#384. Surviving Space

Sometimes, I think we take the simple act of survival for granted, especially on Earth. Sure, there are extreme climates that prohibit long-term survival, but most areas on Earth can be survived for a significant amount of time. Humans have an inherent ability to find food, water, and shelter, even in the most unforgiving of habitats. Most of this is predicated on the fact that Earth has breathable air. Remove that variable, and suddenly survival isn’t something that can be brute-forced. Instead, survival becomes nearly impossible. Humanity has not spent much time in outer space to know how to survive if something goes wrong. Even the few, potentially deadly incidents have had a significant amount of luck that contributed to the astronauts’ survival. This week’s two films highlight what it’s like to survive in space.

InterstellarInterstellar
Year: 2014
Rating: PG-13
Length: 169 minutes / 2.82 hours

Partly because Earth has some “Goldilocks” conditions that are conducive to life—and therefore survival—we often forget the insurmountable odds against surviving on other planets. As we’ve seen in such movies like The Martian (2015), if something goes wrong on another planet, even one as “close” as Mars is, the chance of survival is so slim that any efforts to remain alive are mostly used to prolong the inevitability of death. However, if Earth’s conditions change, and humanity is no longer able to survive on their home planet, then we need to find a suitable planet where we can live again. There’s nothing that meets these criteria in our solar system, but if we were to find a way to reach another part of the universe, humanity might just have a chance at surviving. Even this hopeful scenario still has its challenges.

Humanity is struggling to survive on Earth. Plants are having trouble growing due to an extensive array of blights, which has also led to dangerous dust storms. While the educators of Earth have turned their back on science, NASA has been working in the shadows, developing a plan to send a crew of astronauts through a wormhole discovered near Saturn years ago. These astronauts have one mission: to determine which of the three planets orbiting a black hole can sustain life. Unfortunately, the theory of general relativity rears its ugly head after one of the worlds is deemed unsuitable. With only enough resources to visit one more planet, the crew proceeds with their best bet and finds one of the advanced party has survived in stasis. This lone survivor knows he has but one chance to escape, and the crew has just given it to him. Now in an emergency situation, sacrifices must be made to save humanity.

GravityGravity
Year: 2013
Rating: PG-13
Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours

Surviving on alien planets is challenging, but it becomes a moot point if we can’t even reach these extraterrestrial worlds. It is a credit to our engineers and scientists that very few astronauts have died during our brief ventures out into space. Some situations, like Apollo 13 (1995), could have ended in death but were saved by ingenuity—if not by a sheer miracle. Despite our mostly-spotless track record of surviving in outer space, plenty can go wrong in this unforgiving vacuum. For the most part, the spacecraft we use to travel into space protect astronauts from plenty of the problems associated with the journey. However, once an astronaut “steps outside,” even their space suits can only do so much for them should anything go wrong. If the spacecraft then ceases to be a safe haven, the astronaut has few, if any, options for survival at their disposal.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on a spacewalk to fix the Hubble Space Telescope when Houston comes on the communication line to let the astronauts of STS-157 know there’s a problem. The Russians shot down one of their satellites, which caused a ton of debris to spread and destroy many space assets, including the communication link back to Mission Control. In no time at all, the debris has reached the astronauts and destroys the Space Shuttle Explorer. Stone and Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are the only survivors, and they only have a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) to get them to the International Space Station (ISS). Once they arrive, they find all the spacecraft have been used to evacuate, leaving one final option: traversing to a nearby Chinese space station to use a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to return to Earth.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 survival scenarios in space

#340. Ridley Scott

While some directors have found success in a single genre, others have perfected their craft so well that they can find success in multiple genres. Ridley Scott has directed many successful and memorable films over the years, which is practically a testament to his prolific repertoire as much as it is his artistic vision. It can be challenging to nail down what his most significant successes are to pigeonhole him into a genre. His science fiction films have been iconic, but he’s also received critical acclaim for historical pieces. From dark fantasies (Legend (1985)) to modern heist comedies (Thelma & Louise (1991) and Matchstick Men (2003)), Ridley Scott has done them all. This week’s two films highlight some of the early successes in Ridley Scott’s directing career.

AlienAlien
Year: 1979
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

After his directorial debut with The Duellists (1977), Scott transitioned from historical drama to sci-fi/horror. It is significant to note that, while Scott did not direct the direct sequels of Alien (1979) (a task given to James Cameron and David Fincher), he did retake the helm when it came time to reboot the series via the prequel films that started with Prometheus (2014). With the original director back in control, Alien: Covenant (2017) helped to continue the revitalization of the Alien franchise. Of course, with this much experience in directing plots set on alien worlds, it’s no wonder that his adaptation of The Martian (2015) also gained him a nomination for Best Picture. Sure, his historical epic, Gladiator (2000), actually won Best Picture, but since he didn’t also produce it, he only received a nomination for Best Director for his efforts.

