On Wednesday (if I recall correctly – last week is a blur) I spoke on camera to producer Peter Savodnik about challenges involved in mounting space missions to colonise distant planets. It was a fun and short shoot -Peter kept it relaxed and conversational- and it will be part of film that will be released by an online property I’m sure you know well some time in the coming year (I think). I will give you more details when they emerge.
One theme that I kept bringing up that you might find interesting (thoughts welcome): Space is a big place. It takes a long time to get from one place to another – even if you are moving close to the speed of light (and we’ve no foreseeable technology to get us even close to that any time soon). That makes the journey itself a huge challenge, and that is often the part that is most neglected in popular (fictional) films about space travel, and so it also affects our perception of how things must be in the real world of space travel. Result: an under-appreciation of (and possibly false expectations about) the whole business of the journey itself.
Of course, in fiction, much of this business is avoided by inventing propulsion systems that use physics that we’ve no good reason to believe actually exists to shorten the journey – warp drive, hyperspace jumps, wormholes, and the like. That’s all fun, sure, (and I spoke about such things and their place -or lack thereof- in the real world of near future travel) but I think that there can be some really creative challenges for fiction films by focusing on the long journeys that are the more likely scenarios in our foreseeable future, and all that involves, such as the challenges of social interactions, sustainable self-contained vessels, staying sane cooped up in a confined space, the hugely important fact that you are essentially never going to be able to return home to earth (or at least if you do it’ll be very different from the earth you left*) and so forth. (I specifically mean film here… there are books that have explored it well.)
I can’t think of a contemporary example of a film that focuses on such aspects of the Journey much, and had to go back to the long-forgotten (but excellent) Silent Running from 1972 to give an example. Did I miss any? (Solaris, from the same year (with a 2002 remark), is close to another example, but that’s mostly about a space station (as is 2009’s excellent Moon), which mixes up the issue a bit. Also 1968’s 2001 partly deals with it, but still, not head on (the crew are asleep for a lot of the journey).
*Last year’s Interstellar did a really good job of highlighting the “I ever can’t go back home” aspect, but for this discussion I want to stay away from the (fun) speculative physics used there to move large distances.