Hype – Interstellar

Disclaimer: On a sweltering summers morn in a sleazy corner of Manchester, a shifty looking individual arrived at our door and slid a sealed envelope under the gap. Once the silhouette had slunk off into the alleyways we took a look inside and found the following review of a screenplay which may or may not exist… HDEYES takes no responsibility for what follows… Oh, and SPOILER ALERT

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So here’s the thing. Christopher Nolan’s next film, Interstellar, isn’t out yet. It won’t be out until November. I obviously haven’t seen the film. I want to see it. I want to see it so much in fact, that I have read the screenplay which “accidentally” leaked online a few months back. The following review is of that screenplay for Interstellar, not the film!

If you want an absolutely spoiler free experience, simply stop reading from this point on. I’ll keep the review as spoiler free as possible. No major plot details. No twist reveals. There will (hopefully) be nothing more revealed here that hasn’t already been disclosed in the trailer, but if you want a pure unadulterated “Interstellar” experience, I say again stop reading now!

For those still with us, you all know you will be watching the film anyway. You wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. You probably know the gist of the film by now. You know the cast and the tone the film is going for. When I first read the screenplay however, I didn’t.

What first strikes you when you start is that the screenplay is dated “March 12th 2008” – A fairly typical gestation period from page to screen. Crucially though, that offers enough time for changes and tweaks – After all “Writing is re-writing!” The screenplay draft I have read here will almost certainly not be the complete finished article. The story will mostly stay the same (give or take), but certain changes will take place.

The screenplay is also 154 pages long. Nolan has served his time and earned enough Hollywood Kudos (aka Batman Profits) to be allowed two and a half hours screen time – “Inception” came in at 148 minutes longs after all, which leads me nicely to my first point.

We are firmly in Inception territory. If you thought Inception’s altering-peoples-dreams-via-a-machine-for-profit storyline was out there, wait till you get into Interstellar and its “explorers making use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage”. That IMDB synopsis doesn’t even cover the half of it. Whilst desperately trying to stay clear of spoilers, the third act of Interstellar throws some real heavyweight theoretical astro-physics at you.

Presumably because – and here’s my second point – this draft was actually co-written by three people. Johnathon Nolan (Chris’s brother and long time screen writer and collaborator), Lynda Obst (Hollywood producer who previously worked on 1997’s “Contact” – A film not entirely dissimilar to Interstellar!) and Kip Thorne.

Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan

Kip Thorne, according to Wikipedia, is an “American theoretical physicist, known for his contributions in gravitational physics and astrophysics. A long-time friend and colleague of Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan and one of the world’s leading experts on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.” Interstellar is not just another sci-fi space travel adventure romp. Interstellar is science. “World leading science” at that!

Subsequent Hollywood mechanics have seen both Lynda Obst (Now listed as “Producer”) and Kip Thorne (Now “Executive Producer”) taken off the writing credits and Christopher Nolan added to them alongside his brother. How much of a rewrite has actually taken place is anybody’s guess, but I’ll wager this happened for two reasons. One, a “Christopher Nolan” film is a hell of a lot easier to sell, and secondly Nolan will have taken out a lot of the science and made it more “mainstream”, like he did with Inception’s premise.

Before we get to the space science, you are probably wondering how our protagonist Cooper (Mcconaughey) actually gets there to begin with, which unfortunately is my first gripe with Interstellar. Cooper is set up as a regular Joe type – Driving his kids to baseball games, making ends meet where he can (He fixes cars in a world where parts are hard to come by – Think the “Fallout” game series) – “The world doesn’t need any more engineers Mr Cooper – We ran out of food”

One day, as he is driving along he sees a “Russian Drone” (Interestingly re-christened as an “Indian surveillance drone” in the trailer). Sensing it to be ripe with spare parts, he chases after it, eventually hacking into and controlling it. This leads him to discover another probe. A much more mysterious one – Marked with an American flag on the side of it. His kids ask what both the flag and the probe are. Cooper explains how America has moved on – “Maybe it’s better for everyone to forget what they did back then. Reminds us how far we’ve fallen.”

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Ultimately this leads Cooper and his daughter “Murph” to a well hidden, high security military base. They just stumble across it because the probe led them there. A female military guard named Brand (Anne Hathaway) meets Cooper and immediately realises what the probe signifies. She takes Cooper and Murph inside the base, where all is revealed. The probe has actually returned through a wormhole, discovered some fifty years ago by the Government.

