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Interstellar is a 2014 science fiction film directed, co-written, and co-produced by Christopher Nolan. It stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, and Michael Caine. Set in a dystopian future where humanity is struggling to survive, the film follows a group of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity.

Brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan wrote the screenplay, which had its origins in a script Jonathan developed in 2007. Christopher produced Interstellar with his wife, Emma Thomas, through their production company Syncopy, and with Lynda Obst through Lynda Obst Productions. Caltech theoretical physicist Kip Thorne was an executive producer, acted as scientific consultant, and wrote a tie-in book, The Science of Interstellar. Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and Legendary Pictures co-financed the film. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot it on 35 mm in anamorphic format and IMAX 70 mm. Principal photography began in late 2013 and took place in Alberta (Canada), Iceland and Los Angeles. Interstellar uses extensive practical and miniature effects and the company Double Negative created additional digital effects.

Interstellar premiered on October 26, 2014, in Los Angeles, California. In the United States, it was first released on film stock, expanding to venues using digital projectors. The film had a worldwide gross of over $677 million, making it the tenth-highest-grossing film of 2014. Interstellar received critical praise for its themes, visual effects, musical score, and acting. At the 87th Academy Awards, the film won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Production Design.

Plot

In the mid-21st century, crop blights and dust storms threaten humanity's survival. Joseph Cooper, a widowed engineer and former NASA pilot, runs a farm with his father-in-law Donald, son Tom, and daughter Murph. Living in a post-truth society, Cooper is reprimanded for telling Murph that the Apollo missions did occur; he encourages her to carefully observe and record what she sees. They discover that strange dust patterns, which Murph first attributes to a ghost, result from gravity variations and translate into geographic coordinates. These lead them to a secret NASA facility headed by Cooper's former supervisor, Professor John Brand, who explains that 48 years earlier a wormhole appeared near Saturn, opening a path to a distant galaxy with twelve potentially habitable planets located near a black hole named "Gargantua". Twelve volunteers had previously traveled through the wormhole to evaluate the planets, and astronauts Miller, Edmunds, and Mann reported positive results. Professor Brand explains he has conceived two plans to ensure humanity's survival. Plan A involves developing a gravitational propulsion theory to propel a mass exodus on massive space habitats, while Plan B is a conventional launch of the Endurance spacecraft with 5,000 frozen human embryos to colonize a habitable planet. Cooper is recruited to pilot the Endurance. When Murph refuses to see him off, he leaves her his wristwatch to compare their relative time when he returns.

The crew consists of Cooper, the robots TARS and CASE, and the scientists Dr. Amelia Brand (Professor Brand's daughter), Dr. Romilly, and Dr. Doyle. After traversing the wormhole, Romilly studies the singularity while Cooper, Doyle and Amelia descend in one of four landing crafts to investigate Miller's planet, an ocean world with 130% of Earth's gravity. After landing in knee-high water and finding only wreckage from Miller's expedition, a gigantic tidal wave kills Doyle and delays departure. Due to the proximity to the black hole, time is severely dilated; seven years pass by for each hour spent on the planet. As a result, 23 years have elapsed for Romilly on Endurance by the time they return.

Edmunds' planet has slightly better telemetry, but Mann is still broadcasting from his, so Cooper rules they use their remaining fuel to reach Mann's planet. En route, they receive messages from Earth; Murph, now a scientist, has learned from Professor Brand on his deathbed that Plan B was his only real plan, since Plan A required unattainable gravitational singularity data from within a black hole.

On Mann's planet, the Endurance crew revive Mann from cryostasis. He assures them colonization is possible, despite an extreme environment. On an excursion, Mann attempts to kill Cooper and reveals that he broadcast falsified data in the hope of being rescued. He steals a lander and heads for the Endurance. While a booby trap set by Mann kills Romilly, Amelia rescues Cooper with a second lander and they race to the Endurance. Mann is killed in a failed manual docking operation, severely damaging the Endurance. After a difficult docking maneuver, Cooper regains control of Endurance. With insufficient fuel, they head for Edmunds' planet, with the embryos, using a slingshot maneuver so close to Gargantua that time dilation adds another 51 years. In the process, to save weight, Cooper jettisons himself and TARS in two landers to ensure Endurance can reach Edmunds' planet. Slipping through the event horizon of Gargantua, they eject from their respective landers and find themselves in a tesseract, possibly constructed by humans of the far future. Across time, Cooper can see through the bookcases of Murph's old room on Earth and weakly interact with its gravity. Realizing that he is now Murph's "ghost", he manipulates the second hand of the wristwatch he gave her, transmitting the quantum data that TARS collected from inside the event horizon via Morse code.

