A new film from Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón does a great job of showing the isolation felt by two cosmonauts who, in the words of David Bowie, are “sitting in a tin can, far above the world.”
Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who get pelted by a debris storm, comprised of bits and pieces of old satellites. With their space shuttle disabled and their communications offline and they are forced to become Space MacGyvers in order to survive.
Bullock and Clooney aren’t the first movienauts to be cut adrift in space. From animated films like WALL-E to epics like 2001: A Space Odyssey Hollywood has mined the vastness of space in some unforgettable movies.
In the film Moon Sam Rockwell is astronaut Sam Bell, a Lunar Industries employee living and working on a space station on a three year contract.
His job is to tend to machines that are “harvesting solar energy from the dark side of the moon” and providing almost 70% of earth with power. His only companion is a robot / cup holder named Gerty (voiced by the appropriately named Kevin Spacey) although he can receive taped messages from his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott). The loneliness of the job is broken, however, when he discovers that he may not be truly alone.
The comparisons to 2001 are obvious, made even more apparent by Spacey’s HAL-like delivery of his robot lines, but director Duncan Jones has simply used Kubrick’s film as a visual reference on his way to creating a unique and fascinating film. Another thing he borrowed from Kubrick and many other sci-fi films of the 60s and 70s is his emphasis on ideas rather than special effects. Michael Bay this ain’t.
One of the earliest alone-in-space movies came in 1950. Destination Moon is noted as the first Hollywood movie to contain scientific representations of space travel. The story involves a two-man journey to the fifth largest moon in the Solar System and the difficult decision to leave one behind. Heralded at the time for its realism, through today’s eyes it looks somewhat corny. For example: “I know one thing,” says a spacesick General Thayer (Tom Powers), “unless these pills work, space travel isn’t going to be… popular.”