Interstellar is definitely one of Christopher Nolan’s most adventurous and creative pieces of work, and when it comes to sound, the approach for such an experimental film was not an exception.
During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter back in 2014, the director described how he prefers to approach sound for his films. Speaking in detail, Christopher Nolan decided to approach this area in a highly impressionistic way, which is definitely a quite unorthodox approach for a mainstream blockbuster such as Interstellar; however, 5 years after its debut, we can assert that it was the perfect approach for an experimental film.
His approach was creative and audacious, Nolan said. And if we were to take a further look into how the film’s sound was developed, we could assert that, compared to other filmmakers who have approached sound in a rather bold way, Nolan did a great job.
In previous articles we’ve mentioned the importance of sound when it comes to storytelling —many people, especially sound professionals and directors with a vast knowledge of sound distance themselves from the idea that you can only achieve clarity through dialogue, especially the clarity of emotions and stories. And that is a really important takeaway.
If directors really were to try to make the most out of sound and sound elements, they would end up trying to achieve that in a more holistic, almost layered, way, using all the different elements at their disposal: moving images and sound.
You will probably remember some viewers complaining about the movie’s sound after its premiere on Nov 5th in 2014, claiming that they were unable to properly hear some key dialogue lines, which led to a myriad of conversations about whether it was the fault of the sound mix or the sound systems in some theaters across the world where the film was played. Nolan took a step forward and addressed all of these questions directly —he said the movie’s sound was exactly as he initially envisioned it and even praised theaters for presenting it properly.
Aside from his tremendous work, Nolan is also renowned for being a passionate believer that sound is as important as the moving images, which is why he is fond of hearing how his projects sound in actual theaters. During the same interview, Nolan also said he traditionally visits up to seven different theaters across the world just to see how the movie’s sound is performing.
As mentioned earlier, Interstellar caused people to question whether the film’s sound was right. Essentially, when it comes to films like these, it is possible to mix sound in an unconventional way as they did. Of course, that can catch some individuals off guard, but people, in general, will appreciate the experience, which is what happened with Interstellar in the subsequent weeks after it premiered.
The Team Behind the Sounds
The movie’s sound was initially attributed to a very tight teamwork amongst German composer Hans Zimmer, mixers Gary Rizzo and Gregg Landaker and sound designer Richard King. According to the director himself, they made cautiously considered creative decisions —the movie is full of surprises sound-wise. In fact, there are several moments throughout the film where Nolan decided to use dialogue as a sound effect, which is why from time to time it is mixed slightly beneath the other sound effect tracks and sound effect elements to emphasize how loud the encompassing sound actually is.
As an example, if you recall the film, there’s this scene during which Matthew McConaughey is driving through the cornfield, which is also extremely loud and, to some extent, frightening —considering that Nolan himself was riding in the back of the car while filming point of view shots—. Nolan wanted the audience to experience first hand how chaotic such situation was by making them feel all the turbulence that was going on through sound.
Another example is when they are in the cockpit and you hear the creaking of the spacecraft. That’s actually a very scary sound, and it was loud enough for people to get immersed into the story and actually feel what space travel might be like. It was definitely all about emphasizing intimate elements.
The movie is definitely a case study on its own. Nolan also described that sound designer, Richard King, managed to get high-quality sounds inside the truck during the scene mentioned above; however, he decided to echo them later in the film, with one of the key spacecraft scenes, in hopes of making it more similar and truthful to what astronauts experience and hear in real life.
Nolan also resorter to other elements to describe the different planets the protagonists visit throughout the film, not just with moving images, but with sound as well. Nolan stayed away from the traditional layering of sound elements and chose to delineate the planes based on recognizable sounds —the water planet is a lot of splashing in contrast to the ice planet, which has the crunchy sound of ice glaciers.
*The images used on this post are taken from Pexels.com