Ridley Scott’s Prometheus evokes strong reactions in Alien fans. You either love it or hate it. There’s been a heated conversation or two between A Mind On Fire staff on its merits. Alien: Covenant met with mixed reviews, but didn’t settle the Prometheus debate. What can be agreed upon is that space is a dangerous place.
When I was child I would look up at the night sky in wonder. I loved space. I could name the planets, the stars, and find the constellations. Like a lot of children I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. I wanted to see first hand the expanse of space. As a child, I didn’t know you had to be really smart, go to a great college and get great grades to even think about becoming an astronaut. Looking at the movies on this list maybe it was a good thing I was a below average student who spent more time in detention than in classes. Aliens would be the least of my space problems.
The Black Hole
Star Wars was a rebirth of sorts for the sci-fi action movie. A lot of studios raced to cash in on the Star Wars craze. Battle Beyond the Stars, Starcrash (lightsaber included), Ice Pirates (Yes, thisone was meant to be a spoof of the genre) and Space Raiders are just a few of the movies that reached for the Star Wars cash. The Walt Disney Company even cashed in on the craze with The Black Hole.
Like the Enterprise on Star Trek, the USS Palomino is tasked to find new life in space. Unlike the Enterprise, the Palomino doesn’t find new life. Instead the crew finds the lost ship USS Cygnus parked right on the edge of a black hole; the largest black hole the crew has ever seen.
As coincidence and poorly written script would have it Palomino crew member Dr. Kate McCrae’s father was on board when the ship was reported lost. Of course the crew has to board the Cygnus. Why not board a ship that has been reported lost found floating on the edge of a black hole? What’s the worst thing that could happen?
The worse thing that could happen is the Palomino crew learns Cygnus’s robot crew are actually reanimated corpses. The worse thing that could happen is Dr. Hans Reinhardt, the de facto captain of the Cygnus, wants to take the ship into the black hole. The abosultely worse thing that could happen is the Palomino crew gets sucked into the black hole.
In 1979, the idea of surviving a black hole seemed like science fiction. Recently, Stephen Hawking put forward the idea that it would be possible to enter a black hole and come out the other side. You have to give credit to Gary Nelson, the director, and the screenwriters for the trippy, space bending voyage the crew goes on to get the other side of the black hole.
Last Days on Mars
Mars is Earth’s closest neighbor. It has held a fascination for astronauts, scientists, and stargazers alike for centuries. NASA has made giant steps forwarding in our understanding of Mars since it was first discovered in 1659.
Twenty years ago, NASA’s Pathfinder probe landed on Mars to not only show a landing was possible but to also collect data. The Last Days on Mars, a name with more than one meaning, is about a group of astronauts on a mission to also collect samples from Mars’s surface.
A mission is never really a success until you’re safe and sound in the comfort of your own home. With only nineteen hours left before the crew’s mission is over things go kind way off course. The crew makes a discovery of epic proportions. What’s found? Just evidence of life on Mars.
They should have left things alone, but they didn’t. Crew members start to die only to come back to cause all sorts of chaos. It’s a twist on the zombie movie, but it’s still a zombie movie. Even worse, zombies on Mars. There’s not too many places you can run from a zombie on Mars. As the final scene suggests, the zombies may not have to wait long for their next course.
Mission to Mars
Over the years Brian De Palma has made a name for himself as a director who can craft a who-done-it crime movie like no other director working today. Movies like The Untouchables, Scarface, and Carlito’s Way are considered classics. Dressed to Kill, Snake Eyes, and Body Double are often described as “Hitchcockian.” The guy even kicked off the Mission: Impossible franchise. However, there is nothing in his resume that would lead someone to believe science-fiction was in his wheelhouse.