Nobody else can figure out how to work the probe though – All the old fashioned technology baffles what’s left of NASA. But not our “Regular Joe” Cooper. He can figure it all out; as we’ve already established he can fix things and makes ends meet by scavenging parts wherever and whenever he can. Once Cooper unlocks the probe, we see it report back that its mission was a success – It has found a planet similar enough to Earth, with enough oxygen and water to sustain life, and it should be easy enough to reach thanks to the wormhole! Earths problems are solved! Right?

Through that simple quirk of circumstance, Cooper finds out all about the secret plan to repopulate another planet to save mankind. Earth is dying. He understands that it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense however is when NASA bizarrely ask Cooper to join them on the mission to the new planet. This is a farmer who struggles through life, with no military or space experience, leaving behind two kids – Fine. Taking him into space with them, because he stumbled across the base and has outdated technological skills other people don’t. Hmmm, tenuous. I don’t buy it.

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Initially reluctant, he accepts the mission. He is told he is the man for the job through various hackneyed dialogue – ““Make no mistake, this mission is our last chance” and “The mission is to rescue us. Humanity” – It’s drilled into him that we need men who can improvise and think on their feet, but that’s nonsense. NASA had fifty years to prepare. Instead they’ve fallen apart along with the rest of the world and are left to recruit an everyman on a hunch. That’s a stretch too far for me, and I think the scriptwriters know that as well when one character says to Cooper “We all need expertise in at least three fields. Except for you of course“.

But whatever, our hero gets into space one way or another. He leaves behind his young family – Two kids without a mother – and jets off. Incidentally, “Murph”, one of Cooper’s kids, is clearly shown in the trailer as a girl. Throughout the screenplay however both of Cooper’s kids were boys. I’m all for the switch, and don’t see this affecting the overall premise, but why the change? I would say there’s probably a little bit more chemistry and emotional resonance between the A list cast members, and that when the goodbyes all pay off, Nolan will be subtly riffing around the subjects of masculinity and maternal/paternal instincts (But that’s simply my guess!).

As a side note, as far I can tell from this draft, Interstellar is a great big fail on the Bechdel test! Which leads me on to the characters, most of which are really well written, with clear goals and a distinct sense of identity. If there is one gripe it’s with Brand, Hathaway’s part. She feels undercooked. Hopefully this has been beefed up for the actual cinema release, but here she kind of waddles through stating “her mission” this and “this needs to happen” because. She’s not dis-interesting, but she seems to me to be primarily the antagonist to Cooper’s protagonist. She’s driven and her motives are conveyed, but they are a touch one dimensional for me. Again that’s fine, I only bring this up as she is really the only female role in the film, alongside the aforementioned Murph (Originally a male character) and Murph’s schoolteacher – “She’s single, you know”. I sincerely hope they make more of the Brand, if only for Hathaway’s sake that she doesn’t only serve to be there as a name/eye candy.

Anyway, space beckons. In between yet more science chatter, (“It’s a paradox. Life couldn’t form without gravity. No stars. No planets. But too much of it and you’re trapped.”) Cooper meets the crew. There’s the crazy one, the science one, the considered one etc. You know the score here. There’s more than enough tension and conflict for people to bounce off each other and create drama on their space ship, the “Endurance”,

As Act two kicks in so does the necessary exposition. The team converge and everything is spelt out – “Slingshot”, “Event Horizon” “Lose time” etc. The science is fully addressed and explained. Potential problems are flagged. I picked up on a slight call back to an earlier conversation with Murph, as in “Murph’s Law” (“Sods law” to us cynical Brits!) – “Murph’s law means what can go wrong will go wrong” – This isn’t going to be a stroll in the park, and they know it, which explains Cooper’s period of reflection. After a couple of emotional videos from home, he stews over a whole host of existential philosophical musings. What does it mean to be human? Why do we feel the need to change, to grow, to learn? Are we all programmed to act this way or is there another option?

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It’s probably best that all the exposition and musings are outlined here, as when they actually reach the worm hole and deep space, the various scenarios and possibilities come thick and fast. This really will (fingers crossed) look absolutely outstanding on screen, especially post “Gravity” – It certainly sounds as much in the script! This is a sci-fi space epic, and I’m confident Nolan won’t disappoint here.

