Interstellar: A Guide Through Soundtrack Albums / by Charlie Brigden

By Karol Krokinterstellar_ranger

No one can quite polarise the mass audience and critics the way Christopher Nolan does now on a regular basis. Ever since this independent filmmaker reached a worldwide audience with his Batman trilogy, the endless debate over his ability as a director spawned so much discussion that one grows a tad sick of it as this point. To think that this quiet and soft-spoken gentleman, out of all people, would spark such a debate is quite strange. Interstellar, his last film, was no exception. In fact, one might say it took this craziness to the next level.

Hans Zimmer, now a regular Nolan collaborator, developed quite a unique and intimate way of working on those films. Instead of approaching them as normal projects, he often develops his idas in conjunction to filming. This allows for an easy integration of music and picture where the aural sphere is an integral element of shaping the bigger picture, instead of just one barely audible elements buried deep within the mix (as it happens very often these days). This collaboration became so crucial and prominent that the score would sometimes take over the film. Such was the case with Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. And it certainly also happens here.

Regardless of one’s opinion on Hans Zimmer, we have to admit his work for this particular film helped to shape it in ways that scores rarely are allowed to these days. Thanks to the composer and his talents, Interstellar becomes more immersive and epic. And while it would be a bit foolish to say that the marriage of sound and picture reminds one of Kubrick in some respects, it is heading in a similar direction. For better or worse.

Now, that the film is approaching its home release date (on 15th of March) and the much delayed Illuminated Star Projection Edition is finally out in the UK (as of the 2nd of February), we thought it would be interesting to take a look and compare various products related to Hans Zimmer's score in order to suggest the best possible purchase. As it often happens with soundtrack releases these days, Interstellar score was "blessed" in terms of music promotion  strategy. This very situation dangerously recalled the one with Tron: Legacy back in 2010 where various presentation were released... with mutually exclusive contents. Understandably, fans became worried whether or not Watertower Music is forcing them into buying several items in order to collect all the music.  Let's then take a look, shall we:

interstellar-digipak

In a slightly unusual, but brilliant, move, Interstellar soundtrack album wasn’t out for more than a week after the film's theatrical release. While certainly a bit odd, it makes perfect sense. The audience experienced it first within its context first, according to filmmakers’ wishes, and that’s probably the best way to promote this kind of music. Especially the one coming from Christopher Nolan directorial oeuvre. The standard single CD version (labelled as Star Wheel Constellation Chart Digipak) contained a 71-minute programme and that's a regular commercial disc that is widely available everywhere:

  1. Dreaming of the Crash (3:55)
  2. Cornfield Chase (2:06)
  3. Dust (5:41)
  4. Day One (3:19)
  5. Stay (6:52)
  6. Message From Home (1:40)
  7. The Wormhole (1:30)
  8. Mountains (3:39)
  9. Afraid of Time (2:32)
  10. A Place Among the Stars (3:27)
  11. Running Out (1:57)
  12. I'm Going Home (5:48)
  13. Coward (8:26)
  14. Detach (6:42)
  15. S.T.A.Y. (6:23)
  16. Where We're Going (7:41)

It is a very solid and thorough representation of the actual score in a single disc form and, quite unlike Hans Zimmer’s usual ‘suite’ album, it actually contains a chronological programme of how this material appears in the film. But fans, being introduced to this music through cinema experience, demanded more material that’s missing from this sequence. Thankfully, digital Deluxe Edition became available at the same time as CD version and it contained bonus tracks that extend the already known standard album:

  1. First Step (1:47)
  2. Flying Drone (1:53)
  3. Atmospheric Entry (1:41)
  4. No Need to Come Back (4:32)
  5. Imperfect Lock (6:54)
  6. No Time for Caution (4:06)
  7. What Happens Now? (2:26)
  8. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (narration performed by John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, Casey Affleck, Jessica Chastain, Matthew McConaughey, and Mackenzie Foy) (1:39)

The additional material fills in some important gaps within the score. Most notably, it re-inserts the wonderful ‘Flying Drone’ cue from one early scene (following 'Cornfield Chase') and another important sequence from story’s climax (‘Imperfect Lock’). ‘No Time For Caution’ wasn’t initially available on this Deluxe Edition but that was rectified soon enough and, by popular demand, Zimmer attached it to this programme after the fact. It is, however, not the actual film version. The final form was created editorially by combining album’s version with ‘Mountains’ material. There were several attempts from fans to recreate this sequence as closely as possible (one of them can be found here). One drawback of this Deluxe Edition is that it that most major outlets (like iTunes or Amazon) would only offer it in lossy format, which meant obvious decrease in sound quality as compared to CD version. Fortunately, it became available on in CD quality from Qobuz.

interstellar box1

Which leads us to the controversial products that is Illuminated Star Projection Edtion. It became first available to pre-order around the release of standard edition. However, only residents of the United States would allowed to do that. And that’s because this set featured a 'star map projection' feature that would switch itself on whenever you open the box. Apparently, the international regulation for battery use differ from the American market so that had to be cleared before this album could be released in Europe. This set presents the original soundtrack album on disc one and puts all the extra material on disc two:

  1. First Step (1:48)
  2. Flying Drone (1:53)
  3. Atmospheric Entry (1:39)
  4. No Need to Come Back (4:33)
  5. Imperfect Lock (6:55)
  6. What Happens Now? (2:05)
  7. Who's They? (7:17)
  8. Murph (11:21)
  9. Organ Variation (4:52)
  10. Tick-Tock (8:19)
  11. Day One (Original Demo) (3:49)
  12. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (narration performed by John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, Casey Affleck, Jessica Chastain, Matthew McConaughey, and Mackenzie Foy) (1:37)
  13. No Time For Caution (4:06)

This programme, adds another 35 minutes of additional music to what we already had and in CD format and Deluxe Edition. Of particular note there’s an important lengthy ‘Who’s They?’ from NASA sequence that precedes ‘Stay’ scene. All the remaining material doesn’t feature any music from the film score as such. ‘Murph’ is an elaboration on impressionistic and wondrous material heard in ‘Dust’, ‘I’m Going Home’ and very end of ‘Detach’. And it presents it in one impressive 11-minute suite. In the same spirit, ‘Tick-Tock’ expands upon ‘Mountains’. Both of those are very much worthy additions to any film music fan's musical library.