The tesseract, its purpose completed, collapses and ejects Cooper and TARS. Cooper awakes on a space habitat orbiting Saturn. He reunites with his daughter, now an old woman nearing death. Using the quantum data, she was able to develop the gravitational propulsion theory, enabling humanity's exodus and transformation into an advanced spacefaring civilization. She reminds Cooper that Amelia is out there alone. Cooper and TARS take a spacecraft to rejoin Amelia and CASE, who are setting up a human colony on Edmunds' habitable planet.

Cast

  • Matthew McConaughey as Cooper
  • Anne Hathaway as Brand
  • Jessica Chastain as Murph
    • Mackenzie Foy as Murph (10 Yrs.)
      • Ellen Burstyn as Murph (older)
  • Matt Damon as Mann
  • John Lithgow as Donald
  • Michael Caine as Professor Brand
  • Casey Affleck as Tom
    • Timothée Chalamet as Tom (15 Yrs.)
  • Wes Bentley as Doyle
  • Bill Irwin as TARS (voice and puppetry) and CASE (puppetry)
  • Josh Stewart as CASE (voice)
  • Topher Grace as Getty
  • David Gyasi as Romilly
  • Leah Cairns as Lois
  • David Oyelowo as School Principal
  • Collette Wolfe as Ms. Hanley
  • William Devane as Williams
  • Elyes Gabel as Administrator

Production

Crew

  • Christopher Nolan – Director, producer, writer
  • Jonathan Nolan – Writer
  • Emma Thomas – Producer
  • Lynda Obst – Producer
  • Hoyte van Hoytema – Cinematographer
  • Nathan Crowley – Production designer
  • Mary Zophres – Costume designer
  • Lee Smith – Editor
  • Hans Zimmer – Music composer
  • Paul Franklin – Visual effects supervisor
  • Kip Thorne – Consultant, executive producer

Development and financing

The premise for Interstellar was conceived by producer Lynda Obst and theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who collaborated on the film Contact (1997), and had known each other since Carl Sagan set them up on a blind date. The two conceived of a scenario, based on Thorne's work, 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. By March 2007, Jonathan Nolan was hired to write a screenplay.

After Spielberg moved his production studio DreamWorks from Paramount to Walt Disney Studios in 2009, 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 Interstellar. Nolan said he wanted to encourage the goal of human spaceflight, and intended to merge his brother's screenplay with his own. By the following March, Nolan was confirmed to direct Interstellar, which would be produced under his label Syncopy and Lynda Obst Productions. The Hollywood Reporter said Nolan would earn a salary of $20 million against 20% of the total gross. To research for the film, Nolan visited NASA and the private space program at SpaceX.

Warner Bros. sought a stake in Nolan's production of Interstellar from Paramount, despite their traditional rivalry, and agreed to give Paramount its rights to co-finance the next film in the Friday the 13th horror franchise, with 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 Warners (sic) property." In August 2013, Legendary Pictures finalized an agreement with Warner Bros. to finance approximately 25% of the film's production. Although it failed to renew its eight-year production partnership with Warner Bros., Legendary reportedly agreed to forego financing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) in exchange for the stake in Interstellar.

