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Since the early 1950s, as the Cold War truly got under way and the rocket race heated up, the filmmakers of Hollywood – first in film, and then on TV – began to imagine what space exploration might look like. After all, if new telescopes could see far into the galactic heavens and we could launch missiles high into the sky, it hardly seemed far-fetched to predict that we would one day walk on the moon. Though populations world-wide were terrified of atomic bombs and worried about the nuclear arsenals built up by the Soviet Union and United States, it was, in fact, the competition between those two superpowers that motivated their respective governments to put money and intellectual resources into their space programs, hoping to be the first to send a man beyond earth’s orbit. The Soviets reached space first – with Yuri Gagarin – but the Americans were the first to set foot on the moon – with Neil Armstrong. All the while, Hollywood kept making their own cinematic versions of space travel, from Destination Moon (1950) to Forbidden Planet (1956) to the 1960s TV series Lost in Space and Star Trek to Stanley Kubrick’s seminal sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the 1970s, with new special-effects technology, the look of space exploration changed, with films like Star Wars (1977) and Alien (1979), which posited a universe (past and future) where space travel was the norm and ordinary folks took it for granted. Where Star Trek had imagined space as an exciting “final frontier,” Alien held out the possibility that life on other planets might destroy us.
Some movies have tried to focus on the science – rather than the science fiction – of space exploration, among them Apollo 13 (1995), Gravity (2013), and Interstellar (2014) (sort of). Whatever one thinks of any of these films, we can all agree that we have come a long way since French filmmaker Georges Méliès first put space travel on the silver screen in his 1902 short film A Trip to the Moon. And now, on Friday, October 2, 2015, we have a new film, The Martian, from Ridley Scott (director of Alien). Where will it fall on the spectrum of movies about space? Join us on that Friday, at 1pm, on WYPR 88.1 FM, for the Midday with Dan Rodricks show, when Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film/Video, Stevenson University – and William U’Ren – Assistant Professor, English, Goucher College – will discuss Hollywood’s depiction of space travel, in film and TV. Note that we will only be discussing films that deal with humans traveling into space, and not aliens coming to earth.
Add your voices to the conversation via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (410-662-8780 locally, or toll-free at 1-866-661-9309). If you can’t listen locally, you can live-stream the podcast here: http://www.wypr.org/listen-live. If you can’t listen live, then check out the podcast later by visiting the show’s site. You can also leave your thoughts on your favorite space-travel films and TV shows in the comment section of this blog.
Enjoy the show! This will actually be the last one that Dan Rodricks will do as host of Midday, as he is moving on to other projects. So join us to say goodbye, at the very least!