy/bassy sound obsession. But I can’t ignore this photo sent yesterday by the Rochester-based Jay Shooke. Several 8 x 11 sheets with this message were “taped up all over at [Rochester’s] Cinemark Tinseltown IMAX,” he says, obviously in response to complaints.
“First and foremost, anything you’ve heard about the sound in that packed-to-the-rafters 70mm IMAX screening at the TCL Chinese Theater Thursday night is absolutely true. Take a proprietary IMAX sound mix and speaker configuration that can be pretty inferior and add in the fact that Nolan’s mixes tend to be muddied historically (then consider that for some reason the system was turned up to 11) — it was a recipe for disaster.” — from Kris Tapley‘s In Contention review of Interstellar, posted this morning.
“I couldn’t understand full stretches of dialogue and the IMAX of it all with the pitch darkness of the celluloid (too dark, I’d wager), it just wasn’t settling.
During yesterday’s drive into Savannah from the airport I told a senior Los Angeles-based exhibition executive (i.e., a guy who doesn’t want to be quoted) about the over-cranked, super-bassy sound inside the TCL Chinese that made dialogue hard to understand at times during Thursday night’s Interstellar screening. He said he knows all about that. He said that union guys who were calibrating the sound at a West L.A. theatre plex constructed two or three years ago wanted to heighten the bassy “thromp” levels, and that he and his associates told them “nope, nope…no way.” He knows exactly what bass-thromp does to dialogue. And he made the right call. The plex in question delivers excellent sound. Hearing dialogue is never an issue when I see a film there. I can always hear every last vowel and consonant.
Interior of refurbished TCL Chinese. The muddled, super-bassy, over-cranked sound delivery in this theatre has probably harmed…okay, influenced the critical opinion of Interstellar among L.A. journos who attended Thursday night’s screening. I have already pledged to see Chris Nolan’s film again in a theatre with better calibrated sound.
I’ve also heard from a journalist friend who saw Interstellar Wednesday night at the California Science Center IMAX theatre, and he says the sound there “was exquisite…you could hear absolutely everything perfectly.” He also dropped by Thursday night’s TCL Chinese showing, or actually “bits and pieces of the last 25 minutes of the film and the sound was way overpumped. In fact standing in the lobby we thought the theatre was going to collapse, and I heard complaints from a couple of SAG voters that they couldn’t understand the dialogue, which always used to be the case at the Chinese pre-IMAX.”
I’m waiting to speak soon to Chapin Cutler, the projection and sound guru from Boston Light & Sound who handles projection standards at the Telluride Film Festival, the TCM Classic Film Festival and is now preparing projection for the upcoming AFI Fest. I’m not going to assume anything but Cutler knows his realm cold, and I can guess what he’ll tell me about bass-thromp.
The initial whammo-schmammo press screening of Chris Nolan‘s Interstellar happens early Thursday evening (i.e., tomorrow night), but I’d better not say where. The review embargo goes up on Monday morning but immediate post-screening tweets are good to go. I’m expecting somewhere between an 8 and 8.5 experience. I’m not expecting a 9 based on what that Fort Hood “play with my balls” guy said last weekend. Cheers to Nolan for not shooting this thing in 3D. Seriously, I love him for that. And I adore the fact that Paramount will be showing it in 70mm non-digital IMAX. How many more times is that likely to happen? This could be the last time. It’s certainly one of the last times. The celluloid sentimentalists are few in number and surrounded on all sides.