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
This mission to Mars goes completely wrong. From the crew of two on board the Mars Gravity Probe 1 only one survives, after an emergency landing on the Red Planet with a raft, in order to avoid a collision with a passing comet. With a… chimp as his only companion, the lonely American astronaut has to figure out how to stay alive, seek oxygen, water and food on a surface which provides nothing! A bizarre adaptation of the classic novel «Robinson Crusoe» by Daniel Defoe, it has gained fans as time goes by, makes excellent use of the ideal sights of California’s Death Valley and keeps a rather ironic reference to God for just before its…happy ending.
The «Bible» of space travel films and the reference point of every director attempting to make a similar movie, only to realise the awe-inspiring comparison to this Kubrick-esque archetype. It follows two missions with the same goal, the exploration of a massive and mysterious monolith. The first one has been discovered on the lunar surface after excavations, having been «deliberately buried» there 4.000.000 years ago. The second is in orbit around planet Jupiter and is being monitored by the crew of the spacecraft Discovery One, 18 months after the previous – and inexplicable – incident. Enigmatic even to this day, and aesthetically timeless, this film is the result of the joint imaginations of Arthur C. Clarke and of Kubrick, who received a visual effects Oscar.
In 2069 an unknown planet is spotted in our solar system. More bizarrely, it moves in a parallel orbit to Earth but always behind the Sun. An American astronaut and a British astrophysicist are the only crew members of spacecraft Phoenix which can solve the mystery, but its landing goes wrong due to an electrical storm. They are rescued but only the American survives, told he is back on Earth. However, he starts being very suspicious that the place he is in… is not our planet! A British production which caused a lot of controversy at its time but is now being (justifiably) considered a cult classic. A lot of the film’s elements, from sets to cast members, were also used in the TV show «UFO» (1970).
A space convoy carrying… greenhouses beyond planet Kronos’s orbit, away from Earth where all ecosystems die? It was an interesting and original idea with a clear ecological and revolutionary message, with the main character disobeying the earthly command to blow up the vehicles, searching instead for an alternative destination to plant his cargo. The film succeeded in marrying these elements to the sci-fi genre, thanks to Trumbull, a visual effects expert, here making his directorial debut. It heavily influenced subsequent films like «Wall-E» (2008) and «Moon» (2009), as both their respective directors, Andrew Stanton and Duncan Jones, admit. The Kronos sequence had been originally designed for «2001: A Space Odyssey» but the technology of the day had not allowed it to be realised.
Some distorted messages from the crew of a space station, in orbit around the unknown and isolated planet Solaris, lead a psychologist on a space journey. As he reaches his destination, finds the disarrayed space station dangerously neglected and its remaining scientists on the verge of madness. The appearance of the psychologist’s wife, who had… committed suicide on Earth years ago (!), will make him clash with his subconscious, which is bizarrely influenced by an energy wave from Solaris. The main rival of «2001: A Space Odyssey», this is considered one of the most revered films of the genre, even with Tarkovsky’s «internal» narrative style, who considered western sci-fi films as «shallow»!