How the final version of Nolan's Interstellar differed from the original script

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Nov 10, 2014, 4:33 PM EST (Updated)

The very first version of the script for Interstellar is not exactly the same movie that opened this past weekend. Be warned: Spoilers ahead!

A bit of history first: Jonathan Nolan originally wrote Interstellar as a possible directing vehicle for Steven Spielberg, who ultimately ended up moving to other projects and never circled back around to Jonathan's script. Meanwhile, Jonathan showed it to his brother Christopher, who was so fascinated by the possibilities and concepts in the story that he ended up wanting to direct it himself -- while also substantially rewriting Jonathan's screenplay to include some ideas and themes of his own.

We'll never know what Spielberg's version of Interstellar might have looked like, but because Jonathan Nolan's original script is online (and has been for a while), we can now compare the original idea to the finished film -- and Peter Sciretta at Slashfilm has done just that, listing 15 major differences between the two and arguing that both versions have their pros and cons.

What are some of those differences? We'll sum up some of Peter's findings below, but please note that we're going into major spoiler territory here if you have not seen the movie yet.

Okay, ready? Among the differences:

1.) Murph, the daughter of Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who is played by Mackenzie Foy as a child and Jessica Chastain as an adult, is male in the original draft.

2.) Instead of being directed to the hidden NASA base by a "ghost" in his daughter's bedroom (actually signals from his future self), Cooper finds a crashed space probe that emits a signal which leads him to the facility.

3.) In the movie, there have been a dozen other missions through the wormhole, each containing one crew member, before Cooper and Brand (Anne Hathaway) lead their four-person mission. In the early script, their mission is the first and the previous probes were unmanned.

4.) Michael Caine's Professor Brand is a much smaller character in the original script, while the robot CASE is actually more or less the leader of the NASA project.

5.) The trip through the wormhole features an encounter with something that may or may not be a super-advanced form of life that exists outside time/space.

6.) The crew of the Endurance visits only one planet -- the ice planet -- where they learn that all the probes have somehow been clustered. The movie visits all three planets, and hardly a trace of the manned probes (with one exception) are found.

7.) In a truly bizarre twist, the crew in the original script finds the remnants of a Chinese mission on the ice planet, who somehow got through the wormhole first and also captured the U.S. probes. The entire Chinese crew is long dead due to radiation emanating from the local black hole, which is also a neutron star (Chris Nolan is not big on politics in his films, so we can see why he jettisoned this).

8.) The ice planet is actually an ice shell around a planet that has an oxygen atmosphere and can sustain life. Cooper and his team get down there and discover a Chinese base built by robots, waiting for humans who never arrived because the Chinese government went belly-up. None of this made the final film.

9.) The ice planet does contain life already -- fractal life forms that knit millions of themselves together to soak up whatever light and energy they can. There are no alien life forms at all in the movie.

10.) In the original script, there is no scientist from the earlier probes (played by Matt Damon in the movie) who is revived and tries to sabotage Cooper's mission. Instead, there are enemy Chinese robots.

From there, the third act of the original script gets into some truly dizzying plot points, including the destruction of the ice planet inside the black hole, the discovery of a gravity machine, a more romantic relationship between Cooper and Brand, another encounter with the strange beings who "live" inside the wormhole, the disappearance of all life on Earth and the unveiling of a space station that sits outside all of time and space. You can read many more details at the link above, or do a bit of digging and find the script yourself.

My takeaway from all this is that the original script was full of even more mind-bending concepts and imagery -- and probably would not have made it to the screen intact even if Chris Nolan hadn't revised and altered it to suit his own vision. Even the descriptions of what is in the original script are incredibly convoluted in a way that would have had to be streamlined extensively for mainstream audiences.

That's not to say the Interstellar we have today is simplistic -- far from it, in fact. But it seems Chris Nolan wanted to focus a lot more on the emotional core of the story (part of the reason for changing Murph to a girl) and distill the many wild concepts his brother had packed into the original draft. Based on what you've read above, do you think you would have preferred the earlier version, or are you happy with the way Interstellar turned out?

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