On the distant planet of LV-426, the crew of the Nostromo finds themselves the unwitting victims of the greed of their corporate benefactors. They soon learn the distress signal from the planet was a trap, and now one of their crew has been incapacitated by a face-hugging alien. After the alien falls off of its own accord, the alien bursts out of the crew member’s chest and runs away to hide in the ship. Picking off each member of the squad, one-by-one, the rapidly-matured alien is now on course to return to Earth, thanks to the android who was following the orders of the company that employs the Nostromo. As the only survivor, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) arms herself to confront the indestructible beast loose on her ship. Few options remain for Ripley as she tries to escape while at the same time destroying the horrific alien.

Blade RunnerBlade Runner
Year: 1982
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

A mere three years after Alien was released, Scott knocked it out of the park again with Blade Runner (1982). Many hold his “Director’s Cut” of the film to be the best version, clearly showing his vision for the movie was better than the one Warner Brothers wanted to sell. Much like Alien, he left the sequel to Blade Runner in another director’s (eventually) capable hands. Even so, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is incredible, but still misses the spark of the Ridley Scott original. After all, Blade Runner was groundbreaking for its set design, a trend seen throughout Scott’s other films. Whether it’s Biblical Egypt in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) or the streets of Somalia in Black Hawk Down (2001), Ridley Scott takes us to these locations and immerses us in the settings, even if they’re in a future not yet arrived, like in Blade Runner.

In the year 2019, android technology has become so advanced that it is near impossible to tell the difference between them and normal humans. Because these androids often act up, Blade Runners are employed to “retire” the robots and keep humanity safe. While many androids have a short lifespan, some of them are looking to extend their life. One such android is Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), who has assembled a team of androids and returned to Earth to “meet their maker,” so to speak. Consequently, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is put to the task of being the Blade Runner to take out these androids. He soon learns the standard emotional tests to distinguish androids aren’t sufficient, and he must use his skills as a former police officer to track down these androids and prevent them from killing any more people.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 superb Ridley Scott movies

Bacon #: 2 (Prometheus (directed) / Michael Fassbender -> X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)

#301. Matt Damon

If you had one trillion dollars lying around, would you use it to save Matt Damon? A few years ago, someone threw some numbers together to estimate the amount of money spent on rescuing all of Matt Damon’s characters, and the total was close to a trillion dollars. Granted, Matt Damon certainly has some skill when it comes to being an actor, but why his characters always need saving is quite the question. Part of why this number is so significant is due to the variety of Damon’s roles. From sci-fi epics like Elysium (2013), Interstellar (2014), and The Martian (2015) to modern-era films like Syriana (2005) and Green Zone (2010), Matt Damon has shown time and again that he knows how to act like he needs help. With so many great roles to choose from, this week’s two films highlight some award-winning films featuring Matt Damon.

The DepartedThe Departed
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 151 minutes / 2.52 hours

What helps set Matt Damon apart from other actors is the fact that he can remain as an individual in a cast filled with high-profile actors. From his role as Linus Caldwell in Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Ocean’s Twelve (2004), and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) to his role as James Granger in The Monuments Men (2014), few films with a star-studded cast including Matt Damon have been nominated for Best Picture. Unless you also want to include Good Will Hunting (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and True Grit (2010) in this list, in which case it’s happened three times. However, the only film to include Matt Damon alongside a cast full of A-list actors that also won the Oscar for Best Picture is that of The Departed (2006). Of course, partly because of the large cast of excellent talent, Damon was not nominated for an acting award for his part in this film.

Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) has come a long way since his childhood in South Boston. As he proved his reliability in the Massachusetts State Police, eventually he was placed on a task force to rid the city of organized crime. What his supervisors do not know is that this position is a conflict of interest for him, since the mobster they are trying to catch, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), is the man who helped raise him. Soon, Colin is trying to use his connections to find a mole in the mob while also trying to not be found out as the mole in the police. Both moles eventually learn each other’s identities, but when it comes down to loyalties, each one has to determine for themselves which side of this fight they want to be on. Unfortunately, with secret identities now revealed, the conflict explodes in a hail of bullets, leaving few alive.

