Space Movies without Aliens: 3 Movies, 3 Approaches
Space aliens are a staple of space movies. It may be difficult to image a space movie without aliens. In some cases, such as Forbidden Planet, aliens are never seen but they are an intricate part of the story. Outland, Apollo 13, and Armageddon are late 20th century space movies that don’t have aliens. They represent 3 different approaches to space movies without aliens. These movies also had good budgets for their day and A-list stars.
This 1981 release cost $16 million to make, by comparison Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) cost $18 million.[i] Outland used the approach of an Outer Space Western. The movie is based on the classic Western High Noon. Sean Connery played the lead character and was the same age as Gary Cooper when Gary Cooper played the lead in High Noon.
The movie is set on Jupiter’s moon Io. The moon has a mining colony. At the beginning of the movie one of the miners freaks out and disconnects the hose to his space suit. This causes him to explode. The belief if someone lost pressure in their space suit they would explode had some popularity at the time. Soon after a new security head, Marshall William T. O’Niel (Sean Connery) arrives on the space colony. His wife, Carol (Kika Markham), and son, Paul (Nicholas Barnes), are with him. The manager of the colony is Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle). Sheppard tells Marshall O’Niel it is best not to make waves. To Sheppard if everything runs smoothly the company will keep the franchise and everyone will be happy.
When a miner causes a hostage barricade incident Marshall O’Niel investigates what has been going on. He learns there were a number of incidents of miners suddenly going crazy. He has the colony doctor, Dr. Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen) analyze the blood of one of the victims. Dr. Lazarus sees the victim had been taking a drug that makes people work very hard. The drug also causes users to become psychotic after a few months use.
Marshall O’Niel’s persistence in investigating causes the “High Noon” incident. A space ship is arriving with miners. Two assassins are among the miners. With their arrival imminent the security people all call in sick. Marshall O’Niel is forced to face the assassins alone.
Among the movie’s technical errors are the space suits with lights inside the helmets. This is good at showing which character is in the suit but is not good for an astronaut’s visibility. The movie did poorly in the box office.
[i] United States Movie Database, (http://us.imdb.com).
Another Outer Space Western
Moon Zero Two (1969) also used the Outer Space Western approach.
This 1995 release is about the 1970 Apollo 13 mission. This film relies on science fact rather than science fiction. Most fact based space films are set in the near future. This film was set 35 years in the past. This gave the movie a high tech and a retro feel. The movie mentions the break-up of The Beatles, which was arguably a more historically significant event, which happened on April 10, 1970.
Astronauts Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) are scheduled for the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission. Apollo 13 is scheduled for liftoff at 1313 hours and to enter the moon’s gravity on April 13. When Ken Mattingly is exposed to the measles as a precaution NASA has Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) replace him for the mission. This would seem cliché except it was true.
The flight has a minor glitch soon after liftoff but all was going normal. The space ship was between the earth and the moon when there was an explosion on board the craft. The astronauts had to power up the lunar module (LM pronounced “Lem”) in order to stay alive. The NASA experts and their civilian contractors had to figure out how to get the astronauts back home alive. They came up with a plan and also resolved other problems that cropped up during the flight. While the movie used dramatic license in some circumstances the movie stayed close to the details of what happened during the flight.
Other Movies With the Realistic Approach
The Right Stuff
This 1998 movie uses the save the world approach. The plot is an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. If the asteroid hits the earth it will kill all life on the planet. This movie has special effects, action, drama, and comedy. Scientific accuracy is one thing that is missing.
The movie begins with a narration by Charlton Heston. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs strikes the earth. The scene switches to present day New York. Soon some meteors destroy a space shuttle. Soon after some meteors strike Manhattan and cause a great deal of damage. NASA scrambles to figure out what happened. The scene switches to an amateur astronomer, Karl (John Mahon). He looks through his large telescope in his private observatory and his spouse Dottie (Grace Zabriskie) comes in and curtly tells him his dinner is cold. He orders her to get his phone book. When she balks at his demand he yells at her. He calls NASA and reports the position of an asteroid to Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton). When Karl gets the confirmation he can name it he says, “I wanna name her Dottie after my wife.” Dotty’s angry face melts into a smile. Karl goes on to explain the asteroid has the same life-sucking quality of his wife and there is no escape from either. Dotty gives Karl the finger.
The scene shifts to an oil rig off the South China Sea. The drilling company owner, Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), is hitting golf balls onto a Greenpeace ship. A short time later Harry finds out A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck) drilled deeper than he was supposed to. Harry goes to A.J.’s quarters, there he finds out his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) spent the night with A.J. Harry chases A.J. around the rig with a shot gun.
Soon Harry and Grace are taken away in a military helicopter and flown to a NASA site. There Harry learns about the asteroid that will destroy all life on the planet. He figures out the only hope for the planet is for him and his team of rough necks[i] to travel to the asteroid and drill a hole for a nuclear warhead. On their voyage to the asteroid they pick up cosmonaut Len Andropov[ii] (Peter Stormare).
While women can enjoy the movie it is clearly a guy flick. The Stampers’ back story is Harry’s wife left him and Grace many years ago. Another rough neck, Chick (Will Patton), is divorced. He drops by his wife’s house. Denise (Judith Hoag), tells him he can’t be coming around. Denise tells their young son Tommy (Dyllan Christopher), Chick is a salesman. When Tommy spots him on TV as one of the men going to save the world then she tells him Chick is his father. All of the significant scientists are men. Grace stays behind while her father and fiancé rocket into space to deal with the asteroid. The rough necks are all men. One space shuttle co-pilot (Jessica Steen) is a woman. At one point in the movie Len Andropov shoves her aside while he fixes a malfunctioning component in a manly way. He hits it with a large tool and it works.
[i] Rough Neck is a nickname for someone whose occupation is drilling for oil.
[ii] Andropov was the name of a Soviet Premier.
Other Movies With the Save the World Approach
What is the best approach for an outer space movie without aliens?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Robert Sacchi