What do Will Smith, the International Space Station (ISS) and Darren Aronofsky all have in common? No, they aren't making a blockbuster action movie set in outer space — they're teaming up for the gorgeous and trippy event series One Strange Rock on National Geographic. The 10-part docuseries is a mind-bending, thrilling journey that explores the fragility and wonder of planet Earth, one of the most peculiar, unique places in the universe. Narrated by Smith and produced by Jane Root, One Strange Rock attempts to define the reason why life exists on this planet out of the infinite others in the universe.
The filmmaking team went to 150 locations in 45 countries across six continents, and even all the way up to outer space on the ISS, to form the biggest, most accurate and detailed picture yet of the story of how our existence came to be. They were aided by eight legendary astronauts — Chris Hadfield, Jeff Hoffman, Mae Jemison, Jerry Linenger, Mike Massimino, Leland Melvin, Nicole Stott and Peggy Whitson — who are among the elite few to have left Earth and experienced the unique perspective of seeing the planet from afar.
Acclaimed filmmaker Aronofsky's first foray into television was no small feat, but what he's accomplished is truly incredible. One Strange Rock is more than just a docuseries — each shot feels like you're turning the page of the biggest issue of National Geographic yet. It's a totally immersive experience that inspires a new love for Earth. And that's exactly what Aronofsky wanted. He wasn't just looking to conquer a new medium when he signed on for One Strange Rock. His reason for taking on a TV series is actually way more relatable: he wanted to bring his childhood passion for NatGeo to life.
Just like many curious kids, Aronofsky was obsessed with reading NatGeo magazines when he was growing up. "I’ve been subscribing since I was a teenager and I probably, at some point, wanted to be a NatGeo photographer or journalist," he told Bustle back in January at the 2018 Winter Television Critics Association press tour. "I still get excited, every month, when my issue comes in, to see what’s on the cover. Getting a cover for this show was definitely a bucket list moment."
Sitting at a small table in a sunny room at the Langham Huntington hotel in Pasadena, Calif., Aronofsky leans back in his chair, smiling and cracking jokes as he reminisces on his lifelong love for NatGeo. "That’s where it started," he says.
However, his passion for exploring space and Earth's place within it doesn't come from a lifelong desire to be an astronaut himself. "I went parachuting and I hated it," he says with a laugh. "I think I was pretty much born a storyteller. It’s definitely my art. Watching a lot of tape on [the astronauts] and meeting a bunch of them, I definitely want to be invited to the reunions and cocktail parties to hang out."
The sprawling docuseries gave Aronofsky the chance to take on something "scary," which is what he always looks for in projects. If he plays it safe, he knows he's not doing his job. The idea of trying to make something coherent out of a concept as all encompassing as the existence of the universe was a challenge that inspired him. "When we stumbled on the idea of telling it from the point of view of astronauts, that opened it up for us and gave us the courage to do it," he adds.
While a lot of filmmakers who pivot to television attempt to recreate a cinematic quality on the small screen, Aronofsky says that One Strange Rock isn't comparable because it's not "a narrative project."
"It's a very different art form," he explains. "This was about [filming] 150 different locations that are some of the most extreme places on the planet and unite them visually, and then narratively finding links that build over the 10 hours, so that eventually there’s a big punch. By the end, you should have a real sense of how special this home we all live together in is."
As Aronofsky looks back on the progression of his career in recent years, he makes a surprising connection between this series and his last two films, mother!, a cinematic gut-punch starring Jennifer Lawrence; and Noah, a big-budget retelling of the story of Noah's ark. Like One Strange Rock, both of those projects have "strong environmental messages," he says. But while One Strange Rock is not here to push any sort of agenda politically, "it’s something that’s glorifying this planet, [so] there is a message there."
"I think Noah and mother! were very aggressively activist films, but [One Strange Rock] is just a different way of doing it," Aronofsky adds. "I’m happy to be involved with this project because I think it peels the orange a different way. It is different from other portraits of the Earth right now because we were just interested in the science, and we approached it truthfully to the science. In science, you don’t make a judgement beforehand. You just look at the systems that are in front of you and you’re meant to observe, and then draw conclusions. It just is."
Whether you take it from Aronofsky, Smith's narration, or any one of the eight astronauts who have left Earth only to return with a newfound love for their home planet, this world is something to take care of and cherish. Any way you slice it, One Strange Rock should be required viewing for any and every person calling Earth home.