Interstellar: A Hollywood Blockbuster That Arrives in Many Forms

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar Photograph by Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros./Paramount Pictures

Christopher Nolan is the sort of Hollywood director who’s bestowed attention for every new film. His latest, Interstellar, is getting noticed not just for its ambitious scope but the number of formats—six—in which audiences can see it.

The bankable auteur behind the Dark Knight trilogy has been a highly public advocate of traditional film cameras over digital technology, specifically the large-format IMAX screen. “Film is the best way to capture an image and project that image,” Nolan said at an event this year. “It just is, hands down.” Interstellar takes this technical focus to a new level, with three digital and three film formats of the Matthew McConaughey-led space exploration story.

The “top of the line” format is native 70-millimeter IMAX, an enormous image that fills the entire screen. That version is “the highest quality imaging format ever devised, offering almost 10 times the resolution of standard formats,” according to the movie’s website. Interstellar also comes in both 35mm and 70mm film, along with three digital versions: IMAX, 4K digital, and regular digital projection.

“David Lean dragged 65-millimeter cameras into the desert and I don’t know why we shouldn’t have similar aspirations,” Nolan told the New York Times Magazine, referring to the making of the 1962 masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. For the latter two films in his Batman trilogy, Nolan shot some of each in the IMAX format as well as on both 35mm and 70mm film.

Theaters that chose to screen the film versions of Interstellar had the option of opening on Wednesday, two days before its wider release. Paramount Pictures’ decision to release a traditional print for Interstellar comes less than a year after the studio quit film in favor of digital, and it irked some theater owners who have made the switch to all-digital cinemas. “I can’t afford to get the projectors out of the warehouse for two days, and I don’t even have anyone to operate them,” the chief executive of a Georgia theater chain, Joe Paletta, told the Hollywood Reporter.

Other chains see the analog-vs.-digital debate as a way to stoke audience interest in the $165 million picture. The 70mm Interstellar print was shipped to theaters in eight padlocked cases last week, with Paramount sending the lock combinations on Friday. Of course, whether film or digital, it’s a pretty safe bet that most viewers will have no idea which version they saw.