Welcome to MindFood, a weekly column programmed to deconstruct all things sci-fi. It - it being me - is also programmed to be a hardcore nerd with an opinion about anything worth having an opinion about. This being the Internet, a place sci-fi fans have been historically ostracized from, I expect there will be no one around to disagree with said opinions.
Hollywood's Space Madness
The human race will expire lest we leave the pale blue dot. Greater minds than I have come up with actual theorems proving this, but math and statistics aside, it's as simple as this: All the homo sapien eggs are currently in one basket. If the basket goes, game over. Why, then, does Hollywood depict interstellar travel as a thing of horror time after time? If all the Aliens and Starship Troopers of the world have taught us anything, it's that if you travel into space, it won't be long before you develop a gaping wound in your chest; and even if our star-bound callings aren't answered by monsters, we'll be brought down from within by a killer case of space madness.
As far as films are concerned, nothing ever good comes from venturing skyward. Want to stay close and just go to the Moon? You'll find out your corporation is exploiting you (Moon) or you'll find an ominous, humanity-changing black obelisk (2001), or you'll just find a terrible movie (Pluto Nash). Want to head a little farther, to Mars, say? Your crew, both human and robotic, will turn on you (Red Planet), the planet will destroy you (Mission to Mars), you'll unlock an ancient evil (Ghosts of Mars, Doom), or a combination of all three may do your head in (Total Recall).
Want to be more ambitious and head out even farther? Hollywood tells us only two things can happen: Your crew will either encounter people-munching carnivores (all of the Alien films, Pitch Black, Starship Troopers, Enemy Mine, countless straight-to-video titles), or, more likely, you'll go fatally insane (Pandorum, Solaris, Sunshine, Event Horizon, The Black Hole, Lost in Space, 2001 ... hell, even the captain in Wall*E loses it).
Now, I'm not saying that stories of this nature aren't entertaining (or even, at times, outstanding), but it's curious to me that the film industry is rarely an advocate of getting the hell off of Earth. It's as though the words of H.P. Lovecraft have been branded upon the brain of every writer, producer, and director in Hollywood. Whether they're aware of it or not, almost all seem to heed the warning that opens Lovecraft's 1928 short story, The Call of Cthulhu: "We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far."
And that's a problem. Not because the lack of humanity-benefiting space exploration on film (Star Trek is pretty much the only game in town on this front) is the sole thing that separates us from colonies on the moon; rather, this shortsighted, (passively) anti-space agenda is a problem for cinematic storytelling as a whole. Films of this ilk are stuck running in a linear rut that only finds monsters on one end and space madness on the other. It takes a ludicrous amount of imagination and resources to climb out of said rut and tell a story with as few Earthly references as possible, sure, but it's not impossible to do. All it takes is the vision and the persistence to voyage far into the black seas of infinity. Not only can the financial returns be extraordinary (here's looking at both Avatar and Star Trek), but audiences get so much more from the experience.
Set anything in space and I will watch it (in fact, one of the first titles I suggested for this ongoing sci-fi column was "Set it in Space"), but even I wish that Hollywood would stop portraying space as -- to steal another quote from Lovecraft -- a "terrifying new vista of reality." One day, I would like to be able to rattle off a variety of movies that champion space exploration as easily as I can those that (passively) condemn it. Sadly, however, I don't know when the tide will turn, but it's possible that Avatar might be the catalyst. Say what you will about James Cameron as a screenwriter, but at least he visually voyaged far. Perhaps the $1.6B his film is currently sitting on will be enough incentive for others to head to the stars as well. Hopefully, they'll do it even better.