All movies go through a lot of changes before they hit the screen. There are rewrites, recastings, edits, studio notes — but one of the biggest changes that the upcoming scifi film Passengers went through is when the most famous and recognisable actress on the planet, Jennifer Lawrence, decided to join the project.
When writer Jon Spaihts first conceived the Passengers, he did so with a simple, seemingly unrelated idea. "I became fascinated with the notion of a man stranded alone in space," Spaihts, who also co-wrote this year's Doctor Strange, told io9 about his riginal idea for the project. "It seemed like one of the loneliest people that you could imagine, in one of the most extraordinary exaggerations of solitude possible. But it also immediately gave rise to a series of philosophical and moral questions."
And so Spaihts began to explore those questions. Questions like "How long can you survive on your own? What is life for? How do you value your life if you are not engaged in any community? If no one loves you and you don't love anyone? If you're by yourself? What does your life mean if it is not witnessed?"
These are the questions Chris Pratt's character, Jim Preston, has to deal with at the start of Passengers, as he's one of 5,000 people who paid a company called Homestead to fly to a planet, Homestead Two, to start a new life. The trip takes 120 years but he mistakenly wakes up 90 years too early and is not able to go back to sleep. He's isolated, just as Spaihts originally conceived.
And yet, that's not what the movie ends up really being about, and that's in large part because of Lawrence.
"We might have done things differently if our stars were less famous," the writer said. "Meaning that, if we were just making this as an independent film, in a vacuum, I think the time spent with him, alone, would be deeply satisfying. And you could really let it play for a while. But because the most famous woman in the world is in the movie and on the poster, there is an additional pressure to get to her in a timely manner."
However, Spaihts believes the cuts and changes made to highlight Lawrence's character ultimately helped the film.
"I think the movie actually does very well with its cut but there was a little material left on the cutting room floor that I mourn," he said. "I played with what the gaming arcade of the future would look like, what a robot massage table with many hands might be like, what skeet shooting off the tail of a space cruiser would be — just a lot of different things."
With Lawrence as star, though, the isolation became secondary to what are actually much more interesting questions: the ideas of love, relationships, secrets, and lies, and what it means to live a full life.
"These characters are stuck in time, they are now," said director Morten Tyldum. "Part of me says that's appealing because all of us going worrying about the future. And it's learning to have the most fulfillment of what's going on now. That's one of the interesting things that the movie explores."
But it's far from the only thing. Passengers gets into some heavy, messed-up, spoilery stuff, and blends lots of genres in an attempt to stand apart from traditional Hollywood fare.
"I like movies where you can't just put them all in one box," said Tyldum. "Is it a movie that is an action film? No, but it has action. Is it a love story? It's definitely a love story, but it's not only a love story. Is it drama? Yeah. But it has other things, [like] comedic elements. It's like you can't really put it into one little box. It's both very intimate and still very epic. And you need to balance all these things."
Balance also came in the more science fiction elements. The entire concept requires many leaps in terms of the actual science or logic and, to cover that, the movie never mentions a year.
"All of those things are just homework for the audience they have to grind through before they get to the meat of the story," he said. "So it was a conscious choice to make this future culturally, instantly recognisable."
And a huge part of that instant recognition was in the casting of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. "They never met each other until they both signed on," Tyldum said. "So we had a table read at Jen's house and that was the first time they met. And so, if they didn't have chemistry there would have been such problems. I felt that something magical was going to happen if you put the two of them together, and that happened. They clicked, immediately. And have this phenomenal chemistry."
Passengers opens December 21. Check back for our review.