With “Apollo 18″ finally getting released, we are again reminded of how great a setting outer space is for movies. On one hand it is an amazing place to explore and is indeed “the final frontier,” but it can also be a lonely and terrifying place where “no one can hear you scream.” Here are some of my favorite movies whose images of the stars come close to giving vertigo as if I will fall into right into them.
Now this one did take a real life mission to the moon, and it remains Ron Howard’s greatest movie as a director. His attention to detail and getting the actors into an authentically zero gravity environment made for a riveting motion picture experience. The fact that it involves a true story we all know the outcome of makes this all the more of a tremendous achievement as it still has us on the edge of our seats.
While being in outer space must be amazing, after awhile it becomes a job like any other. This is not lost on John Carpenter who, with one of his first movies as a director, follows a bored crew who has already been in space for years as they blow up unstable planets. It’s easy to see how the wondrous can become so tedious after a short time. The only things keeping the crew on their toes are an alien shaped like a beach ball, and a bomb that is impatiently waiting to explode even as others tell it not to.
“The Empire Strikes Back”
We have to put at least one “Star Wars” movie on this list, so it might as well be this one. Aside from being the most dramatically fulfilling movie of George Lucas’ franchise, we get to watch the characters explore environments and creatures on a variety of different players. From Luke Skywalker meeting Yoda for the first time to Han Solo flying the Millennium Falcon out of a creature eager to digest it, the creativity the filmmakers bring to these alien worlds is as entertaining as it is enthralling.
Ridley Scott’s 1979 film remains one of the scariest movies ever. Even in space, workers still have to deal with an uncaring corporation concerned more with profit and power the well being of others. The crew of the Nostromo is sent to another planet to being back a creature “the company” wants to use as a weapon at the expense of those on board. Even if you know the outcome of this one, it remains as thrilling and horrifying an experience as ever.
“The Right Stuff”
Phillip Kaufman’s adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s non-fiction novel is as entertaining as ever as it covers America’s competition with Russia with its space program. All the scenes where characters played by Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Fred Ward, and Dennis Quaid fly into space are amazing in how realistic they feel, and we share their experience as they sit isolated in the tiny spacecraft. It’s great to see this one get the audience it deserves on video, cable, and DVD after they missed it in theatres.