Interstellar: a new direction for Christopher Nolan?

Feature Ryan Lambie 20 May 2014 - 05:42

We take a closer look at the trailer for Interstellar, and wonder whether it might mark a stylistic shift for director Christopher Nolan...

We've become so used to trailers for expensive mainstream films to be accompanied by big honking horns and eye-popping special effects, the first full promo for Interstellar almost came as a shock. While we weren't expecting Christopher Nolan to bring anything as bombastic as, say, Inception (whose trailers helped make honking horns fashionable), the trailer for Interstellar is decidedly coy, even by the director's standards.

The online reaction to Interstellar's first full trailer has been somewhat mixed. While most responded warmly to its low-key approach, others were left either dissatisfied or even slightly irked by its lack of detail; of the trailer's two-minutes-and-change duration, only around 30 seconds of it contains anything in the way of space exploration and astronauts.

A closer look at the trailer, however, does reveal a fair amount about Interstellar and what its story might have in store - and it hints at what could be a very different film from Christopher Nolan.

A dustbowl future

As was widely reported last year, Interstellar takes place in a future benighted by ecological disaster: crops are failing, and the planet faces the gloomy prospect of imminent starvation. We'd heard in news stories - including this one over at the Fort Macleod Gazette - that Interstellar's partly about finding other planets on which to grow food, and this certainly appears to be borne out by the trailer.

What really struck us, though, is the way Interstellar's dark future is presented. Its imagery is clearly informed by the real-world ecological catastrophe which swept America's southern states in the 1930s. The Great Plains were swept by a terrible drought, which in turn led to crop failures, dust storms and the displacement of some 500,000 people.

The crisis formed the basis of John Steinbeck's novels, Of Mice And Men and The Grapes Of Wrath - the latter adapted in classic fashion by director John Ford in 1940. There are numerous shots in the Interstellar trailer that look remarkably like those in The Grapes Of Wrath, from its setting (possibly Oklahoma or Texas) to the composition of its intimate shots of families crammed into dusty trucks. 

Where the dust storms of the 1930s forced thousands of people to abandon their land and seek food and work elsewhere, the protagonists in Interstellar will have to head far further afield.

Our guide through the dust is Matthew McConaughey's Cooper, a loving father to two kids who, despite his initial reluctance, is coaxed into blasting off on an interstellar mission to find life and hope beyond our own solar system. "We're not meant to save the world," an unusually posh-sounding Michael Caine tells us. "We're meant to leave it."

A space odyssey

The trailer shows us relatively little of Interstellar's space travel, but this, we're assuming, is an attempt to save the film's biggest visual treats for a later promo or, better yet, its big-screen release in November. What we do see, however, points to a cerebral space adventure akin to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Robert Zemeckis' Contact or Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff.

Although Nolan has dabbled in science fiction before, this is his first film to rope in astronauts, ships and wormholes in space - and the handful of effects shots in Interstellar look pleasingly utilitarian. Unlike the exotic and faintly kitsch space suits of Prometheus, those in Interstellar look chunky and uncomfortable. What we're guessing are hypersleep chambers look grubby, chipped and simplistic - like something cobbled together by scientists in a massive hurry.

As Cooper and his crew - which also includes Anne Hathaway and a few other, as-yet unidentified members - head past Saturn, the trailer cuts back to Earth.

The shot above sees Jessica Chastain take up the role of Cooper's daughter Murphy, now much older,  and apparently in the midst of a worsening environmental disaster. In the space of a second or two, the trailer establishes that Interstellar's plot will take place over several decades, as Cooper journeys into parts unknown.

The Spielberg connection

Anyone who's followed the history of Interstellar will likely know that it initially began life as a Steven Spielberg project. With a premise created by physicist Kip Thorne and Lynda Obst, Interstellar first started to come together at Paramount in 2006, with Jonathan Nolan in charge of writing the screenplay. When Spielberg dropped out of the production, Christopher Nolan stepped in as director.

While it's said that Christopher Nolan has rewritten his brother's script to make way for his own ideas, the trailer appears to suggest that Interstellar still has the ambience of a Steven Spielberg film. There's a familial strain between Cooper and his daughter Murphy - something Spielberg often includes in his stories. But Interstellar also contains a tone of hope and wonder rather than existential crisis and despair - a Spielbergian signature so evident in such movies as Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

Nolan said in a CinemaCon Q&A last year that he wanted to make something universal with Interstellar - his own take on a "golden age" blockbuster:

"I grew up in an era that was a golden age of the blockbuster, when something we might call a family film could have universal appeal. That's something I want to see again. In terms of the tone of the film, it looks at where we are as a people and has a universality about human experience."