That said, it certainly doesn’t sound like we are seeing anything here that we haven’t already seen – One way or another – in a hundred different sci-fi films, cartoons, games. There’s a slight disconnect with the whole “We don’t know what we’ll find once we go through” part of the screenplay, then outlining a lot of the genre tropes and conventions we’ve come to expect. It’s potentially not a problem, as there’s enough mystery and drama to keep you gripped. But you will have seen this before! There will be inevitable comparisons with “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the like.

The midway point sees the crew exploring the brave new world they find themselves in. Without saying too much, things are obviously not what they would have expected! Again, there’s a call back to an earlier earth based scene, but the surprises and developments move the story beats along sweetly and quickly.

Differences are overcome. New developments challenge the existing order. Belligerent stubbornness gives way to pragmatic resourcefulness. There are allusions to religion and faith and the usual undercurrent of romance. The biggest “WTF” moment arrives when they are hastily exploring their new surroundings. You could probably hazard a guess as to what happens – remember you’ve seen this film before one way or another – but Nolan has to be bang on it here. Get this scene wrong and it’ll hysterically shake everyone out of the mood and moment. Get it right, and well, we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.

Anyway, the story soon flows back to “normal”. More exposition sets up the final act. Is all lost? Was their journey worth it after all? Before those questions get answered, a scene crops up that echoes the most famous one from Inception. What it’ll look like in the end isn’t clear yet, but is this Nolan paying homage to himself or is he bereft of ideas? Regardless, the scene serves a distinct narrative purpose, as suddenly our crew have some hope – “If the human race is going to survive, we need to keep moving. Split up. Spread out. Fly.”

Naturally there are more obstacles to overcome. In fact it’s one after another. If something can happen, it does, and then once more. It’s certainly dramatic and emotional. Speaking of emotions, there’s a scene late on that will undoubtedly pull at the old heart strings. The words on the page left me choked, so I hope the actors do this scene justice.

After all the action and tears, a moment of consideration and reflection again arises, quickly forgotten as one last hurdle cripples the crew, who finally must face up to everything they’ve been struggling to come to terms with throughout – Life, death, family, love, times past, future opportunities, science, religion – One last pause before the inevitable conclusion. Throughout all this, the drama masks the theoretical science and astro-physics at play. The main challenge Nolan has is getting the balance right between the two. You won’t need a master’s degree to understand what’s occurring, but a lot of people are going to have a lot of science related questions about the conclusion, unless the correct balance is struck.

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If I’m being honest, the ending – or rather the pre-amble just before the end – strikes me as a little forced. There’s a fair few deus-ex-machinas at play and a convenient lot of questions answered and solutions offered. Everything suddenly makes sense instantly, despite all the questions and debates the preceded this moment. It’s not terrible – It is sci-fi, where pretty much anything goes, after all (Sonic screwdriver?) – But this screenplay seems to go to too much trouble to rectify and bring the situation to a “Hollywood” ending. Of course that means yet more exposition explaining everything. The ending works, for sure, but is it a little contrived? Hard to say at this stage (without seeing the finished article) but it definitely feels that way.

It is a supremely well written screenplay, but there will surely have been major changes made to subsequent drafts (I’ve already flagged up a few clearly evident from the trailer!). But believe the hype, this is just as much the intelligent, clever, considered blockbuster that Inception ever was – Probably more so!

Inception was new and different. Few films had previously ever tried to be that bold, that convoluted, that smart before. Interstellar picks Inceptions baton up and runs with it, but how far exactly? It will make gazillions of money. It will tick all the necessary boxes with Nolan fans and cineastes. McConaughey and Hathaway will no doubt be tipped for Oscars.

But it feels to me that we’ve seen Interstellar before. This might go down as the best sci-fi film ever, but you kind of know what you are getting and what to expect. There could be the greatest CGI visuals yet to grace the screen, but is there enough meat on the stories bones to justify that luxury? Does it all make sense? Perhaps. Will it make you laugh/tense/cry? Perhaps. Is it Nolan’s best? Perhaps.

But who cares though, really. You all know you are going to this film anyway, and rightly so. Oh and I’ve got through this whole review without even mentioning the Robots….

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