Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in "First Man".
Hollywood's fascination with space travel or space exploration has existed way back in the black-and-white silent era.
1) "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)
Perhaps the earliest one of its kind ever filmed is George Melies' "A Trip To The Moon" in 1902.
Movies about space travel continues to find its way to the cinema even until today, as evidently seen in the upcoming Neil Armstrong biographical drama, "First Man" directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle (2016's "La La Land").
Reviews for Chazelle's space drama has been stellar ever since it made its grand debut at this year's Venice Film Festival.
Now, with the arrival of "First Man" at our local cinemas, here are the best space travel movies worth exploring.
Long before the power of CGI made space exploration look "easy" with a computer, know this: the special effects in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" were all done the old-fashioned way back in the 60s. With the help of special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull and even hiring NASA professionals to serve as the movie's technical consultants, every effect is meticulously shot and composed using a combination of trick cameras, models, props and front projection system. The end result is so convincing that it earned a well-deserved Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The story itself, which is inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's short story of "The Sentinel", is just as unique: an epic space movie with almost no dialogue as Kubrick relies heavily on image, visual and sound that helps to create the enigmatic sense of ambiguity and fascination. "2001: A Space Odyssey" is clearly not for everyone and those with short attention spans will find this movie a snoozefest. But it's hard to deny all the painstaking details and cinematic achievements that Kubrick has brought to the big screen the first time around. It was a landmark science fiction movie that inspired many generations of filmmakers, even today.
2) "The Right Stuff" (1983)
Based on Tom Wolfe's bestselling 1979 book of the same name, "The Right Stuff" recounts the real-life event of how seven men were enlisted by NASA as a team of astronauts a.k.a. "Mercury Seven" to take part in the first US manned space mission ever. Sure, the movie is monumentally long. Like over 3 hours, but writer-director Philip Kaufman manages to make this biographical epic drama both inspiring, funny and thrilling at the same time. The movie also benefitted from an impressive ensemble cast with the likes of Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid and Scott Glenn. Although "The Right Stuff" didn't exactly ignite the box-office, it did earn the movie a whopping 8 Academy Awards nominations including Best Picture (lost to James L. Brooks' "Terms Of Endearment") and Best Supporting Actor for Sam Shepard.
3) "Apollo 13" (1995)
Who can forgot Tom Hanks' now-immortal line "Houston, we have a problem" in "Apollo 13"? This hugely-popular Ron Howard's space docudrama, which is inspired from the eponymous botched lunar mission in 1970, boasts an all-star cast including Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris. Kudos go to Howard's top-notch direction, even going to great lengths of depicting space travels as technically and visually accurate as possible with the help of NASA. It was both a critical and financial hit back in 1995, earning 9 Academy Awards nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Ed Harris.
4) "Space Cowboys" (2000)
Who would have thought a ragtag group of geriatric NASA pilots led by Clint Eastwood turns out to be a witty and exciting space drama after all? Eastwood somehow did it by making the impossible to the tune of over USD120 million at the worldwide box-office against a modest USD60 million budget. Apart from Eastwood, the movie also featured strong supports by the likes of Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland. Given the fact that Eastwood is hardly known as a "visionary filmmaker", he actually did a good job creating a realistic look of space sequence during the second half of the movie.
5) "Gravity" (2013)
Two words: IMAX 3D. If you happen to watch Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" in that particular large format, congratulations. Besides, Cuaron and his technical team have painstakingly created the intense feeling of being trapped in space. This is particularly evident during the first 13-minute opening sequence, all meticulously shot and composed in one unbroken take. It was both spellbinding and claustrophobic, coupled with Sandra Bullock's impressive (mostly) one-woman show who finds herself stranded in space. "Gravity" was a big winner at the 2014 Academy Awards, with Cuaron famously becoming the first Mexican filmmaker to win the historic Best Director.
6) "Interstellar" (2014)
At nearly 3-hour long, it's hard to deny that "Interstellar" tends to overstretch its duration, but Christopher Nolan's first foray into the science-fiction territory happens to be one of the best space movies ever made in recent years. If you have yet seen the movie (really?), here is a brief synopsis: Taking place in the near future, we learn that humanity is at stake due to the shortage of food sources. Their only hope is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA test pilot sent to an all-important interstellar mission along with his crew (Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi and a TARS robot voiced by Bill Irwin) to save mankind by locating a possible new home planet. The movie is more than your average sci-fi movie about space exploration as Nolan combines fascinating elements of space-time continuum, quantum physics and black holes that are nearly as intriguing as watching "2001: A Space Odyssey". It also benefits from the use of actual sets with impeccable visual effects to create the outer space sequence as believable as possible.
7) "The Martian" (2015)
"The Martian" was released at the time where Ridley Scott suffered a consecutive career slump, thanks to both ill-fated and high-profile releases of "The Counselor" in 2013 and "Exodus: Gods And Kings" in 2014. But he manages to return to form in this space drama adapted from Andy Weir's bestselling novel of the same name. The movie, which centres on Matt Damon's Mark Watney left stranded on Mars and forced to survive with only limited amounts of supplies, is a marvel in both visual effects and other technical departments. Interestingly enough, "The Martian" marks a refreshing change of pace for Ridley Scott, whose previous sci-fi movies are all thematically dark and gloomy (see "Alien", "Blade Runner" and "Prometheus"). Instead, it is more of a feel-good drama without all his usual doom-and-gloom approach. The movie was a big hit at the worldwide box office, earning over USD630 million against a USD108 million budget. It also earned seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor for Matt Damon, even though it went home empty-handed.
Cinema Online, 21 October 2018