EXCLUSIVE: Now this has a familiar ring to it: Robert Zemeckis is revisiting the 1950s to rewrite history with one new project and then he’s going back to the future to prove the power of love with a second project.
No, Zemeckis isn’t revving up the DeLorean for more Marty McFly sequels — however, the director of the Back to the Future trilogy (1985-1990) and Contact (1997) is making a relatively rare return to science fiction with the two projects. This time around, however, his foray into the genre is in a producing role. On Monday, Zemeckis talked about the two projects: Bios, the upcoming feature film; and Project Blue Book, a television series that premieres in January on History.
Bios, scheduled to start filming early next year, reunites Zemeckis with one of his most celebrated collaborators. “We’re producing a really magnificent science fiction project called Bios with Tom Hanks,” Zemeckis said. “It’s a really cool science-fiction story. It’s set in a post-apocalytptic world and Tom Hanks may or may not be the last human survivor on the planet.”
Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment picked Bios up in October. The script is by Craig Luck (Solo: A Star Wars Movie) and Ivor Powell (Blade Runner).
Spielberg described the movie in an October statement as “an original, emotionally stirring tale that at its core is very much an Amblin movie” and added that he could think of “no one more perfect to embody this story about the meaning of being human than Tom Hanks.”
Hanks will portray Finch, the last man on earth, who decides he must plan for the worst by building a robot that could care for his dog if in the event of his death. The canine is the only thing in the world that Finch truly loves. His challenge, however, is programming the robot to “love” the dog and teaching the dog to accept the strange synthetic newcomer as a member of their pack.
Having Hanks portray a lonely, resourceful soul with only a nonspeaking companion to keep him company brings to mind Cast Away (2000), which Zemeckis memorably directed with the actor. That movie was filmed between 1998 to 2000 with long gaps so Hanks could better transform himself by adding a beard and losing weight. The $90 million film hauled in $430 million in worldwide box office.
Cast Away was their second film together. Their first was the epic Forrest Gump (1994), which won an Academy Award for each of them as well as the Oscar trophy for best picture. The crowd-pleasing film also made $678 million off of a $55 million budget. Their third teaming was The Polar Express (2004), which featured Hanks in six roles, and has become a holiday staple. Zemeckis said he and Hanks developed a special rapport with all that successful and intense history.
“We have a terrific shorthand,” Zemeckis said. “When you work with someone like Tom for so long and on so many things you can’t help but have a shorthand when you’re doing things. We’re always kicking around ideas for movies and stories and things to do. This time I’m not directing, I’m producing, so that’s different. The director is Miguel Sapochnik. He’s a great guy and it’s going to be awesome. It’s a really, really good project.”
Sapochnik won a primetime Emmy for directing Battle of the Bastards, a Game of Thrones episode from the show’s sixth season. His directing credits also include the 2010 feature film Repo Man and work on the Netflix series Altered Carbon.
Another Game of Thrones alumnus, actor Aidan Gillen, is on board as the star of the television series Project Blue Book. The Irish actor portrays the scheming Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish on the HBO fantasy series and he plays Queen’s manager, John Reid, in the Fox film Bohemian Rhapsody. Other credits include The Wire and The Dark Knight Rises.
“Aidan is terrific,” Zemeckis said. “And, yes, I’m a fan of Game of Thrones. Of course I am a fan. It’s a great series.”
Project Blue Book is a one-hour drama that premieres on Jan. 8 on History and stars Gillen as a brilliant professor recruited by the U.S. Air Force to spearhead the military’s clandestine investigations into reports of UFOs and related phenomena.
Each episode will draw material from the actual declassified government files that were top secret when they were originally compiled under the Blue Book header. That archive of files spans the years between 1952 (when the U.S. detonated the first Hydrogen bomb) and 1969 (when NASA’s Apollo 11 landed on the moon).
The show also stars Michael Malarkey (The Vampire Diaries), Neal McDonough (Arrow), Laura Mennell (Watchmen), Michael Harney (Orange is the New Black) and Ksenia Solo (Black Swan).
The melding of authentic reports with classic UFO theories and then framed with the drama’s newly invented characters and plots made for an especially compelling series pitch, Zemeckis said.
“The challenge, I think, and what makes it interesting is that there are different adventures [from the government files] about these different phenomena,” Zemeckis said. “So these different incidents happen but there’s also this core story that holds it all together and I think that’s pretty unique in television. It’s like having an anthology without having an anthology. That’s exciting. I thought it was the best thing with the project and the most challenging part of the project.”
Also on deck for producer Zemeckis, as Deadline reported in February: Steel Soldiers , an action/sci-fi film that STX Entertainment and China’s Alibaba Pictures will co-develop and co-produce with Zemeckis’s ImageMovers. The original screenplay by Ken Kaufman (Space Cowboys) presents a world where humans and androids fight shoulder-to-shoulder, posing fundamental questions about humanity with a futuristic battlefield backdrop.