In the hours leading up to Paramount‘s big presentation in Hall H, rumblings began to circulate that the studio was planning something “historic.” Considering that, on the books, it looked like a fairly boilerplate rundown of footage from some upcoming projects (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the second “SpongeBob SquarePants” animated film, the found footage time travel movie “Project Almanac“), it didn’t seem like this could possibly be true. But then, at the very end of the panel, it was: both Matthew McConaughey and Christopher Nolan, first-time Comic Con participants, took the stage to discuss the wildly ambitious new sci-fi project “Interstellar” and show off a brand new trailer for the film. Oh, and it looks really, really good.
Initially, when McConaughey came out on stage he seemed to look a bit uncomfortable, standing up instead of sitting, and swaying (perhaps to some distant bongo beat). But he even let out one of his trademark “alright alright alright”‘s, much to the delight of the crowd. And the actor also seemed genuinely thrilled to be there, and excited to talk about a project that people are deeply anticipating.
He described the process of getting hired by Nolan as being very atypical, recalling how his agent told him the director had called to discuss a new script and then flying out from New Orleans (where, presumably, he was working on “True Detective“) to confer over the part. “I go meet Christopher at his house and we talked for three hours,” McConaughey said. “He doesn’t say one word about any new film or me having a role in it. But evidently he liked me and I enjoyed meeting him. A week later the script came in, I read it quite a lot and I was in.”
The recent Oscar winner described Nolan as a director who was on a quest for originality. “Christopher is always out for original. It doesn’t matter if it’s a great idea from a Stanley Kubrick idea. He might appreciate it but he won’t repeat it. When you’re on set, he’s completely conceived of this world. It was like shooting a little independent film. Two or three takes and we move on,” McConaughey described. “He’s a man whose reach constantly exceeds his grasp. And it’s true in this film—it’s by far the most ambitious film that Christopher Nolan has ever directed.”
When McConaughey refrained from revealing anything more about the film—besides describing his character as a pilot and a widower who has to make a tough choice about saving mankind or staying with his family—he brought out Nolan, who, with his sharp haircut and intellectual aura was quite different from the usual Comic Con crowd of aimless energy (this only moments after The Rock had come on stage and yelled a bunch of things). Nolan appeared genuinely appreciative of the audience and the response his films have been given by the community. “I had heard a lot about this being the place where people are the most passionate about pop culture. And judging by the crowd, I’m not disappointed,” Nolan said. “We thought it would be a fun thing to come down and see what all the fuss is about. Thank you for having us. And thank you for all of your support in the past. Your enthusiasm has been an extraordinary thing. So thank you.” Lovely right?
When the moderator asked Nolan why he made this film now, the filmmaker offered a typically thoughtful response. “I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction. I grew up being amazed by science fiction—’2001,’ ‘Star Wars.’ But I grew up in a time when being an astronaut was the highest ambition. And the idea that we would keep exploring space and pushing further and further out seemed inevitable,” Nolan said. “That has fallen out in the past couple of decades. Technology has gone through a huge change. I think we’re on the new cusp of a brand new era of exploration. I got very, very excited about taking my brother Jonah‘s script that had these incredible characters and following them on those journeys. The idea of going through this solar system and going into other galaxies is the biggest story you can tell.”
The director then talked about his choice of using IMAX once again, saying it fell in line with the movie’s massive scope: “The format felt really the perfect way to try and paint this on a very large canvas; we’re trying to show the biggest possible images and the biggest possible phenomenon possible.” When an audience member asked Nolan why his films are so focused on human psychology, the filmmaker said, “I’m just interested in people and the idea of objectivity versus subjectivity.” He went on: ” We’re all trapped within our own perceptions of the universe. I think that naturally leads towards mental processes.”
And while earlier in the panel McConaughey had suggested that Nolan is only interested in the original, when an audience member quizzed the director on his inspirations for the movie, he actually cracked a joke, saying “I don’t want to do a list because when you watch it you’ll see all the things I’ve ripped off.” He then, of course, offered to list some of those very movies: “‘2001,’ ‘Blade Runner‘ has always been a favorite of mine, but the whole gamut. I think the single biggest influence was ‘2001,’ which they re-released after ‘Star Wars’ came out and I was able to go with my dad to see it on the big screen. It was such a memorable experience for me. We have an ambition on this film, not to do what that film did, but tell a similarly ambitious story on that scale. I want kids to be able to go with their parents and watch this story unfold.”
This anecdote about his father was touching and genuine, and after watching the new trailer for the film (we’ll get to that), it felt appropriate. “Interstellar” appears to be overstuffed with wonder, with the kind of wide-eyed, big-screen magic that you can only find at the movies. Nolan wants to make an original, challenging, thrilling experience, and from the looks of things (and from what we’ve heard elsewhere), he seems to have done just that.
The trailer opened up similarly to the previous two teasers (*mild spoilers*, though you’ll see the trailer yourself next week), with McConaughey as a farmer, talking about how we used to look up at the stars and now “we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” The trailer then moves quickly: McConaughey says goodbye to his children and then agrees to go on this desperate voyage. As the trailer moves along, more and more is revealed and, as many had speculated following the earlier teasers, it seems pretty clear that Jessica Chastain is McConaughey’s grown daughter. More importantly, though, are the images that show our characters actually landing on another planet. (Hey, we said spoiler warning.) These images were incredible, just as awe-inspiring as the earlier elements of the teaser that demonstrated the explorers traveling through space and possibly bending the physical universe around their spacecraft (crazy, but true). The images of the planets also possessed an eeriness that suggests the best of Ridley Scott‘s sci-fi output and a palpable, otherworldly strangeness.
But more than just jaw dropping and awesome, which is what most of the audience probably took away from things, we were staggered by the emotional potency of it all. At one point McConaughey is gripping his young daughter, holding him tightly in his arms as she sobs. “I’m coming back,” he says, trying to console her. There’s a beat, where he’s rocking her in his arms, and then she says, “When?” And he can’t answer. It’s totally heartbreaking. And the trailer is full of little human moments like this. The music is twinkly and soaring. Anne Hathaway asks McConaughey a question about his daughter. People seem to age and die and drown. There’s a great beat where Nolan seems to play with a red blanket that once belonged to McConaughey’s daughter and now (magically?) appears on the spaceship.
In short: this “Interstellar” footage was beyond impressive. Nolan appears to be raising the stakes yet again, going for something bigger and bolder than anything he’s done before, possibly a movie that will push both storytelling and technological limits. When this thing opens, it’s very like audiences will be surprised, startled and probably moved.
At one point during the Q&A, Nolan said, “No film is finished until it meets its audience. But certainly what we’ve already learned in the journey of making the film so far is that it’s really about human beings and what it means to be human. What we’ve found, and other filmmakers have found before, is that as far out as you go in the universe, you realize that it’s all about the humans.” After seeing the trailer and listening to McConaughey and Nolan talk, it sure felt like mission accomplished.