Written by Greg Keyes
Published by Titan
There are few jobs more thankless than writing a movie novelisation. For a start there’s a good chance that the movie you’re adapting may not be the one people see as they’re often put together long before the final cut is. Then there’s the constant struggle to stick to the path laid out for you while simultaneously trying to put your own mark on the material. When you succeed you get work like Christa Faust’s Snakes on a Plane adaptation that builds on the film and improves on it. Most of the time you get a Clif Notes version of the script, a book that’s usually competent but rarely more than that.
Greg Keyes has managed a good bit more than that with his adaptation of Interstellar. He’s done it in a very logical way too; by focusing on the emotional workings of the leads and a surprising amount of the secondary characters. The exact structure you saw on screen is on the page but Keyes gives welcome depth to some characters and also ensures that a few of the better lines aren’t buried beneath Hans Zimmer’s admittedly excellent but Wall of Sound-esque soundtrack.
The three characters that really shine here are Donald, Murph and Getty. Who’s Getty? Good question, that’s the character Topher Grace plays in the final sequence. On screen he’s never really given much to do besides not quite get into a fight with Casey Affleck. On the page he’s much more fun and is actually a neat example of time passing on Earth. He’s the child of a couple of project scientists, someone Amelia babysat for before heading off on the mission.
Donald also gets a lot of very welcome context. On screen John Lithgow had a decent amount to do and knocked it out of the park but on the page the relationship between Donald and Coop has a slightly darker tone. Donald has the pragmatism of a survivor and is under no illusions about what Coop really wants or whether he’ll ever come back. There’s a little more snap and snarl to their interactions which doesn’t quite sit right with the well-rounded familial affection we saw on screen. Donald’s thought processes are spot on though and Keyes finds a quieter, more grounded kind of heroism in the old man than in Coop and his children.
But it’s Murph where the book really shines. Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn were highlights of the movie and Keyes builds on what we saw to get a much closer look at the mind of the youngest Cooper. Her rage at her father abandoning her is cut with frustration at the Gravity problem not being done yet. Murph is brilliant, the mind of her age, but she’s a cog spinning free, not quite connected to the rest of the world. That final scene in her room, on screen, is more about Coop than her. On the page it’s all Murph and Keyes shows us each stage of her thought processes as she finally realizes who the ghost was. It’s smartly done and while it lacks the emotional gut punch of the movie it makes up for it with clarity of communication.
Interstellar isn’t a complex, lyrical SF novel but it’s also not a paint by numbers checklist of the movie’s plot points. Keyes has focused on the areas the movie couldn’t and created a complementary version of the same narrative. If you liked the film, and I did, then this isn’t just a good read, it’s a useful one. Give it a try.