Writing and casting

Screenwriter Jonathan Nolan worked on the script for four years. To learn the scientific aspects, he studied relativity at the California Institute of Technology. Jonathan was pessimistic about the Space Shuttle program ending and how NASA lacked financing for a manned mission to Mars, drawing inspiration from science fiction films with apocalyptic themes, such as WALL-E (2008) and Avatar (2009). Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly commented: "He set the story in a dystopian future ravaged by blight but populated with hardy folk who refuse to bow to despair." His brother Christopher had worked on other science fiction scripts, but decided to take the Interstellar script and choose among the vast array of ideas presented by Jonathan and Thorne, picking what he felt, as director, he could get "across to the audience and hopefully not lose them," before he merged it with a script he had worked on for years on his own. Christopher kept in place Jonathan's conception of the first hour, which is set on a resource depleted Earth in the near future. The setting was inspired by the Dust Bowl that took place in the United States during the Great Depression in the 1930s. He revised the rest of the script, where a team travels into space, instead. After watching the 2012 documentary The Dust Bowl for inspiration, Christopher contacted director Ken Burns and producer Dayton Duncan, requesting permission to use some of their featured interviews in Interstellar, which was granted.

Christopher Nolan wanted an actor who could bring to life his vision of the main character as an everyman with whom "the audience could experience the story." He became interested in casting Matthew McConaughey after watching him in an early cut of the 2012 film Mud, which he had seen as a friend of one of its producers, Aaron Ryder. Nolan went to visit McConaughey while he was filming for the TV series True Detective. Anne Hathaway was invited to Nolan's home, where she read the script for Interstellar. In early 2013, both actors were cast in the starring roles. Jessica Chastain was contacted while she was working on Miss Julie (2014) in Northern Ireland, and a script was delivered to her. Matt Damon was cast in late August 2013 in a supporting role and completed filming his scenes in Iceland.

Principal photography

Nolan filmed Interstellar on 35 mm in anamorphic format and IMAX 70 mm photography. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema was hired for Interstellar, as Wally Pfister, Nolan's cinematographer on all of his past films, was making his directorial debut working on Transcendence (2014). More IMAX cameras were used for Interstellar than for any of Nolan's previous films. To minimize the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), the director had practical locations built, such as the interior of a space shuttle. Van Hoytema retooled an IMAX camera to be hand held for shooting interior scenes. Some of the film's sequences were shot with an IMAX camera installed in the nosecone of a Learjet.

Nolan, who is known for keeping details of his productions secret, strove to ensure secrecy for Interstellar. Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Ben Fritz stated, "The famously secretive filmmaker has gone to extreme lengths to guard the script to ... Interstellar, just as he did with the blockbuster Dark Knight trilogy." As one security measure, Interstellar was filmed under the name Flora's Letter, Flora being one of Nolan's four children with producer Emma Thomas.

The film's principal photography was scheduled to last four months. It began on August 6, 2013, in the province of Alberta, Canada. Towns in Alberta where shooting took place included Nanton, Longview, Lethbridge, Fort Macleod, and Okotoks. In Okotoks, filming took place at the Seaman Stadium and the Olde Town Plaza. For a cornfield scene, production designer Nathan Crowley planted 500 acres (200 hectares) of corn that would be destroyed in an apocalyptic dust storm scene, intended to be similar to storms experienced during the Dust Bowl in 1930s America. Additional scenes involving the dust storm and McConaughey's character were also shot in Fort Macleod, where the giant dust clouds were created on location using large fans to blow cellulose-based synthetic dust through the air. Filming in the province lasted until September 9, 2013, and involved hundreds of extras in addition to 130 crew members, most of whom were local. Shooting also took place in Iceland, where Nolan had previously filmed scenes for Batman Begins (2005). The location was chosen to represent two extraterrestrial planets: one covered in ice, and the other in water. The crew transported mock spaceships weighing about 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) to the country. They spent two weeks shooting there, during which a crew of approximately 350 people, including 130 locals, worked on the film. Locations included the Svínafellsjökull glacier and the town of Klaustur. While filming a water scene in Iceland, Hathaway almost suffered hypothermia because the dry suit she was wearing had not been properly secured.

After the schedule in Iceland was completed, the crew moved to Los Angeles to shoot for 54 days. Filming locations included the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites, the Los Angeles Convention Center, a Sony Pictures soundstage in Culver City, and a private residence in Altadena, California. Principal photography concluded in December 2013. Production had a budget of $165 million, $10 million less than was allotted by Paramount, Warner Bros., and Legendary Pictures.

