Space Spiders and Adam Sandler: Welcome to the love story of Netflix’s SPACEMAN

If you had told me a year ago that I would cry if Adam Sandler hugged a giant arachnid in space, I would have rolled with it, because that sounds amazing – and oh boy, it is. SPACEMAN arrived on Netflix on March 1, 2024 and is based on the novel Astronaut from Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfař. It has been adapted for the streaming platform by Johan Renck, director of the hit series Chernobyland it’s a journey unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Six months into a lonely research mission to the edge of the solar system, astronaut Jakub realizes his marriage may be in trouble. Determined to solve matters, help arrives in the unlikely form of a spider-like ancient creature that has hidden in the bowels of his ship. Named Hanuš, and voiced by The Riddler’s Paul Dano, the unusual pair work together to try to understand what went wrong and figure out how to fix it.

What unfolds is a moving, interstellar love story with surprising insights into human connection, loss, and ancient spider-like aliens’ fondness for hazelnut butter. Being impressed by the film, talking to its creator was a must, so I sat down for a chat with Johan Renck about how to bring abstract characters to life, and what it’s like as a director to go from factual – from science fiction to a love story set in space.

I didn’t expect to love Hanuš so much. How did you give so much character to this six-eyed space traveler?

I thought that was going to be one of the biggest challenges in the film, the visual representation. How can we be both turned off and scared by this thing, but also love him at the same time? I tell him: does Hanuš have a gender? We do not know.

It turns out it’s much easier [than I thought]. You can take anything, even the most disgusting, monstrous thing ever. If you give it a heart and a beautiful soul, you will love it. We can love anything, no matter what it looks like. In that case, in some strange way, we can conclude that love is actually blind.

How did you build Hanuš’s image?

I was working with a concept artist named Carlos Huante and I just started collecting some images of spider faces. It was really remarkable that if you Google ‘spider faces’ you’re amazed at the fact that – I’m not going to say human faces – but you know, they actually have faces. I start sending all these to Carlos and saying, “Look, I don’t know if we need to do that much about humanizing the face.”

Hanuš is described in the book as a spider the size of a Doberman, but then it turns into really trippy, impressionistic stuff. It says he had 100 eyes and that Jakub could see the eyes of his grandfather, his mother and his grandson, and big, soft red lips, so if you take it literally from the book, it becomes absolutely absurd.

spaceman

Three things you need to know about Hanuš: he likes toilet bowls, hazelnut spread and sad, skinny people.

Image courtesy of Netflix © 2023

The one thing I really wanted to keep out of the book, and I kind of forced Carlos to implement, was that strange little human mouth. It’s not prevalent throughout the film, during these moments where you see his weird little human mouth, with little square kidney teeth. That was so effective for me. It was so cute.

How did you film Hanuš? Was it all CGI or are we getting an awesome BTS of Paul Dano in a bizarre green suit?

Yes, it was all CGI. I’m not much of a filmmaker at all because I like in-camera, but what I realized was that if we have parts of Hanuš that are recreated in some form of a doll or something like that, we will. tied to that appearance. There was no way we could have put something together that would have been good enough when we shot the movie.

I was a little concerned about how that would limit our creation, and I also felt very confident in my own ability to oversee the creature being implemented in the film so that it would look believable and would go. Because I always think the more challenging aspect, when it comes to CGI, is actually implementing it into your world so that it doesn’t feel like we have a real world with a computer element in it.

It paid off, you quickly believe that Hanuš is real and that his movements are so believable, even in space.

That’s obviously a huge scientific cheat because space is a vacuum, there’s no way you can move through space by your own motion. [read: swimming with eight legs], but what I have always said is good: Hanuš dates back to the beginning of time. The laws of physics are constantly changing, and to me it was as if his composition, and the physics of him, are different.

Adam Sandler on the set of Spaceman

Trying to create space in a studio on Earth involves some curious solutions.

Image courtesy of Netflix © 2023

You can almost imagine him having a quantum mechanical aspect to his manifestation and his presence before Jakub. Because Hanus is not a figment of your imagination, but what he is, as a being, has nothing to do with the evolution that we can relate to on Earth, so there is a bit of freedom in how we interpret that.

Speaking of science cheats, how did it feel to get rid of a project like Chernobyl where so much of science is recorded in history, to working on a more abstract film with a science theme that has a lot of room to play?

The funny thing is, I used to watch it all the time Chernobyl like a science fiction story. SPACEMAN is not science fiction at all to me. SPACEMAN is a love story that just happens to take place partly in space and there just happens to be a creature we haven’t encountered before. The key to all of this is that there’s a couple whose connection is being severed somehow, and you want to place them as far apart as humanly possible just to reinforce that.

The second aspect is that there is something iconic about the idea of ​​being a solo astronaut in space. Even starting with David Bowie’s Major Tom, he’s in space and he has some communication with ground control, but he’s so removed from Earth and it becomes really humiliating because it’s like, ‘I’m not on Earth anymore and the earth continues to behave. as if I never existed because I am so insignificant.”

I think that’s interesting because it puts Jakub in a position of frustration in our film. He thinks he’s so important and his mission is so important in science, but no one cares.

hanus with spread in spaceman

If you look closely, you can just see the teeth.

Image courtesy of Netflix © 2023

What advice would you give to someone looking to weave scientific themes into a non-science fiction story? SPACEMAN?

Do whatever you want. I mean, we invented a lot of things in this movie. We had to find a way for him to communicate with Earth, and when you’re 500 million miles away, those conversations would be impossible. So we said, let’s invent a quantum mechanical telephone.

That’s what we’re entitled to in our lyricism, to take the human condition and just turn up the volume of one of the notes on our mixing console to make a point of it. That is the beauty and purpose of making films, or music, or writing books; it’s to take the experience – the audience – to a place it hasn’t been before.

Right now we live in a time where that’s kind of being pushed aside because everyone is just being tasked with providing content, and we might think it’s good enough for us, but it’s not. There will be an uprising in terms of, “No, we are human. We want to experience a version of art, with the feeling of ‘Oh fuck, that shocked me, I left the cinema and this film was stuck in my mind for hours’.”

That’s how it should be. In short, have fun with it. Make up whatever you want.

Now there’s some creative writing advice we can get behind. SPACEMAN is now streaming on Netflix.

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