Director Neil Burger explores raw human emotion in upcoming space sci-fi thriller ‘Voyagers’

Neil Burger, the director of “Limitless”, “The Illusionist” and “Divergent” returns to another dystopian world in “Voyagers”. A multi-generational space mission to find a new planet and save humanity goes awry when the young first-generation astronauts discover their mission is not all that it seems. The crew slowly descends into full “Lord of the Flies” — madness, as they struggle to decipher between real and fake threats.

“When I was writing it, I wasn’t thinking about [Lord of the Flies]. I thought, well, I could kind of move away from that [and] avoid it, or I could lean into the ‘Lord of the Flies’ thing. I decided to lean into it,” Burger said. “I love that book and I love the movie. I decided I would just embrace it and I thought it brought something interesting to the story.”

According to Burger, production wrapped up before the pandemic hit, and his original idea for the movie came years before that. However, his first concepts, ironically enough, came from the image of a cramped lockdown. Two years later, and we’re almost living in that concept. 

The ensemble in a “Voyagers” scene. (Lionsgate)

“The first image I wrote … was actually an image of confident of these young people sitting on the floor of a cramped compartment. Maybe it was in space. And then the next imagery was them bursting out of that space and chasing one of their crew members down a hall,” Burger said, while recapping how he developed the idea for the film. “It was kind of a crazy violent image, but it began in a kind of lockdown.”

The cast is stacked with young, prominent actors such as Tye Sheridan (“Ready Player One”), Lily-Rose Depp (“The King”), and Madison Hu (“Bizaardvark”). With a film that examines human behavior at its most primal states, the cast was tasked with a heavy role. 

“For me as a director, it was a huge pleasure having really great young actors…we’re examining raw human and who better to explore raw human nature within young people who aren’t necessarily fully formed or set in their ways,” Burger said. “They’re also talented and, for me, really inspiring because … they’re game for anything, they’re willing to try anything, they’re willing to learn.”

Director Neil Burger and Tye Sheridan on the set of “Voyagers”. (Vlad Cioplea)

Burger graduated from Yale University with a degree in fine arts and began his career in film shooting music videos, commercials and TV spots. He landed his first directorial feature debut with his original film “Interview with the Assassin” in 2002. 

“If [anyone] wants to be a director, I think it’s really important thing to do two things. One, to write, even if you’re not going to be writer. If you’re a writer, you can kind of control your own destiny a little bit more,” Burger said. “And then the other thing is just to keep shooting, keep making things, keep and going through the full process of editing them. And, you know, and each time you do it, you learn from your, from your mistakes and your failures. You just have to keep shooting.”

Director Neil Burger and Lily-Rose Depp on the set of VOYAGERS. (Vlad Cioplea)

Since his debut in Hollywood, he has directed a medley of movies varying in time period, genre, and theme, from “The Illusionist,” a romantic period piece, to “Divergent,” the book-adapted hit science-fiction thriller.

“I have done a lot of different kinds of movies, but to me, they’re all connected. They’re often about, can we be different? Can you change who you are?” Burger said. “In Voyagers, these people are being controlled and locked down. Then they have a chance to be set free, and is that who they want to be? Who do they really want to be as people?”

Burger revealed that he’ll be shooting a new film this summer, a psychological thriller movie adaptation of the 1858 fantasy story “The Marsh King’s Daughter” by Hans Christian Anderson. Burger’s adaptation will feature Star Wars’ lead Daisy Ridley.

“Voyagers” releases April 9.

(Lionsgate / Thunder Road Pictures, Ingenious Media)

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