Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Christopher Nolan's Interstellar (2014)

"As coincidence would have it, Interstellar was released on the same Friday as The Theory of Everything, the Stephen Hawking biopic. The renowned theoretical physicist has for years been a proponent of real-life, NASA-led interstellar travel. “It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species,” Hawking said in 2006. “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers we have not yet thought of.” And it just so happens that Kip Thorne and Hawking have been close friends for decades."
The premise for Interstellar was conceived by film producer Lynda Obst and theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who collaborated on the 1997 film Contact and had known each other since Carl Sagan once set them up on a blind date. Based on Thorne's work, the two conceived a scenario about "the most exotic events in the universe suddenly becoming accessible to humans," and attracted filmmaker Steven Spielberg's interest in directing. The film began development in June 2006 when Spielberg and Paramount Pictures announced plans for a science fiction film based on an eight-page treatment written by Obst and Thorne. Obst was attached to produce the film, which Variety said would "take several years to come together" before Spielberg directed it. By March 2007, Jonathan Nolan was hired to write a screenplay.

Steven Spielberg moved his production company DreamWorks in 2009 from Paramount to The Walt Disney Company, and Paramount needed a new director for Interstellar. Jonathan Nolan recommended his brother Christopher, who joined the project in 2012. Christopher Nolan met with Thorne, then attached as executive producer, to discuss the use of spacetime in the story. In January 2013, Paramount and Warner Bros. announced that Christopher Nolan was in negotiations to direct the film. Nolan said he wanted to encourage again the goal of human spaceflight. He intended to write a screenplay based on his own idea that he would merge with his brother's screenplay. By the following March, Nolan was confirmed to direct Interstellar, which would be produced under his label Syncopy and Lynda Obst Productions. To research for the film, Nolan visited NASA as well as the private space program SpaceX.

Though Paramount and Warner Bros. are traditionally rival studios, Warner Bros., who released Nolan's Batman films and works with Nolan's Syncopy, sought a stake in Nolan's production of Interstellar for Paramount. Warner Bros. agreed to give Paramount its rights to co-finance the next film in the Friday the 13th horror franchise and to have a stake in a future film based on the TV series South Park. Warner Bros. also agreed to let Paramount co-finance "a to-be-determined A-list Warner Bros. property". In August 2013, Legendary Pictures finalized an agreement with Warner Bros. to finance approximately 25 percent of the film's production. Although it failed to renew its eight-year production partnership with Warner Bros., Legendary reportedly agreed to forego financing for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in exchange for the stake in Interstellar.

Nolan filmed Interstellar with a combination of anamorphic 35 mm and IMAX 70 mm film photography. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema was hired for the film, as Wally Pfister, Nolan's cinematographer on all of his past films, was working on his directorial debut, Transcendence. To minimize the use of computer-generated imagery, the director had practical locations built, such as the interior of a space shuttle. Van Hoytema retooled an IMAX camera to be handheld for shooting interior scenes. Some of the film's sequences were shot with an IMAX camera installed in the nosecone of a Learjet.

Filming took place in the last quarter of 2013 on locations in Alberta, Canada; southern Iceland; and Los Angeles. Double Negative, which worked on Nolan's 2010 film Inception, created the visual effects. Visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin said the number of effects in the film was not much greater than in Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises or Inception, but that for Interstellar, they created the effects first, so digital projectors could be used to display them behind the actors, rather than having the actors perform in front of green screens.

Hollywood Reporter:
Among the practical challenges were transporting the 10,000-pound spaceships to Iceland; planting acres of corn through which the actors would drive at dizzying speeds; figuring out how to make them weightless in space (Nolan used a rig named "the parallelogram"); and deploying a biodegradable cellulose product known as C90 to create a huge dust field, much to the chagrin of the cast that constantly struggled to escape its particles. For inspiration, Nolan drew on everything from a Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl; to the architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; to astronaut Marsha Ivins, who visited the set; to the 1983 film The Right Stuff; to the music of his regular composer Hans Zimmer, whom he asked to draft part of the score before a single frame was shot — and before Zimmer even knew the title of the movie in question.

The result of all this work is an audacious, two-hour-and-47-minute drama that cost $165 million to make (Paramount, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures split the budget; Paramount will release the film in the U.S., Warners will handle international) and is expected to contend in the best picture Oscar race. Interstellar premiered on October 26, 2014, in Los Angeles and subsequently received wide release around the world. Notably, in North America, Interstellar was released in film stock to theaters still equipped to project the format before expanding to venues using digital projectors.

More information:
» USA Today's Interactive with the Endurance Spacecraft
» Wired: The Lost Chapter of Interstellar (Chris Nolan's Prequel Comic)
» Salon: "Interstellar Science: What the movie gets wrong and really wrong"

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