That Nolan should attempt to make a family film is in itself a fairly radical departure for the director. His films have varied from taut thrillers (Memento, Insomnia) to superhero fantasies (the Dark Knight trilogy). But the common link between them is a protagonist wracked by guilt or past experience: the avenging protagonist of Memento, so damaged that he can no longer form new memories, the guilt-ridden dream-invader of Inception, whose own dreams are haunted by spectre of his wife, or pop culture's ultimate tortured hero, Bruce Wayne.

Interstellar's Cooper clearly has a troubled past of his own, but the tone of the trailer points to a character bravely finding a way to create a future for his children (and by extension, the human race) rather than journeying into the darker reaches of his own psyche.

In terms of subject matter (a marriage of drama and hard SF), influence and tone, Interstellar looks like something of an anomaly, both in terms of the director's body of work and Hollywood's recent output. With Interstellar, it looks as though Christopher Nolan is boldly going in a stylistically different direction - and that in itself is something well worth getting excited about.

Interstellar is out in UK cinemas on the 7th November.

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That's what I hate about intersteller travel, I stay the same age and the girls get older.

Nolan lost me with Inception, which was the most boring movie I've endured for years. Never again. Good luck with it.

Wait, where exactly is Joseph Gordon Levitt now? I understand that Christopher Nolan is doing only movies with the same actors...

But in most of the shots his farm appears to be surrounded with lush green crops as far as the eye can see. Is the idea that he gets picked for the mission because he's some sort of super-farmer who can grow them better than anyone else?

Dear Editor

Third paragraph above, I think you mean Interstellar's trailer, not Inceptions?


Pernickety fingers

Blimey. I've heard Inception called many things, but never boring. Still, to rule out a critically acclaimed director (including The Dark Knight Rises, released after Inception) because you disliked one of his films is most certainly your loss. I'm not saying that sarcastically; it genuinely is a shame that you may miss out on a fantastic body of work.

I can tell you know, there is no way someone comes to a website called Denofgeek and doesn't watch a Nolan film based on them not liking ONE of his films.

I don't care if they say they will not watch another Nolan film, I guarantee they will watch.

I'm afraid that whilst I have enjoyed several of Nolan's previous films, I was very uninspired by the trailer for this one. Of course my issues may turn out to be unfounded but from the trailer alone I wasn't immediately intrigued or invested by the central family and the scenario seemed oddly implausible in the details provided (why would any world short of resources not place great importance on engineers, for example). Perhaps more interesting aspects will emerge but I am un-gripped for the moment.

I like his Dark Knight movies, but Inception was one of those extreme experiences where it was SO dull that I actually want that time of my life refunded. It bored me unhealthy. It literally traumatised me to the point where I won't risk another Nolan movie that doesn't have Batman in it. Yep my loss but Inception was THAT bad to make me this way.

I actually agree that Inception was not one of his 'best' films.

But the more I watch it, the more I like it. It's one of those films where the more you watch it, the more you get from it.

I actually remember being in the cinema with the opening dream scene, and wanting to walk out. I actually hated it at first. I thought it was silly.

But on second viewing, I liked it a bit more, then on 3rd viewing, a bit more, now I have it on Blu-Ray!

I really, really enjoyed this trailer, and I loved the fact that it introduced the premise, not the plot. There is a major difference between the two and so many trailer directors forget that they can intrigue without giving away all the details.

Anyway, if it's Nolan going big and using the reported wormholes as a plot mechanism, I can't wait. For all his trouble with romance, he loves to built complex, labyrinthine plots and so this might be perfect for him!

Inception was boring!! Blooming hell that's possibly the first time i've ever heard anyone say that.

One of his best films is called "Prestige" which I would advise to see. Also check out Memento, both genre defining movies, and definately not boring (in my opinion anyway)

it should read: "The reaction to INTERSTELLAR'S first full trailer" you put inception :)

Agreed The Prestige is one his best and my personal favorite. It is one of the few examples where a movie is actually better than the book.

I too have been unmoved about this trailer but Nolan plays things close to the chest so I don't think he's revealed all that much. I have faith in his and his brothers story telling abilities. I don't think it seems like that big of a departure though. Nolan's films, while sometimes R rated, are never overly violent or sexualized, they simply deal with some more adult themes that require a slightly darker touch (i.e gun play, tension, etc) If he were to do a story where those aspects were not necessary I could see him doing a "family friendly" with out compromising realism or depth.

