Matthew Kresal reviews the official movie novelization of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar.
One of the biggest films of 2014 was Interstellar, Christopher Nolan's big budget science fiction movie with a cast including Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine, amongst others. The film though has left more than a few people scratching their head over both the plot, some drowned out dialogue and the science behind the fiction. As if to answer those questions, there's the official movie novelization written by science fiction author Greg Keyes which presents its own version of the movie.
The novelization is, like the film itself, built around the screenplay by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, something that gives the book a strong grounding. Some of the strongest elements of the film, its characters and dialogue in particular, are all reproduced here. From the astronaut Cooper, to his daughter Murphy, both Professor Brand and his astronaut daughter Amelia, and more. The novelization also offers something that is next to impossible to achieve on-screen, in that it allows the reader to get into the mindset and motivations of the characters, and to explore just why it is they make the choices that they do. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Keyes' writing though, is that he manages to capture some of the movie's best and most emotional moments without the benefit of either the strong performances or the visuals, both of which are such a large part of the film.
The best part of the book though might be what it adds to the film. Interstellar the movie is, almost intentionally, a bit vague regarding certain issues relating to how the Earth is in the situation it's in when the film begins. The novelization fills in some of those gaps, building upon the references made in the film's first half to explore how our world turns into the agrarian one depicted. The book also explores some of the science involved in more depth than was perhaps possible on-screen, such as explaining a spacecraft maneuver used late in the film and the nature of black holes (it's worth noting as well that there's an additional book entirely dedicated to the topic of the science used in the film). The results add, not detract, from the film itself.
If the book can be criticized, it's for two things. As a piece of prose, it is of course lacking the stunning visuals of the film, but Keyes' seems to make little effort in trying to find a way of getting those visual moments across in prose for the most part, something that can make it difficult for the reader to imagine these things without having seen the film first (though I'll grant that if you're reading the book, let alone this review, you probably have). The second is that the book doesn't quite shake off its screenplay origins, with its sometimes film like cutting back and forth between things, often for just a paragraph or less at a time. Those faults are all fairly minor though and don't detract much from the book itself.
On the whole then, Interstellar: The Official Movie Novelization not only offers insights into the film's plot and characters but is an enjoyable read in its own right. Even without the visuals or performances that are such a large part of the film, the book makes for fascinating reading which adds to the experience of having seen the film. It also shows the power of the story behind the movie and why it's one of the better science fiction films in recent memory.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.