When it comes to sci-fi movies, the idea of traveling to other worlds seems to have been lost lately outside of the upcoming “Star Wars” sequels reigniting this. But with “Star Wars” not being from the earth’s perspective, the “Star Trek” movie reboot may be more the official way to look at exploring other planets and civilizations more believably. Even “Interstellar” might help, despite that movie being more about wormholes and alternate dimensions than actual planets.
Has the concept of exploring foreign planets become too clichéd to be in sci-fi movies today? If we did see planet exploration in “Prometheus” as a more or less official prequel extension of the “Alien” franchise, most sci-fi movies are going back to more sociological territory that wants to stay mostly earthbound. While many of us prefer sociological sci-fi anyway, transplanting much of that on other planets still shouldn’t seem too outrageous.
Perhaps the “exploring other worlds” trope in movies was killed when “John Carter” bombed at the box office a couple of years ago. Even if the special effects were spectacular, the idea of transporting between earth and Mars didn’t have the same mystique in the public as it perhaps would have in a different era. The reason why is perhaps because vivid pictures of Mars are sent to us on a regular basis now thanks to the Mars rovers and orbital reconnaissance craft giving us detailed views of the planet’s desolation. A movie depicting Mars just doesn’t seem appealing now when it seems we’re almost already living there studying every morsel of those martian color photos.
Going much farther out there as “Avatar” did is probably going to have to be the calling card of movies about exploring other planets. “Avatar” seemed to put us back on track in this department before “John Carter” came along and temporarily soured us on movies about planet exploration. But with two “Avatar” sequels arriving in the next few years (plus a Cirque du Soleil show to overload our senses), it’s probably going to mean a new renaissance in sci-fi films that makes it believable in the “Avatar” way of being as mystical about science as possible without audience confusion.
Should We Explore Those Real-Life Earth-Size Planets?
Just in the last year, it seems astronomers have discovered more earthlike planets than we ever have in previous years. It appears there could be a trillion of them out there, which makes drawing straws almost moot in deciding which one to explore if it was possible. Why not a sci-fi movie that sticks more to reality and has us exploring one of those real planets we’re discovering nearly every day? With the recent “Godzilla of Earth” (Kepler-10c) discovered with a mass 17 times greater than our own planet, we see an opportunity for actual life being there.
Yes, this means a sci-fi film about exploring there might be the greatest thing that could happen to sci-fi movies to bring some believability. Considering we’ll likely never make it there in real life, imaging ourselves going to Kepler-10c through hyper-speed technology would still pose some challenges.
The biggest problem with planet exploration films is finding a real story once we land without having to confront a humanlike civilization. Ever since “Forbidden Planet” was made almost 60 years ago, planet exploration movies have usually had to play it safe and give some kind of human element to the alien civilization in order to make communication easier. Regardless, when other films went more hard science and amorphous on the aliens, it seemed laughably bad due to limited budgets.
Finding a fine line between the two has to be done where “Avatar” and “Prometheus” perhaps came the closest to success. Since we’re starting to finally take on the more incomprehensible in sci-fi through the guidance of Christopher Nolan, taking on alien civilizations beyond all understanding on a planet like Kepler-10c would also take us back to the mysterious monoliths in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
In the above latter film, everyone slowly grew to realize that the farther you go into the unknowns of the universe, the less you should attempt to explain literally. The best planet exploration movies of the future beyond the “Avatar” and “Prometheus” sequels may be from the “show but don’t tell” film school.