I honestly think Interstellar will bomb. I think it won't be the Nolan we know, and the film won't be very good at all

Alright,Alright,Alright you win the internet man!

If he was bored by Inception then he will hate The Prestige. I love both movies, but his comments about Inception make me believe that he cannot appreciate anything that is not called Transformers.

Even if the film is rubbish, it will not bomb.

I can guarantee this will be his highest grossing opening weekend film to date when it's released.

For me, it looks like it owes a lot to Sunshine, which i loved. So I cannot wait to see this.

Anything set in space is fine by me, and when Nolan directs a film set in space... well, you had me at 'Interst...'

I meant bomb critically, if not financially. It'll probably do very well at the box office even if it sucks

it seems a little quaint to find the 1930s american dustbowl as a real world reference. For years now, there have been food riots around the globe, mass suicides of farmers in India, failing yields from soils destroyed by endless petrochemical inputs, spreading desertification, the rapid warming of the biosphere, insect plagues ravaging flora, grave threats to food security like bee population collapse, fisheries collapsing one after another--the list goes on.

Science Fiction taking place in a future is often an extrapolation from the contemporary world, but it is just as often a lens for looking directly at the contemporary world. The best analog I can think of for the future presented in the trailer is the world today. Except we likely won't have wormholes and other planets; which leaves me with just a bit of a sour taste that films like this are a wishful thinking fantasy. Rather than being science fiction that stimulates thought about issues, instead lulls people into the false comfort of possibly the most dangerous myth in modern culture, that "technology will save us". I'm not suggesting there is no hope either, just that it is dangerous to believe the convenient idea that we dont have to question our values or change our behaviours and civilizations because brainy people in labs will come up with handwavium and supersaver widgets.

that was pretty great

And your basing this on a 3 minute trailer that tells us nothing about the scope of the film.

Never read the book. Might look it up now you've said that.

Lol I would rip my hair out if i was subjected to Transformers the movie again. Destroyed any fondness i had for Transformers has a kid.

This is my opinion, and that's what I think. People were raving about the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' trailer yesterday (including myself), saying how good it looks and how good the film will be. If you can say a film looks good from a trailer, why can't you say it looks bad?

Ok. But would you base a book on the blurb at the back?? Each to their own I suppose, but personally I am going to watch it before making my mind up.

I loved his early films but disliked each batman movie more than the previous and I hated inception. But I'm not ready to give up on Nolan or miss a potentially great sci-fi film. I am wary and "lowered expectations" though.

I do kind of wish Nolan could escape big tent-pole pictures and get back to a scale that he truly shone in.

I wish his career would have continued along its early trajectory.

Definitely his best film. His Dark Knight films got progressively worse (and yes, TDK is *very* flawed). I kind of feel that as his budgets have gotten bigger, the films have become bloated, messy and made to seem a lot smarter than they are.

Did anyone else think that Michael Caine trying to put (successfully) McConaughey into Space suit & all that what's shown in trailer is the stuff of ONE DAY.... As he's wearing the same Jacket in his car(?) & in Space ship office as well & then her daughter wearing same jacket later on!

& is that all we are gona get from McConaughey's earth scenes; 10-15 mins into film he's in space?

Umm, science and technology is THE only thing that can save us. Compare and contrast what science has given us in the last 200 years, let alone 3000 years. Farming/agricultural science and technology has improved so much over the last 100 years it's not even funny. There is a reason why we can have 8 billion people on this planet today, and it has nothing to do with anything else besides the progress of science.

The thing that is possibly going to kill us is not our science, but disregarding it and pouring more carbon into the atmosphere in exchange for short term growth and profit at the expense of future stability. Population control is a must, that is common sense. But politics and religion and antiquated culture will be the reason why we will have problems, not science. Science is the greatest tool we have ever built, but it's politics and religion that will be the cause of our problems, not the tool, but the bearer of that tool.


McConaughey's character's line from that movie will always be one of my favorites.

Why do People keep saying Jessica Chastain is Older Murph? It shows David Gyasi Behind Ann Hathaway and then shows him being Dunked in Water on Spaceship Followed by Jessica Chastain so how is she Murph?

Nolan hasn't made a film I haven't enjoyed, my only criticism is that they all seem to take themselves VERY seriously. Even his a Batman films are bit morose for a film about a man who beats people up dressed as a bat.