What’s not so great about this expanded CD set is its price tag. The useless star map feature (apparently containing an encoded light message from Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer) and cumbersome box packaging (thick as 5-6 regular jewel cases) catapult the price to the ridiculous £42.99. The expanded booklet contains only some additional photos from recording sessions, which makes it only slightly different to the one found in regular edition. Finally, the much-advertised ‘Z+ App Free Download Code of Soundtrack in DTS Headphone: X Surround Sound’ doesn't even appear to work at all on many devices (including this reviewer’s). And, even when it does, many users complain about it. In the end, the only benefit of this release is the additional hour of material, some of it quite notable. But is it worth those additional £30 over the price of single disc release? Probably not.

As expected, Interstellar score will soon be also available on vinyl and for that occasion yet another 72-minute presentation was created, different from the regular CD release. It features music from both that album, as well as  tracks from digital Deluxe Edition ('No Time For Caution' and 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night') and Illuminated Star Projection Edtion ('Murph' and 'Tick-Tock'). This sequence doesn't follow the film chronology and, instead, focuses on giving a listener the best listening experience in vinyl format – with each one of four sides forming some sort of coherent musical chapter:

  1. Dreaming of the Crash (side A)
  2. Cornfield Chase (side A)
  3. Dust (side A)
  4. Day One (side A)
  5. Message From Home (side A)
  6. Stay (side B)
  7. The Wormhole (side B)
  8. Afraid of Time (side B)
  9. A Place Among the Stars (side B)
  10. No Time For Caution (side B)
  11. Murph (side C)
  12. Detach (side C)
  13. Running Out (side D)
  14. Tick-Tock (side D)
  15. Where We're Going (side D)
  16. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (side D)

One last available version would be the For Your Consideration promo that’s available to listen on Paramount website. It features the film version of Hans Zimmer's score in chronological order with the exceptions of two final tracks (‘What Happens Now’ and ‘Where We’re Going’) that are curiously, and inexplicably, missing from this presentation. And while this programme presents the most complete version of Interstellar, the files are encoded at the very low bitrate. Hence, the sound quality is very disappointing. In any case, this promotional version features around 31 minutes of film score that's not been released on any album:

  1. Dreaming of the Crash (3:44)
  2. Chasing Drone (2:07)
  3. Flying Drone (1:54)
  4. Combines Went Haywire (1:54)
  5. Dust Storm (1:14)
  6. Decoding the Message (5:42)
  7. Who’s They? (7:18)
  8. Stay (5:33)
  9. Docking (1:29)
  10. Entering Endurance (2:40)
  11. Rage Against the Dying of the Light (0:57)
  12. Down for the Long Nap (0:58)
  13. Message from Home (1:46)
  14. Through the Wormhole (1:44)
  15. We’re Here (0:43)
  16. Atmospheric Entry (2:46)
  17. They’re Not Mountains (3:44)
  18. Years of Messages (5:26)
  19. Afraid of Time (2:33)
  20. Murph Comes Home (1:44)
  21. No Need to Come Back (4:36)
  22. Our World (3:57)
  23. We Are the Future (3:29)
  24. We’re Running out of Time (1:54)
  25. I’m Going Home (5:44)
  26. Coward (8:33)
  27. Imperfect Contact (6:58)
  28. No Time for Caution (4:06)
  29. Detach (6:43)
  30. Eject (2:14)
  31. Landing in Tesseract (4:42)
  32. T.A.Y. (6:20)
  33. Quantifiable Connection (3:30)

MovieTicket.com website released on more additional track - the 7-minute  'Day One Dark'. It was available for free download when ore-booking cinema tickets in the United States. It is an early demo of some material heard elsewhere ('No Time For Caution'). As of now, this track is unavailable to purchase anywhere.

Ultimately, there are five different editions of this score out there, four of them to be readily purchased and one still available on the For Your Consideration website. Sadly, it seems at least three of those contain material exclusive to that particular release and not available anywhere else - at least one track on the Deluxe Edition varies in mix as compared to Illuminated Star Projection Edition ('What Happens Now?') while For Your Consideration promo features film versions of different cues that differ from any album incarnation. So, in order to prepare the definite complete version, fans would have to invest large sums of money in all those albums and then probably edit it slightly to their own needs.

For regular casual fans, and in fact most people, the regular Star Wheel Constellation Chart Digipak will suffice. It contains all the relevant score material, in one form or another, in a clear and enjoyable presentation. Interstellar is not the type of score that necessarily requires complete release. Hans Zimmer doesn't develop his ideas in narrative-focused way, in a way that certain orchestral composers do. His material is often best served by shorter suite albums, where they're presented independently of their films in much altered forms. The Illuminated Star Projection Edition features nice additional material but the price tag is really silly, so it can't be readily recommended. Deluxe Edition should be fine for people not interested in lossless form. Whichever version you choose, the music heard on each one of those is very much worth adding to your collection.

In case you're interested, here is the complete breakdown of all the material available on various releases (thanks to Jason LeBlanc for making it available to us).

Interstellar is out now from Watertower Music (US) and Sony Classical