Live Event: Interstellar Live


30th March 2015 | Royal Albert Hall, London

Interstellar Live - now this really is one of those rare once-in-a-lifetime experiences, no marketing mumbo-jumbo needed here! The moment I learned of this spectacular event back in February, I rushed online at near lightspeed, entered my credit card data into the navi computer, and crossed by fingers. Success! Two available tickets booked! (My dear sidekick/co-pilot ‘Nien Nunb’ will be accompanying me for this one!) The scale of the show was to be gargantua – the Royal Albert Hall, an panel conversation with Prof Brian Cox, Prof Stephen Hawking, Prof Kip Thorne, Christopher Nolan, Michael Caine and Hans Zimmer, all followed by a showing of Interstellar on the big screen complete with a LIVE 60-piece orchestra featuring the Hall’s grand 9,999 pipes of organ, led by Hans Zimmer himself! Astronomical!

After barely being able to contain my excitement for the days and weeks leading up to Interstellar Live, the big day was finally here! As we made the journey into London, I could almost feel the Royal Albert Hall’s gravitational field pulling me in, closer and closer. Travelling through the annoying crowds of museum tourists like ships navigating their way through warped space we finally reached our destination, and as I stood up gazing in awe at the glorious building I could hear the grand organs of Hans Zimmer swelling in my head. But then I immediately get distracted by a familiar looking tall, and rather skinny, gentleman with a massive grin slapped on his face – yes it’s Prof Brian Cox casually walking past me on his way to a side entrance! I’m liking this evening already!

I head in through the main doors – the event horizon if you will, as there’s no getting me out now! – and head into the foyer and soak it all in. Ahh geeks everywhere. The atmosphere is electric. The anticipation of what will unfold during the next few hours is immense. Even Nien Nunb is giddy with excitement! Only 30 minutes until the programme starts, so we head to the bar for a nice glass of the red stuff. Cheers Nien Nunb! The decor is breathtaking – red and gold colours galore - and I cannot wait to enter the grand hall itself.

I make a quick stop to the merchandise stall. Just the usual overpriced mugs and t-shirts, but I do purchase the obligatory Programme Guide – might come in handy after the show when I make a trip to the stage door outside...

Only ten minutes to go, that’s our cue to make our way to the grand hall. We join the queue and are led through the magical wormhole that will transport us into the grandeur of the Royal Albert Hall’s main arena. Adrenaline levels are off the charts now! We step through and....

WOW! The first thing that hits me is the sheer scale of it all. It looks absolutely spectacular, red seats, red curtains, gold mood lighting – the ambience is nothing short of magical and truly fitting for this evening.  Then I notice the massive movie screen hovering above a stage filled with empty chairs. The stage is where Zimmer’s orchestra will be then. Directly under the screen I spy a small cubby-hole lit with an enchanting golden glow. That’s where the organ player will be sitting, operating the Hall’s grand 9,999 pipes of organ. Excitement levels are stratospheric! Now to find our seats.

Seats found with ease, we spend the next ten minutes furiously taking pictures as if our lives depended on it! Then the lights dim and a hush falls over the audience as an announcement is made, and I have to pinch myself – “Ladies and Gentleman, please welcome Professor Stephen Hawking.” And cue the first of many standing ovations of the night. Stephen Hawking rolls onto stage and introduces Interstellar Live: “We have a stellar cast for this opening event – a panel discussion of the science and music of Interstellar.” He then introduces Brian Cox, Christopher Nolan, Hans Zimmer and Kip Thorne onto stage. And every single member of the sell-out Royal Albert Hall audience is beaming a smile wider than Brian Cox could ever manage.

The panel discussion is captivating, mesmerising and mind-blowing. Never has 45 minutes passed by so quickly, almost feeling as if time dilation has just occurred! Brian Cox leads the discussions, asking director Christopher Nolan about his motivations for wanting to make a film that is defined by and celebrates science. Musician Hans Zimmer discusses his method of scoring the film (he wrote the music long before Christopher Nolan started shooting, without even seeing a script or a synopsis!). And Physicist Kip Thorne, scientific consultant for Interstellar (and Contact don’t you know!) brings his own PowerPoint presentation with him because, well... because he can! As Brian Cox remarks, much to the audience’s amusement: “Kip, you have some slides I think. People were saying to me ‘You can’t let him show slides!’ But Kip is one of the greatest physicists in the world so he will show slides if he wants to show slides!” And at this point I nearly lose it as I realise the Royal Albert Hall has been turned into one massive science class with Kip Thorne as the teacher!

