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When Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, the story of a female astronaut left shipwrecked in space after her shuttle is destroyed by debis, became a critical and commercial success in 2013, despite a difficult production that saw star Natalie Portman replaced by Sandra Bullock, Hollywood was convinced that science fiction still had a place at the box office.
The genre had remained popular among cinemagoers through futuristic action thrillers, yet motion pictures set in outer space on the scale of Gravity were somewhat ambitious due to their escalating budgets and reliance on state-of-the-art CGI. The following year Christopher Nolan, fresh from his success with the Dark Knight trilogy, attempted to create an experience as profound and mesmerising as 2001: A Space Odyssey with his own epic Interstellar, far removed from the narrative simplicity of Cuarón’s thriller by creating a visual and emotional experience that Film4 would refer to as ‘bloated, ponderous and ludicrous.’
Both Cuarón and Nolan’s movies won numerous accolades at the Academy Awards and were considered by many to be modern classics of the genre and so barely six months after the release of Interstellar another tale of astronauts was announced. In May 2015 it was revealed that Reese Witherspoon, whose recent performance in Wild had earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, had signed on to star and produce Pale Blue Dot for Fox Searchlight.
A spec script written by Brian C Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi, Variety said that the story ‘follows a successful female astronaut who, after coming back home from a mission in space, starts to unravel when confronted by her seemingly perfect American dream life. The story explores the theory that astronauts who spend long periods of time staring at the Earth from space begin to lose their sense of reality when they return home.’
The film takes its name from a photograph taken on Valentine’s Day in 1990 of Earth from Voyager 1, highlighting how small the planet is among the vastness of the galaxy. A book by noted astronomer Carl Sagan was published under this title in 1997, finding its way onto the New York Times bestseller list. ‘Witherspoon will also produce, as she did on Wild and hit thriller Gone Girl,’ reported the Guardian shortly after the project was announced. ‘The script comes from newcomers Brian C Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi, who have also written the acclaimed Black List script Uncle Shelby, which is yet to find a home.’Shortly after the news first broke, Christopher Pendegraft of Script Shadow wrote a review of the screenplay in which he summarised that ‘Pale Blue Dot’s Achilles’ heal is that nobody got hurt. Nothing bad actually happened. And that hangs over the story throughout, leaving the reader with a distinct feeling of ‘That’s it?” Deadline have now confirmed that Noah Hawley, best known as the creator of the TV dramas Legion and Fargo – the latter an adaptation of the Coen Brothers 1996 classic – has signed onto the project through a two picture deal with Fox Searchlight that will also include a second film called Buried Bodies.
Hawley has been nominated for numerous Emmys through his work on both of his TV shows and, much like Gravity and Interstellar, the human approach to the story of interacting with outer space could bring Pale Blue Dot numerous awards upon its eventual release. A director or co-stars have yet to be announced by Witherspoon will produce the feature alongside producing partner Bruna Papandrea via their company Pacific Standard.