Mark Reeves counts down the best films set in space.
The expanse of the Universe juxtaposed with the isolation of one person is certainly not a new trick when it comes to films set in space, but what is special about Duncan Jones’ Moon is the way Sam Bell’s (Sam Rockwell) lone residency of a lunar mining base is portrayed. Here is a man who has spent the last three years away from his family mining Helium-3 on the dark side of the moon with only a match stick village and conversations with A.I unit GERTY to keep him going.
Sam’s solidarity is reflected perfectly with long shots offering the perspective of the Moon dwarfing the Earth in size. Comparisons can be drawn with 2001: A Space Odyssey, but these feel like inspiration rather than obvious copying. One such similarity being GERTY, voiced perfectly by Kevin Spacey, who aids Sam in his mission with a tone that is helpful, yet you gain the impression this computer knows more than it is letting on.
With strange visions of a mysterious woman and a lack of contact with his home planet, Sam’s paranoia kicks in and shapes this film into a subtle tale of a man looking for answers 225,000 miles from Earth.
The crew of space ship Nostromo are woken from hypersleep to investigate a distress signal, and so begins Alien, Ridley Scott’s space horror that shocked audiences back in 1979 and still has significant impact today. After noticing their journey is not even half complete, they set down on a mysterious planet and send out a search party. Realising too late that the signal is in fact a warning, an alien form attaches itself to the face of Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt) leading us to the famous ********** scene and one of the most shocking moments in film history. So begins a tense cat-and-mouse game around the spaceship that is heightened even further by the claustrophobic setting and clever decision to only hint at the Alien intruder’s beastly form.
One of the most important aspects of the entire Alien franchise is Sigourney Weaver’s strong, steady lead Ripley. Originally scripted as a man, Weaver confirmed the change was a good one by effortlessly carrying the film on her shoulders with a real, human performance, supported by a decent cast, including Ian Holm’s creepy Android Ash.
A perfect blend of genres, Alien set the bench mark for space horror spawning a franchise that has a mixed variation of success. James Cameron’s Aliens surprised audiences by taking the franchise in a different direction whilst retaining quality, whereas Scott’s recent prequel Prometheus split opinions and left fans pining for more Ripley and her trusty cat, Jones.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey can only be described as an epic space opera charting the evolution of man, exploration of space, artificial intelligence and a journey into the infinite.
Opening with a 20 minute dialogue-free chapter named ‘Dawn of Man’, in which we see a bunch of apes at the tipping point of evolution, you know this film is not your average science fiction adventure. Richard Strauss’ famous ‘Thus Sprach Zarathustra’ is just one of many compositions that frame Kubrick’s stunning vision into a space performance, rather than just a film set in space. With extensive shots of impressive craft landings and monoliths on the moon, the film is relentless in not dumbing down for the audience. It may test the patience of many, but with such a spectacular result you can hardly blame Kubrick for such meticulous filming.
When dialogue eventually begins we learn of a mysterious object buried under the lunar surface nearly 4 million years ago. 18 months later and we are on a mission to Jupiter, introducing one of cinema’s most menacing computer systems, HAL the calm but evil AI unit.
Ending in one of the most bizarre and visually-inspired sequences ever, 2001 takes us beyond the realm of human existence and completes our journey of human life in remarkable form. Although the 2001 we experienced does not come close to Kubrick’s vision of the future, his science-fiction classic is light-years beyond its time.
Honourable mentions: Original Star Wars trilogy, Wall-E, Sunshine, Star Trek Into Darkness