Good Will HuntingGood Will Hunting
Year: 1997
Rating: R
Length: 126 minutes / 2.1 hours

While The Departed did not garner Damon an acting Oscar, he has been nominated several times. This comes as no surprise as Matt Damon holds the eponymous role for such films as the aforementioned Saving Private Ryan, as well as The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and Jason Bourne (2016). His most recent nomination comes in the form of another eponymous role: The Martian. Before this, he was nominated for Invictus (2009), but merely in a supporting role. The real trick is, even though he didn’t win an Oscar for his acting in Good Will Hunting, he did earn one for this film. Along with Ben Affleck, the two of them wrote the screenplay for this coming-of-age film, immediately launching both of their careers for decades to come.

The titular Will Hunting (Matt Damon) works as a janitor at MIT where he comes across a mathematics problem posted for graduate students. His solution to the problem piques the interest of the professor who posted it. Realizing the genius who solved the problem isn’t one of his students, Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) gets Will out of some jail time by promising to mentor him. While this allows Will to avoid punishment, it also comes with a catch: Will must receive therapy. With Lambeau’s attempts to coach Will through his problems being unfruitful, Lambeau decides to hand him off to Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). Despite initial coldness, Will eventually opens up to Maguire, learning that they share some of the same struggles. At the same time, Will’s blue-collar friends gradually convince him that he’s meant for greater things and to take the opportunities he’s given.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 magnificent Matt Damon roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Rainmaker / Mickey Rourke -> Diner / Kevin Bacon)

#258. Lost on an Alien Planet

Being lost in a foreign environment is a terrifying experience. Not only are the trappings of your day-to-day existence no longer present to help you gain your bearings, but the cultural differences may likely get you into more trouble if you don’t know how to properly ask for help. Just the language barrier alone, both spoken and visual, can be challenging to overcome. Now, take this to the extreme and imagine you are lost on an alien planet. While we may not know certain aspects of foreign cultures, we are still interacting with people. Aliens, on the other hand, are so unknown that it can be challenging to know if they are predatory toward humans or not. Our best bet is to find one of them that is sympathetic to us and let it help us return to our own world. This week’s two films highlight the challenges of being lost on an alien planet.

                                                   E.T. – The Extra-TerrestrialE.T. - The Extra Terrestrial
Year: 1982
Rating: PG
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours

One of the ways you can find yourself lost on an alien planet is if you are stranded there. It takes many individuals working together to travel to an alien world, but all it takes is one mistake to leave someone behind. Much like The Martian (2015), the key to being rescued is communicating to those who left you behind to let them know you’re still alive and well. If you’re lucky, the environment of this alien planet is such that you can easily survive until help arrives. However, this entire scenario assumes that a human is stranded on a planet other than Earth. The opposite can also be true as well. There have been many science fiction stories about aliens coming to visit Earth, so what would happen if one of these creatures ends up being lost on a planet that is alien to them? How would they react?

On an expedition to Earth, a group of alien botanists are chased off when some government agents start investigating in the California forest. Because the arrival of the agents was a surprise, the aliens accidentally left one of their members behind. Wandering into town, this castaway eventually finds the hospitality of Elliott (Henry Thomas) and the two immediately bond. Of course, this bond is much deeper than friendship, since “E.T.,” the name given to the alien by Elliott, causes the child to misbehave at school due to the psychic link they now share. When E.T.’s health begins to fail, Elliott also suffers. The only solution is for E.T. to return to his home planet; but first, he must communicate with his comrades. In an exciting escape, both Elliott and E.T. escape from the government agents and arrive at the pickup spot where E.T. is finally taken home.

John CarterJohn Carter
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

Often, we think about being lost on an alien world as a bad thing. Take Mars, for example. It is a cold and inhospitable place, which is what made the challenge of staying alive on it in the aforementioned The Martian (2015) so impressive and exciting. But what if Mars was somewhere that was an ideal environment for humans? Much like Earth was a world where the natives of Krypton were given superior strength and powers (a la Superman (1978)), the gravity and environment of Earth could give humans super strength on lighter planets like Mars. In these cases, being lost on an alien planet almost lends itself to becoming the planet’s savior. In fact, with enhanced abilities, one finds the solution for being lost on said alien planet would be to claim this new world as their own and integrate into its society.

Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) was living a peaceful life in Arizona until he was forcefully re-enlisted into the service to help fight the Apaches. After a run-in with the Indians, Carter finds himself in a cave where he kills a strange creature and is transported to Mars, which the natives call Barsoom. These natives, the Tharks, are in conflict with the Therns, a human-like race that wants to take over all of Barsoom. Because of the differing gravity, among other factors, John finds he now possesses super-human abilities which the leader of the Tharks wants to use in their war against the Therns. In this conflict, John runs across Deja Thoris (Lynn Collins), the Princess of Mars. His drive to return to Earth is diminished as he falls in love and fights for the freedom of the Martians. Will he stay on Barsoom or return to Earth?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 lost lands