Production design

Interstellar features three spacecraft — the Ranger, the Endurance, and the Lander. The Ranger's function is similar to the Space Shuttle's, being able to enter and exit planetary atmospheres. The Endurance, the crew's mother ship, has a circular structure formed by 12 capsules — four with planetary colonization equipment, four with engines, and four with the permanent functions of cockpit, medical labs, and habitation. Production designer Nathan Crowley said the Endurance was based on the International Space Station: "It's a real mish-mash of different kinds of technology. You need analogue stuff as well as digital stuff, you need back-up systems and tangible switches. It's really like a submarine in space. Every inch of space is used, everything has a purpose." Lastly, the Lander transports the capsules with colonization equipment to planetary surfaces. Crowley compared it to "a heavy Russian helicopter."

The film also features two robots, CASE and TARS, as well as a dismantled third robot, KIPP. Nolan wanted to avoid making the robots anthropomorphic and chose a 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) quadrilateral design. The director said: "It has a very complicated design philosophy. It's based on mathematics. You've got four main blocks and they can be joined in three ways. So you have three combinations you follow. But then within that, it subdivides into a further three joints. And all the places we see lines — those can subdivide further. So you can unfold a finger, essentially, but it's all proportional." Actor Bill Irwin voiced and physically controlled both robots, but his image was digitally removed from the film, and actor Josh Stewart's voice replaced his voicing for CASE. The human space habitats resemble O'Neill cylinders, a theoretical space colony model proposed by physicist Gerard K. O'Neill in 1976.

Sound design and music

Gregg Landaker and Gary Rizzo were the film's audio engineers tasked with audio mixing, while sound editor Richard King supervised the process. Christopher Nolan sought to mix the sound to take maximum advantage of theater equipment and paid close attention to designing the sound mix, like focusing on the sound of buttons being pressed with astronaut suit gloves. The studio's website stated that the film was "mixed to maximize the power of the low-end frequencies in the main channels, as well as in the subwoofer channel." Nolan deliberately intended some dialogue to seem drowned out by ambient noise or music, causing some theaters to post notices emphasizing that this effect was intentional and not a fault in their equipment.

Composer Hans Zimmer, who scored Nolan's Batman film trilogy and Inception (2010), returned to score Interstellar. Nolan chose not to provide Zimmer with a script or any plot details for writing the film's music, but instead gave the composer a single page that told the story of a father leaving his child for work. It was through this connection that Zimmer created the early stages of the Interstellar soundtrack. Zimmer and Nolan later decided that a 1926 four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ would be the primary instrument for the score. Zimmer conducted 45 scoring sessions for Interstellar, three times more than for Inception. The soundtrack was released on November 18, 2014.

Visual effects

The visual effects company Double Negative, which worked on Inception, was brought back for Interstellar. According to visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin, the number of effects in the film was not much greater than in Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises (2012) or Inception. However, for Interstellar they created the effects first, allowing digital projectors to display them behind the actors, rather than having the actors perform in front of green screens. Ultimately the film contained 850 visual effect shots at a resolution of 5600 × 4000 lines: 150 shots that were created in-camera using digital projectors, and another 700 were created in post-production. Of those, 620 were presented in IMAX, while the rest were anamorphic.

The Ranger, Endurance, and Lander spacecraft were created using miniature effects by Nathan Crowley in collaboration with effects company New Deal Studios, as opposed to using computer generated imagery, as Nolan felt they offered the best way to give the ships a tangible presence in space. 3D printed and hand sculpted, the scale models earned the nickname "maxatures" by the crew due to their immense size; the 1/15th scale miniature of the Endurance module spanned over 7.6 m (25 ft), while a pyrotechnic model of part of the craft was built at 1/5th scale. The Ranger and Lander miniatures spanned 14 m (46 ft) and over 15 m (49 ft), respectively, and were large enough for van Hoytema to mount IMAX cameras directly onto the spacecraft, thus mimicking the look of NASA IMAX documentaries. The models were then attached to a six-axis gimbal on a motion control system that allowed an operator to manipulate their movements, which were filmed against background plates of space using VistaVision cameras on a smaller motion control rig. New Deal Studio's miniatures were used in 150 special effects shots.

Influences

Scientific accuracy

Wormholes and black holes

Marketing

Release

Theatrical run

Home media

Reception

Box office

Critical response

Accolades

Gallery

Posters

Trivia

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