My friends and I went to an early screening of Interstellar a couple days ago and saw it in 70mm film and IMAX. I went into the film with very little knowledge of the plot, score, or really any idea of what I was getting myself into, other than it would be about SPACE.
So let’s talk about the sound. I had read a few articles saying that the sound mix for Interstellar had possibly ruined the film. Critics are saying that dialogue was hard to hear at points, and that it took them out of the film. And that’s all I knew as I went to see Interstellar.
I actually really enjoyed the sound and music to Interstellar. This is easily my favorite Hans Zimmer score (although Gladiator is another favorite. Check that out here!) and the sound team made some very interesting choices that worked really well in the film, and differ from a lot of sci-fi films being released today.
Space is actually silent!
Sound first. The dynamic range of this film is huge. Interstellar is one of the few films that choose to make space truly silent. There is a sequence where it cuts from inside the spaceship, to back outside the ship as they launch probes. The sound goes from a gentle ambience, dialogue, and the flicking of switches, to complete silence. You could hear everyone in the theatre for a few seconds, which is so rare in films today.
On the other end of the spectrum, the amount of low end that they managed to fit into the mix is amazing. Maybe IMAX enhanced this more than normal theatres, but it was a lot. I really got the sense that I was in the spaceship with them. Everything was shaking, and it was a great way to experience the film. To me, the dialogue was buried occasionally beneath the sound effects, but it was never something plot related. I was able to understand the gist and emotions of every scene.
Minimalist Music & Morse Code
Onto the music: There was no “BWAAAAAAM” of the brass in this film. That was very refreshing. Instead, the score revolves around a minimalistic piano, organ, and synth sound world, reminiscent of Philip Glass. The theme is very simple, yet very effective. It ties in wonderfully with the film’s themes of time, bleakness, hope, and discovery. Without giving away spoilers, Interstellar explores time shifts and the music reflects those ideas in how it’s structured.
By using a minimalist style, the score feels lonely and desperate, much like the characters living on Earth where humanity is dying out. Additionally, the theme continually moves up. Slowly closing the distance between the bottom and top notes, before it falls back down again and repeats. This is significant in several ways. First, the continual rising gives the audience and characters hope that they will succeed on their mission. However, the upper note stays the same, creating a “ceiling” which we cannot get above. It’s like the music hits a wall and cannot move forward, tying into the characters’ attempts to solve the formula that will allow mankind to escape the Earth, without having the last piece of data. Finally, the theme’s rhythm mimics the rhythms of Morse code – used by the astronauts to communicate what they learned back home to Earth. All of these musical elements form together to create a score that is incredibly intertwined with the film itself.
So when you go see the film (preferably in IMAX cause the visuals are great), think about the score and how it’s working with the story on screen! Or at least think about it afterwards. Hope you enjoy an awesome movie.
PS! The soundtrack is being released on November 17th!