Space might really be the final frontier when it comes to settings for movies. For scientists, there was a little bit of befuddlement over why space suddenly became such a big deal when “Gravity” released in IMAX 3D theaters. Over the last 20 years, space became overly contrived and (dare we say it) boring in the movies. That’s because the depictions of space from much earlier had already been proven to be accurate and more compelling. Then again, you can’t blame space itself when it’s merely the dark canvas for something interesting happening in the foreground.
“Gravity” has finally taken the above problem and fixed it so we don’t automatically start getting derivative “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” thoughts in our heads. It turned out that the depiction of real astronauts created one of the most compelling plots we’ve seen in years. At one time, that would have required a hard sell to a movie executive.
What that means to the future of the space movie is now up for grabs. It’s not that more hasn’t already been on the drawing board, notably upcoming “Interstellar” from Christopher Nolan. The only question is whether space can be made interesting when accompanying plots start going into the abstract. With “Gravity”, many people could relate to it because home from the big blue marble was seen right below. It also had the familiarity of Earth seeing more than a few compelling space walks on live TV.
The beauty and dangers of space, though, were already seen exactly 45 years ago with “2001: A Space Odyssey” and seemed to have a completely different reaction with 1968 audiences. It wasn’t until we saw footage of space during the later Apollo moon missions did we find out that space really did look like that. But those of us who weren’t around in 1968 must wonder what the initial reactions from the public were and whether skepticism grew about space movies ever being marketable again.
It still amazes how “2001” seems to still be a slowly blooming flower of insight to the possibilities of the space movie and the profundities of what’s really out there. While the film still has its detractors due to its deliberate pace, it probably wouldn’t be very marketable today without changes. “Interstellar” seems to want to go where “2001” left off, even if we’ll have to expect some mainstream devices and easily digestible ideas placed in there to keep things moving along.
“Gravity” seems to place the space movie at a crossroads: Should we do movies about space territory that looks familiar to us, or should it go the “Star Trek” route and boldly explore? “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” now have a new shot in the arm to perhaps revive the latter, even if it ultimately has a longstanding niche audience rather than winning new ones.
It turns out that we had plenty of untapped stories about space in Earth’s own backyard and still do after “Gravity.” The best philosophy now is realizing those stories can be just as mind-blowing near Earth than out in the farthest, unknown regions of space. That includes the concepts of a higher life form.
Just like James Cameron proved how our oceans are still largely unexplored, space in the universe we know still holds creative possibilities. You can say that, even if someone very non-brilliant decides to bring “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” into that environment through the concept of a wormhole.