With the spectacular reception of blockbuster 3D movie Gravity (opens here in the UK on November 8th), it feels like a missing piece of the SF moviegoing experience might finally have been brought to life. It's always irked me, why filmmakers have felt the need to embellish what's already the most extraordinary trip man has ever undertaken. Aliens, asteroids, black holes etc. are all fascinating, but to reach them, storytellers tend to take for granted the miraculous--and terrifying--achievement of man existing in space.
Existing. A lone man or woman floating out there in an EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) suit encapsulates so much--daring, fear, hope, humanity, technology--it's an experience I'm surprised Hollywood hasn't really tried to simulate in any meaningful way before now. Sure, we've had a handful of gripping scenes *featuring* that isolation, that sense of claustrophobia. 2001, 2010, Sunshine, Deep Impact, and others have touched on it. But we've never had a movie ABOUT that.
If it sounds like a boring subject for a film--and it clearly has until now--then we're lacking the very ingredient science fiction supplies in abundance: imagination. Only it needn't be science fiction. Astronauts have been braving mind-boggling perils for half a century now, yet we know precious little about what it feels like to be in space, the actual experience. All the drama and emotion is there, tightly wound inside those conditioned men and women. It's been waiting for a filmmaker with the imagination, tools, and storytelling brio to unleash it onscreen.
By all acounts, Alfonso Cuaron has done just that in Gravity.
Tom Hanks was involved in two brilliant projects in the 90s--Apollo 13 and Earth to the Moon--that successfully chronicled events in the Apollo Space Program. The former, a nail-biting thriller about the near-disastrous aborted moon mission, is one of the most realistic space-themed movies ever made. Three men in a confined space, running out of air, time, and hope: its hard to see how director Ron Howard could have improved on his recreation of the spacefarers' experience during that fateful voyage.
But the crew of Apollo 13 never left their ship(s). They were isolated, but they were inside, and they were together. There's something truly terrifying about being *alone*, outside in an EVA suit, and hanging by a single tether line. One slip and you will float away into eternity. Hanks's character, Jim Lovell, experiences that in a quick dream sequence.
But to recreate that dread tension, that sense of fragility, requires a prolonged simulation of EVA solitude. I've been waiting for a major filmmaker to attempt it. With today's effects tech, and 3D, it's an exciting prospect. I caught Magnificent Desolation 3D on an IMAX some years ago, and found it very immersive and impressive. That was a documentary.
Fingers crossed Gravity achieves that and much more. Nov 8 can't arrive soon enough!
Robert Appleton is an award-winning author of science fiction, steampunk, and historical fiction. Based in Lancashire, England, he writes for various publishers. In his spare time he hikes, kayaks, and reads as many Victorian adventure novels as he can get his hands on. His mind is somewhat mercurial. His inspiration is the night sky.