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'Interstellar': Balancing Science and Entertainment

20 Mar, 2015 By: Chris Tribbey

PASADENA, Calif. — When you’re tasked with making a movie that involves the nonlinear dynamic behaviors of curved space-time, the theory of black-hole accretion disks and time as a spatial dimension, making the film entertaining may seem like a tall order.

“It wasn’t hard at all,” laughed theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, executive producer of Interstellar. “We had Jonathan Nolan.”

Writer Nolan (The Dark Knight, The Prestige) called on Thorne to build science into Interstellar — out now on Digital HD and on disc March 31 from Paramount Home Media Distribution — from the outset, turning a sci-fi adventure film into a thought-provoking piece on relativity, astrophysics, black holes, gravitational anomalies and the nature of time, one that had the likes of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson weighing in.

“The collaboration was a great pleasure, and it was an incredible resource being able to work with Kip, to think through some of the more complicated concepts in the film, in an attempt to ground everything in the science, so we could take these leaps of imagination with a strong runway before the narrative goes there,” Nolan said, speaking at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Nolan also helped bring his brother, Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception), on board to direct.

The film sees an ex-pilot-turned-farmer (Matthew McConaughey) leave a dying Earth to lead an expedition beyond our galaxy, in the hopes of finding a new home for mankind. The narrative required some serious scientific thinking, with Thorne’s work resulting in a new — and likely accurate — way of seeing what a black hole looks like. There was so much scientific work that went into the film, it even resulted in a Discovery Channel special, The Science of Interstellar, which is included in the three-disc Blu-ray.

“It’s a really unique film in that the science was built in from the beginning, and because of that, it lends itself to the type of material you have on the Blu-ray,” Thorne said.

The Discovery Channel special is just one of more than a dozen featurettes in the Blu-ray set, with bonuses about the film’s origins; influences and narrative designs; designing the film’s catastrophic dust storms; the concepts and processes behind the recording of Hans Zimmer’s score; designs for the spaceships, characters and space suits; and how the filmmakers used practical special effects informed by scientific equations to give the illusion of space travel.

“With some projects they just emerge from the filmmaking, but with this project, from the very beginning, we prepared a suite of materials to build from the science of the film,” Nolan said. “It was an opportunity for us to not only entertain, but also to put some of these questions and ideas back out [there].”

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