I probably wouldn't decide whether I thought it was going to be good on the blurb, no, because we don't get a trailer with a book. We get a synopsis yes, but we get that with a film. I liked the synopsis for Interstellar, but the trailer doesn't do anything for me

that last 200 years of magic technology had mostly to do with access to unimaginable quantities of energy--energy that is quickly running short and is irreplaceable. Also using that energy is in large part why the premise of the movie is plausable. we used up or wrecked most water supplies, we poisoned and changed the atmospheric composition of the planet. we turned all the very best agricultural soil into sand. I stand by the fact that technology is the problem, or more to the point the way it has allowed us to be childish, gluttonous and overshoot our carrying capacity.

I studied energy technology and environment in school and I can safely say we don't have the foggiest notion of how to save ourselves technologically. What we have right now is an entire world in a panic gearing up to fight over dwindling resources and politically, the beginnings of a return to feudal serfdom.

I would love wormhole transit to new edens, or cold fusion, but there's no data to suggest it's going to happen. Cities can no longer maintain their infrastructure let alone repair a broken biosphere or shunt us off like technorefugees to neverneverland.

it's pure foolishness and the persistant and convenient(for shirking responsibility) belief that technology will save us saps any political will from the people or governments to make the big hard decisions. I sadly believe things will be uglier than they had to be because we sat idly by doing nothing like children and waiting for an engineer to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

She appears to be wearing Cooper's jacket which implies that she is and a older Murph; plus we also see a clip of Casey Affleck whom one might infer is playing her brother (I forget the character's name).

It reminded me, in tone, of Contact. And that can't be a bad thing.

Saw the trailer last night at the cinema ahead of a screening of Godzilla. This is probably the first time since The Prestige that I wasn't that bothered about seeing a Nolan film.

Not interested? Where is your soul? It is interstellar travels and hard science fiction we are talking about here.

I, for one, am just thankful that a few people in Hollywood still aren't afraid to tell an original story. I'm sick of films based on existing properties that just keep milking the original premise for all it's worth. Sequels, prequels, sidequels....enough already! Even if this turns out to be not such a great film, I still applaud Christopher Nolan for trying to do something original. These are the kind of films I want to support with my hard earned dollars.

There are two types of people; those who require a trailer to see a movie and those who don't. Not that I mind a trailer, on the contrary, but this is one of the movies I would see even without it.

I think you are confusing opinion with guessing.

My opinion is that it will do badly, which is also a guess. If you think it will do well, then that's also a guess and an opinion

Aren't most people in category three: those who sometimes require a trailer and sometimes don't?

I too studied environmental sciences and your right, the problem is we don't even make use of what we have; hydroelectric and tidal power is so underutilised in the UK it's laughable when the powers that be grant construction rights to far inferior and more ecologically disruptive wind turbines.

Even solar on a poor day on average delivers more power than wind and has the benefit of a lack of moving parts which massively improves reliability.
It makes me sick when I see all these opportunities squandered by greedy, uninformed and vain politicians.

Yeah! =]

Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.
In the future, Earth has been devastated by war and famine caused by a plague that targets livestock, leaving only crops. Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a farmer who lives in Texas with his children, Tom and Murph, and his father-in-law, Donald, following the death of his wife. A skilled engineer, Cooper salvages spare parts of a old military drones to use on his plantation.One day, he finds a probe that crash-lands nearby and, while trying to dismantle it, he accidentally activates a failsafe, forcing him and Murph to return the probe to a particular location near Los Angeles. There, Cooper finds an underground bunker guarded by a Marine robot, Tars, and is confronted by biologist Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and her father, astrophysicist John Brand, who claims they're the remains of NASA.John reveals that, before the war, his mentor, Ansen, found a ripple in the space-time continuum caused by the collision of a Neutron star with a black hole, on the other side of the galaxy. The only way the ripple could reach Earth is through a stable wormhole, which Ansen believed was created by aliens to help the human race. Several probes were sent through the wormhole to map out the other side, and the one that Cooper has found is the only one that returned.John decodes the probe and finds a map of an ice-covered planet that could sustain human life, in addition to what appears to be white noise. There is a plan to launch a spaceship through the wormhole to create a human colony on the ice planet and transport as many humans as they can to the colony before the plague begins affecting the crops, leading to the extinction of the human race. Mission commander Case, another Marine robot, invites Cooper to join the crew, replacing John, who is too old to go. Cooper reluctantly agrees and leaves Tom and Murph with Donald, promising to return.Cooper, Brand, Tars and Case board a spaceship, the Endurance, alongside two other scientists, Doyle and Roth, and go through the wormhole, in which they experience strange gravity distortions. On the other side of the galaxy, they find the ice planet, which is located between two black holes, Pantagruel and Gargantua. The Endurance uses Pantagruel to slingshot them into the ice planet, but the gravitational pull is too strong. Tars sacrifices himself to steer them in the right direction and is consumed by Gargantua. The Endurance loses contact with Earth, and Brand reveals that, due to time dilatation, five years have already passed on Earth.The Endurance lands and the crew begins drilling through the planet's ice cap. Cooper finds a Chinese base set up years before, and learns that the human crew was killed by a radiation surge from the Neutron Star. The crew manages to break through the ice before the next surge and reaches the ecosystem underneath the ice cap. While Case, Roth and Doyle set up camp, Cooper and Brand explore the planet and acquire samples of its fractual lifeforms.The following day, the crew finds the human colony created by the Chinese robots, and Roth retrieves a box that allows them to manipulate the planet's gravity. Case finds out that there is a third black hole between Pantagruel and Gargantua, and, every couple of years, it pushes the planet out of its orbit, causing it to be destroyed and then reassembled. The crew deduces that the robots created the box, though it appears impossible they have created it so fast, and decide to take the box back to Earth, where it can be used to save the planet.On their way out, they are confronted by the Chinese robots, led by Liu, who refuse to allow them to leave in fear they might find "it". Case stays behind to fight them off while the crew attempts to reach the Endurance above the ice cap. However, it has been destroyed by the robots. The crew then decides to leave in a escape shuttle found in the colony. Roth stays behind to use the gravity box to propel the shuttle out of the planet, and Cooper copies its schematics into one of the probes, which the Chinese had abducted, so they can build another box on Earth. Before Roth activates the box, Case returns and reunites with the crew.After Roth's death, the crew is betrayed by Case, who is actually Liu in disguise. The shuttle is sabotaged and begins being pulled into Pantagruel. The ice planet and the stable wormhole are destroyed, and hundreds of years pass as they near the Event Horizon. Cooper, however, manages to retrieve the coordinates of the place Liu didn't want them to find, which is located inside Gargantua. They head there and find a second stable wormhole, which they enter. It leads them to the space between Universes, where time stands still.Cooper, Brand and Doyle spend weeks stranded there, aware that the human race has already been destroyed. Cooper and Brand fall in love. The gravity disruptions returns, and Cooper realizes they are extraterrestrial lifeforms attempting to communicate with them. The beings have created the wormholes and lead them to a base the Chinese robots have built inside the nowhere, where they spent years developing new technologies to save the planet, leading to the gravity box. Tars is there, waiting for them.Brand and Tars decide to take one of the spaceships and go through another wormhole to explore the unknown, while Cooper and Doyle decide to attempt to travel back in time through another wormhole to before their departure. Brand gives Cooper the sample of the fractal lifeform and he promises to find her.Cooper then realizes that the probe with the box's schematics is the probe he found in Texas, and realizes that, if they go through with their plan, they'll die. Doyle ignores him, tries anyway, and is killed. The probe reaches Earth, creating a time loop.On Earth, the crew of the Endurance is assumed dead, and the program is shut down after John's death. Several years later, an adult Murph, who has become an engineer like his father, returns to the base to search for spare parts and finds the forgotten probe. He decodes it and finds the box's schematics, and spends the rest of his life trying to build a functional prototype.After centuries, Cooper returns to Earth, now a barren, deserted wasteland plagued by hailstorms. He releases the fractal lifeform into the wild and awaits for dead when a spaceship descends from the sky. Cooper awakens in a massive space station near Earth, and learns that Murph managed to build the gravity box and save Earth. Cooper then reunites with an elderly Murph, who is on his deathbed, as well as Murph's children and grandchildren.Cooper requests a spaceship to search for Brand, for is denied. He then becomes a janitor, accompanied by a robot he models after Tars. He learns that an ice cap has formed over Earth, and the fractal lifeforms have spread through the entire planet, and realizes John was right about there being a "plan". One day, Cooper and his robotic assistant steal of the spaceships and venture into the unknown to find Brand who is aboard EVENT HORIZON.

Oh please tell me this ISN'T to scare people into believing in GLOBAL WARMING.
Sounds like it will be a good movie as long as it doesn't try to scare people.

This, to the nth power.^^

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