Why does it seem like Hollywood is afraid of space?
The above trailer is for The Last Days On Mars, a movie due out October 31 on iTunes and December 6 in theaters (which blows my mind) staring Liev Schreiber. As you can see from the trailer, it's yet another space-horror movie which has both piqued my interest and made me feel somewhat, well, down as well. Why down? Because as I was watching the trailer it occurred to me that this movie, like the Europa Report (which I loved), is about astronauts going to a place we really plan to go to in the near future and finding nothing but horror and death (which I suppose is finding extra-terrestrial life as well, but still...)
It occurred to me that this trend of "be afraid of space" films is sort of a mixed bag for we who actually want to see humans on Mars, Europa, and beyond within the next fifty years or so. On the one hand, these movies probably draw in large crowds since they pull from both the horror and the sci-fi subcultures, but on the other hand they give something of a negative message I'm not entirely comfortable with which may discourage public support for the real missions. "Space holds death and pain for the human species," just doesn't sit well with me.
The Europa Report Trailer:
I loved the first two Alien movies (though the second is really just sci-fi-action, and not horror), and I liked Event Horizon right up until the end, which I found a bit disappointing. Pitch Black is one of my favorite movies of all time, so it's not so much the genre itself that gives me that not-so-good feeling. After further thought I came to the conclusion that it was the way in which these recent films are handling the genre that is bothering me. The fact that they are about actual missions we might take is probably the biggest factor in my discomfort.
The endeavor to explore our local neighborhood, though treacherous, will probably not have killer alien-monsters at the end of it. Let's say I'm 99.9999999% sure this will be the case. There is enough to worry about as it is—decompression, radiation poisoning, starvation, asphyxiation, freezing to death, engine malfunction, etc. etc.—without involving monsters at the end of the trip. Also, large-scale predators require complete ecosystems to support them. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have us find an entire underground, living world on Mars, but I just don't think it's very likely (or that the predators there would even recognize us as food. We'd probably be as toxic to them as they would be to us if we ate some of their flesh, and we wouldn't "smell right" to them in any case.)
The other side of my unease with this trend in films is that I cannot think of many (if any) recent movies that were about space or aliens or the struggle to explore beyond Earth's atmosphere that were inspiring. I'd like to see more movies like the Abyss, for instance, in which the aliens appear threatening but the twist at the end shows us that humanity's greatest enemy remains itself. Also, Red Planet, in which the heroes struggle against both the negative human element among them and the dangers of the hostile environments involved in space exploration (both in space and on Mars itself).
Don't get me wrong, space-horror definitely has its place and can be quite entertaining, but I miss the balance to both it and space-action that some of the more philosophical-adventure space movies provided. Unfortunately, most of these don't tend to stack up against the box-office numbers that Star Trek (the recent ones), Riddick, and Alien can provide so they don't get made as much. Perhaps this neglected genre is just waiting for a good movie to represent it better? Maybe time will tell...