How many of us have grown up dreaming of being an astronaut? So often, the appeal of floating high above the Earth’s surface, observing the universe from a unique perspective, and exploring the unknown of space are what drive many people to become the select few individuals who get to become astronauts. Unfortunately, for the rest of us who don’t qualify for NASA’s rigorous program or don’t have enough money to let Richard Branson put us in orbit, we have to resort to other means to travel through space. Of course, the primary method for moving through space is using our imagination. There are ways of heightening our imagination, either through the creativity of others or by taking hallucinogenic substances. While I don’t condone the latter, the former is a great way to explore the vastness of our existence. This week’s two films are loosely about traveling across the vast emptiness of space.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours
Science fiction has long been the staple of imagining what space is like. Distant worlds and spacecraft to get us there fuel our ideas of “the final frontier.” Sure Star Trek would be the obvious choice for a movie about traveling through space, but what if we wanted to travel by ourselves? We wouldn’t even know where to start. That’s where The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) comes in. Not only is it an endless source of useful information, but it also comes with the handy advice “Don’t Panic” emblazoned on its cover. If we don’t have the resources to get out to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, hitchhiking is always a viable alternative. But don’t let this lull you into thoughts that it would be easy: space is incredibly big. And since it’s so big, there’s a lot that could go wrong there. So, if you have your towel, are you ready to stick your thumb out and grab a ride?
Since Earth is one of the last places in the galaxy to be explored, what are the chances you’ll be picked up if you manage to get into space? Pretty slim, but not nil. This is what Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) and Ford Prefect (Mos Def) learn after they are kicked off a Vogon Constructor fleet after narrowly escaping the destruction of Earth. They’re picked up by the starship Heart of Gold, and join its crew of Marvin the Paranoid Android (Alan Rickman), Zaphod Beeblebrox the President of the Galaxy (Sam Rockwell), and Tricia “Trillian” McMillan, a woman Arthur knew from Earth (Zooey Deschanel). Zaphod is using the improbability drive of the starship to find the Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything to match the answer calculated by Deep Thought: 42. In their travels, they encounter many strange creatures and situations, but they learn that Arthur is the only chance they have to learn the question.
Across the Universe
Length: 133 minutes / 2.21 hours
Another way to travel through space is to take a trip. This, of course, refers to a “trip” in the psychedelic 1960s definition, which undoubtedly influenced many black velvet paintings of unicorns streaking across starry skies interweaved with extraterrestrial planets. While one will also note that the moon landing was in 1969, there is no question the dominant force in music at the time of the 1960s was The Beatles, especially since their career spanned the entire decade. While their earlier material was reminiscent of the musical culture of the 1950s, as the ’60s evolved, so did their style, eventually producing such trippy songs as “I am the Walrus,” “Revolution 9,” and the titular “Across the Universe.” And yet, even though this trip across the universe might be enhanced by psychedelic substances, there is still a beauty to the imagery and lyrics presented in these strange songs.
The film Across the Universe (2007) took the entire Beatles discography and mashed 30+ songs into a cohesive narrative based loosely on the events of the 1960s. Jude (Jim Sturgess) travels from Liverpool to find his father, but along the way befriends Max (Joe Anderson) who takes Jude home for Thanksgiving. This is where Jude meets Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and immediately falls in love with her. Jude and Max move to New York where Sadie (Dana Fuchs), Jojo (Martin Luther McCoy), and Prudence (T. V. Carpio) join the group of friends. Lucy eventually comes to visit when her boyfriend is killed in Vietnam. Now she is free to fall in love with Jude. As Max is drafted off to war, Lucy joins the anti-war movement, which causes Jude to question her fidelity. As the group splits up and goes their separate ways, a rooftop concert brings them all back together so that Jude can confess his love to Lucy one last time.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 saunters through space