NASA has plans to land humans on Mars by 2030. Mission to Mars sent Don Cheadle (Boogie Nights, House of Lies) and a crew to Mars in 2020. Unfortunately, the crew zigs when it should have zagged. Luke Graham, Cheadle, has to go full Matt Damon The Martian to survive while a rescue mission is planned, launched, and lands on Mars. Except, Graham never knew, nor could have he known, NASA was sending anyone to save him from the Red Planet.
Of course, NASA does send a rescue mission to Mars. The mission, lead by Jim McConnell, (Gary Sinise, The Stand ) hits a few bumps along the way, but ultimately finds the marooned Luke Graham. It’s at this point things quickly become a 2001 rip-off.
There’s gibberish of DNA sequences. There’s more gibberish of maybe the DNA is somehow related to humans. On top of all this there’s even a secret cave within the Cydonia, the Face on Mars (FYI: It’s not a face. Its all shadows and optical illusions). There’s also a really bad version of the 2001’s Star Child.
Mission to Mars tried to solve some mysterious of the Red Planet. It even tried to solve the eternal question, ” How did I get here?” However, it failed to answer the biggest mystery of all, “Why was Gary Sinise wearing eyeliner during the entire movie?”
In Event Horizon, Dr. William Weir (Sam Neil, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) created a device that allowed spacecraft to travel great distances at quicker than normal speeds. Of course, the device is put on a ship and used. Of course, the ship disappears and the crew presumed dead.
Event Horizon would be boring if faster than light speeds or jumping from one place in space to another was the only thing that happened. What happens is the lost ship, the Event Horizon, reappears in deep space.
Weir jumps aboard the Lewis and Clark to investigate and, if possible, bring the crew home and salvage the drive. It’s a nice thought. There were probably a lot of family members back home still grieving lost loved ones. Except, none of that ever happens.
Weir’s little contraption opened a passage to somewhere, another dimension, that can only be described as “hellish.” The crew is tortured both mentally and physical. Dr. Weir goes way of the deep end. Hell isn’t a place anyone would want to be. Hell in space is probably even worse than your normal hell.
We can debate back and forth all day long if there is a Hell. We can debate all day long and never get anywhere. We can also debate whether or not wormhole travel is possible. Stephen Hawking says wormhole travel is possible. Other folks “in the know” say it’s impossible for a bunch of mathematical reasons I can’t even explain. Possible. Not possible. I say, “Why risk opening the gateway to Hell?”
When Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris was released in 2002 it was met with harsh criticism by fans and critics alike. One critic called it “boring” which lead to George Clooney’s now legendary retort. What’s also legendary is Solaris’s failure at the box office.
Clooney plays Dr. Chris Kelvin, a psychologist sent to investigate the crew of a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The affects the planet had on the crew becomes quite apparent when Kelvin starts to see his dead wife. He sees her and not in The Sixth Sense kind of way. He touches her, smells her, and makes love to her. She is real as he wants her to be.
Kelvin’s not the only crew member to have strange experiences. Other crew members have had similar experiences. Loved ones had appeared and old regrets came back to the surface. Some crew members couldn’t handle what was happening. By the time Kelvin arrives there are only two crew members alive. The others have met with tragic ends or simply disappeared.
Solaris is perhaps Soderbergh’s most strikingly beautiful and challenging film. The typical sci-fi tropes have been stripped away. In their place, Soderbergh crafted a story of love, loss, and regret. It’s a character driven film. A film that asks questions about second chances. Ultimately, Kelvin chooses a life with his dead wife.
Did the crew go insane? Was the planet responsible for the events? In the end, does it matter? We make our choices and we have to live with them. Some of us, most of us, don’t get a second chance.
Space can be a dangerous place, folks. Gateways to hell, zombies, lost lovers, and bad CGI aliens are enough to keep my feel planted firmly on terra firma. Fortunately, there are some brave men and women willing to break earthly bounds to find out what’s out there.
(What are some your favorite Things Go Wrong in Space movies? Let us know on Facebook or Twiiter)
If you have the time check out Europa Report. It’s not the best, but what can you expect from a space octopus.