interstellar script differences steven spielberg christopher nolan and jonathan nolan

You can now see Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar in theaters, but the movie was originally developed by Nolan’s brother Jonathan Nolan for director Steven Spielberg. In fact, I first reported on the project almost eight and a half years ago. As the story goes, Spielberg got the idea for the film after attending a Caltech workshop. There, physicist Kip S. Thorne, an expert on relativity known for his prolific contributions to the fields of gravitation physics and astrophysics, presented his controversial theories about wormholes. Jonathan Nolan was hired to develop the screenplay for Spielberg, which he originally hoped to direct after Lincoln. Of course, that didn’t happen. Christopher Nolan explained how he got involved during a press conference I attended in Beverly Hills:

[I] was talking to Jonah [Nolan] about the script he was working on with Steven Spielberg at the time. We’d bounce ideas off each other and it sounded incredibly exciting … I had the advantage of coming onto the project late and being able to look at what these guys [Jonah Nolan and Kip Thorne] had done. A lot of my contribution was ripping things out, because they put in more of these incredible mind blowing ideas that, I felt, I could absorb as an audience member. So I spent my time and my work on the script choosing the more emotive and tactile of these ideas to grab ahold of. … [Jonah] got very busy doing other things so I said, ‘Hey can I take this and combine it with some other ideas I’ve been working on’ — it was a bit more like him going ‘okay, take a shot, we’ll see what you do.’ So I showed him what I had done and he seemed reasonably happy with it.

The reason Christopher Nolan shares the screenwriting credit on the final film with Jonathan Nolan is because he reworked the original script with substantial changes. This left me wondering about the evolution of the project, and how different Steven Spielberg’s version of the film might have looked. Of course, we’ll never see Spielberg’s version but Jonathan Nolan’s 2008 draft of the screenplay has been floating around the tracking boards for some time. Investigating that draft gives us an opportunity to see how the story changed from when Jonathan Nolan was working on it under Spielberg to Christopher Nolan’s final film.

What are the biggest differences and changes? Find out the 15 biggest Interstellar script differences, after the jump.

interstellar art

15 Interstellar Script Differences

Warning: the following post CONTAINS SPOILERS and should only be read if you have seen the film. If you haven’t seen Interstellar yet, it won’t make much sense as its a comparison.


1. Cooper And His Son Murph Find a Fallen Space Probe

The script originally followed 30-year-old Cooper and his two sons. Chris Nolan, who has a daughter (whom you can see on screen in The Prestige), decided to change the sex of Murph from male to female. Not much else about the character is different other than her sex — she’s still in trouble at school for showing Coop’s old textbooks with the uncorrected Apollo mission “nonsense”.

The sad minor league-looking New York Yankees game is interrupted not by the dust storm, but instead by a bright blue streak in the sky. A satellite falling to earth while burning up in the upper atmosphere. After attending Murph’s parent teacher meeting, Cooper is called to help a Galveston farmer who needs him to come look at her malfunctioning tractors,  which were originally programed by Cooper. In Nolan’s film it is Coop’s tractors which are malfunctioning, directed to the gravity anomaly inside his farm house.

Riggs’ tractors are attracted to a newly created crater on the edge of her property. In the crater, Cooper finds an old NASA space probe which has fallen to earth, the same one which knocked the satellite out of orbit during the game. Using his modified equipment on the black orb, Cooper is able to hack into the probe and finds an image of an ice-covered planet surrounded by stars, alongside a bunch of code he can’t puzzle out.

interstellar Bookshelf Ghost

2. A Fallen Space Probe Brings Cooper To NASA, Not a Morse-Code Gravity Communicating Bookshelf Ghost

Before Cooper can scrap the probe for spare parts (he thinks NASA is completely disbanded, so there is no point in trying to return it), the probe begins emitting a loud alarm. They realize that the alarm noise stops briefly when they move the space probe in certain directions. It is quickly realized that the probe is providing directions to its home and won’t stop sounding its annoying alarm until it gets there. In the morning, Coop and Murph take the probe in their small airplane (not the pick-up truck Cooper has in the final film), allowing us to see what California has become in this desperate future.

The space probe directs Cooper and Murph to a large uninhabited island in Santa Cruz. On the island they discover a underground industrial facility hidden by camouflage. They are quickly detected and detained by Amelia Brand and TARS.

interstellar Lazarus Missions

3. The Lazarus Missions Never Happened; This Is the First Manned Mission Through the Wormhole

In the movie’s storyline, a team known as the Lazarus Mission was sent through the wormhole a decade earlier to find and transmit data back to Earth about candidate planets for humans to live on. In the original screenplay, there were no Lazarus missions. Instead, a series of space probes were sent through the wormhole to gather data. Imagine a more rudimentary version of EVE from Pixar’s WALL-E. The space probe that Cooper discovered was the first one to return to earth after finding good data.

Cooper helps the scientists unlock the Ice Planet data on the probe, and also warns them about a huge problem with telemetry board he notices they are using for the mission. Because of the assets he has shown the robot commander decides he could be useful to the mission.  Cooper, thinking of his two sons, first turns down the offer and returns home to his farm house before changing his mind. Murph doesn’t lock himself in his room, but instead tries to convince his dad to bring him with him before saying his goodbyes, giving him the watch and promising he will return.

Its also worth noting that while Professor Brand (played by Michael Caine) is in charge of the mission in the film, in the original script the Brand father/daughter duo reports to an Air Force para-rescue officer named CASE. This is a human-sized robot designed to inspire confidence, to which Professor Brand had delegated leadership duties. Also, Cooper does not have a past relationship with Professor Brand, who is a minor character in the story.

How Long is Interstellar?

4. Sphere-Shaped Distortions Visit the Crew While Traveling Through The Tiny Wormhole

The wormhole is not a gigantic sphere or tube like it is visualized 2001-style in Nolan’s film. To navigate through the wormhole in the original script, the Endurance space station contracts and configures itself into much smaller space, releasing its nuclear engines on a tether. As they travel through the quiet and nothingness of the wormhole, the crew can see images of themselves through the outer hull (“a trick of the narrow collar of space they are sinking through.  Cooper smiles at himself. The experience is unnerving.”).

It is here where Cooper notices a point of distortion in where it appears that a giant finger is pushing up against the hull, growing in diameter as it pushes against the hull. The distortion them begins to bend the empty space inside the ship for all of the crew members to witness —  a sphere-shaped magnifying glass, like something out of a 1990’s James Cameron movie (Abyss..etc). Doyle sticks his hand up, and as it gets absorbed into the sphere it appears mangled but its really just “bending the space around” his hand. It moves around the ship and appears to be examining the crew members. And then suddenly the distortions disappear as they begin to exit the wormhole.

After the exit the wormhole the Endurance finds itself pulled toward the event horizon of the black hole which was closer to the mouth than they anticipated. The pull of the black hole is greater than the power of the engines so the crew finds themselves unable to change their course. TARS locks himself into the engine compartment and sacrifices himself to detonate the engine to save the ship from being sucked into the black hole. But if they overshoot the trajectory, they might be pulled into Gargantua, the the much bigger black hole near by. This is TARS fate. Once through the wormhole, they discover all of the other probes are found to be clustered in one spot on the ice planet, but why?

Hit the jump to learn about the shocking LOST style twist not featured in the finished movie.

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