Kip goes through several key elements of Interstellar using his diagrams, such as Tesseracts, 5th dimensional travel, the bulk and the brane, wormholes and of course, black holes. He discusses how Interstellar’s special effects team (who are also in the audience somewhere along with actress Jessica Chastain) used Kip’s (and Einstein’s) equations to render the most visually accurate depiction of a black hole ever created – a feat that required a whopping 800 terabytes of data! And in the process, new discoveries were made, including the behaviour of warped accretion disks. Kip does note, however, that Interstellar’s representation of Gargantua is not entirely as accurate as it should be, as it doesn’t show the results of the Doppler effect -  Nolan felt mainstream audiences would find the images a little too wacky and wouldn’t understand what they were seeing and why. Woah I’m starting to sound like a right little egghead now!

And then all too soon, Brian Cox glances at his watch and brings the discussions to an end. Cue rapturous applause. I make my way back to the bar for the 30 minute interval and try to process what I have just witnessed, hopping up and down like a maniac and marvelling over the last 45 minutes with Nien Nunb. And then it’s time for the main event...

The legend that is Sir Michael Caine struts onto the stage. He tells an anecdote of how he received the script for Batman Begins (“So I’m not playing the lead then!”) and is joined by the intellectual genius that is Christopher Nolan. Nolan gives a nice talk on how wonderful Hans Zimmer’s score is and introduces the man himself, who will be taking on keyboard duties tonight.

Then the musicians enter, taking their places and unveiling their shiny instruments to more thunderous applause. And as Roger Sayer, the organist who played on the actual Interstellar soundtrack, takes his place in the golden cubby-hole underneath the big screen, the applause is deafening. And we’re all set!

The screening: it is everything I hoped it to be, plus more. Much much more. The Interstellar experience (and viewing the film is an experience) was truly heightened. Every time the delicate piano notes, the moving string section, and of course the ethereal organ intensified, it was hard not to take your eyes of the live orchestra. I lost count how many times the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and how often chills were sent through my body! Halfway through the film and we have a brief 20 minute interval. Time to head to the bar and once again process the experience so far to Nien Nunb (“Say it, don’t spray it!” she says). And then time for the second half. And we all know what’s coming don’t we – the most breathtaking cinematic sequence I have ever witnessed. Yes, the Docking scene...

As Dr Mann (Matt Damon) attempts to flee back to The Endurance, I can see Hans Zimmer slowly thumping away on his keyboard and the cello players gently tapping on the strings with their bows. As the Endurance spins out of control and Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) begins the extreme docking procedure, declaring “It’s necessary!”, Zimmer and co crank up the intensity and Sayer goes bananas on his organ. The sequence is exhilarating, and the orchestra are giving it their all, building up to an overwhelming crescendo of musical emotion. When Cooper succeeds and it’s over I just want to shout and clap, and apparently I’m not alone – the entire sold-out Royal Albert Hall bursts into applause and every single member of the orchestra can be seen beaming. This is a moment I will never forget!

As the end credits start to roll, there is another standing ovation - and an extra loud cheer from Jessica Chastain’s private VIP box as her name appears on screen - lasting over 5 minutes. My hands are literally bleeding by this point! Hans Zimmer and his musicians humbly thank the audience and I can’t believe it’s all over. Back to Earth and reality. As we head back down to the main foyer, Nien Nunb takes a quick detour to have a gander at the £1400 VIP hospitality boxes. Not too shabby I must say! Table of posh canapés, bottles of champagne, ice bucket filled with coke and beer – I could easily get used to that lifestyle! Then we make our way outside and head to the stage door.

A group of geeks have already congregated, waiting to pounce on the main players as they exit the Royal Albert Hall. After waiting a while, my Film Geek Senses™ tingle, and tell me that they’ve all scarpered already. One shiny black Bentley with blacked out windows still patiently waits outside though, so there is at least one person left inside. And lo and behold, out comes the bald genius himself – Kip Thorne! After signing my Interstellar Live programme, I hand him my copy of his excellent book The Science of Interstellar (highly recommended read!) which he also signs. I tell him how brilliant his book is, he smiles and nods as if to say “Yeah, you don’t have to tell me that!”.

And now it really is all over. What an evening! What an experience! As we make our way back home, I reflect back on Interstellar Live. And I hope that perhaps in some far off place somewhere in an alternate universe, where time doesn’t necessarily flow linear, is another version of myself about to take his seat again in the Royal Albert Hall, ready to experience it all over again for the first time...