Space Flight in the Movies

I just read an interesting editorial by science fiction author John Scalzi about how the portrayal of space travel by Hollywood has changed along with American attitudes towards it.

I do think that, to a very real extent, our film industry’s portrayal of space and its exploration is tied into our relationship with actual real-world space travel. Nor is this a new thing; it goes back six decades, at the very least. In 1950, the film Destination Moon, written by Robert Heinlein, gave filmgoers their first (somewhat) realistic glimpse of what travel to the moon might look like; its story and its rationale for going to the moon were in some ways priming the audience for the U.S.-Soviet “space race” to come.

Eighteen years later, in the full rush of the space race and close to the climax of the Apollo program, which did in fact send men to the moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey reflected the confidence we had with our progress into space. It was optimistic but not unreasonable to think that just a couple decades into the (then) future we would have expanded our reach into space to orbital stations and moon bases and that Pan Am, one of the great airline companies, would, naturally, have service to them.

That optimism regarding space travel soured in the seventies, along with much of the U.S. optimism about, well, pretty much everything, and, by 1977, the can-do spirit of Destination Moon and optimistic technical assumptions of 2001 had been replaced by the cynical view of Capricorn One, in which a mission to Mars is faked owing to both a fatal flaw in technology and the need for the space program to have a “win” to keep its funding flowing. NASA had become just another government bureaucracy and its mission just another way for the public to be lied to by its government.

Space Flight in the Real World vs. Armageddon and 2001 [FilmCritic]


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