The very first film in the history of sci-fi showed a mission to the Moon and another archetypal and timeless – beyond genres – movie narrated a… space odyssey. It is thus easy to understand the scope of the vision, but also the difficulties (or even the comparisons) Christopher Nolan had to face with his «Interstellar». What follows is a list of 25 films that paved the way towards the evolution of this journey, beyond the borders of our galaxy…
Christopher Nolan’s «Interstellar» has been one of the most highly anticipated «event movies» of 2014, taking us back to the sub-genre of sci-fi cinema which, since the early 1900’s, has been exploring the unknown universe, its possible interpretations and the human kind’s hopes of creating new civilisations when the Earth becomes unsustainable. The space travels and the explorers of the Moon and various (imaginary or not) planets were glorified in the 1950’s, providing visions but also threatening to destroy the – so called – «American Dream» which featured as the main social prototype for development and prosperity on our planet.
The following list (in chronological order, to avoid potential bloodshed!), consists of 25 film titles from 1902 to today. In it, there are some films which may not be the groundbreakers or the best of their kind, yet they influenced their genre and the pop culture, they became reference points, they suggested something original, they belong to the «cult» sphere or they found the farcical elements of the «fashion» of the space missions, which seems to be back, judging from last year’s «Gravity» and from the critical and audience acclaim for «Interstellar».
So, please, make sure your oxygen levels are sufficient for the journey and… we have a blast off!
TEXT: Elias Fragoulis
ILLUSTRATION: The Comeback Studio
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: Katerina Andreakou
The President of an astronomers’ club suggests an explorative voyage to the Moon and five courageous colleagues follow him, their vehicle being a bullet-shaped space capsule. Their mission is a success but they are held captives by the Selenites. Eventually our heroes escape, as the Selenites turn into smoke every time they get hit by a human! Méliès was inspired by the similar themed books of Jules Verne, and it took him three months of filming and a budget of 10.000 French francs to create an epic of visual illusions in its…13 minutes duration. Even with its naivety and the meagre technology of the silent film era, its influence on cinematic History remains timeless.
Los, a «dreamer» engineer and his assistant secretly create a spaceship which launches, almost by accident, towards the…capitalistic Mars! Once there, they are supported by Aelita, the daughter of the planet’s dictator, as she has been secretly in love with Los for years, «stalking» him from afar via a telescope. They end up in prison, where they begin their…proletariat revolution! Adapted by an Aleksey Tolstoy play, this was the first important Russian sci-fi film. Even if the majority of the story takes place on Earth, the Mars part is the apotheosis of constructivism, in terms of sets and costumes, even influencing Fritz Lang’s «Metropolis» (1927).
Greediness leads a group of humans to the Moon, after a professor’s theory that inexhaustible sources of gold can be found there. The mission proves successful, the gold is there but, for the humans, there can never be enough riches. As they inevitably exterminate each other, the return to Earth of even a single survivor becomes dangerously doubtful. This is an excellent example of the genre, considered as the first serious sci-fi film in the history of cinema, as its audience is treated with scientific information on rocket science, space launching and space gravity laws. Nazi Germany was quick to ban the film because of its highly realistic depiction of rockets – very similar to their own real war ones!
Luna, the first manned US spacecraft, is launched (rather hastily, due to social unrest for civilian safety), its mission being to explore the Moon. During its journey, the crew experiences a near-fatal accident, allowing the film’s audience to watch for the very fist time a decent effort on a realistic sequence outside the gravity-free spacecraft. The mission is successful, the four crew members do their job and they take the long way back home to Earth. Shot in colour and winning an Oscar for visual effects, here is the first classic American production on the perils of space travel, even featuring… Woody Woodpecker in an educational film (which was later «borrowed» by NASA itself!).
As a star enters our solar system, causing dramatic predictions of a collision, humanity has about eight months to launch a manned rocket into space, as some sort of Noah’s Ark filled with selected representatives of our species. They are to create a colony, however an… All-American one, as every other country’s similar launch has failed. The melodramatic tones are prominent in this populist propaganda which is both frightening in its end-of-the-world theme but also «upbeat», as it sends us to another, entirely liveable, planet of our galaxy, where the American Dream lives on intact, even dominant over all other human tribes! Another visual effects Oscar winner.