The final frontier has proved fertile ground for all manner of filmmakers. Space is vast, lawless and mysterious and so perfect fodder for everything from wide-eyed depictions of mankind’s greatest scientific feats, to scuzzy horror and grand, operatic actioners. This year sees La La Land director Damien Chazelle reteam with Ryan Gosling for a biopic which follows the exploits of astronaut Neil Armstrong. First Man has been receiving positive early notices on the festival circuit and so in anticipation of its release, Picturehouse at FACT present a season of films that go to infinity…and beyond.
Chazelle’s new film is about the space race’s most famous moment — the moon landing — but Philip Kaufman’s 1983 The Right Stuff goes back a little further. Screening on Sunday 31st September, Kaufman’s film is an adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s gripping oral history account of the Mercury Seven — a group of test pilots who would become the first Americans in space. As with another film in FACT’s season — Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (1995, screening Sunday 28th October) — The Right Stuff has been praised for spinning intelligent, blockbuster entertainment from space race politics and pioneering science.
Of course, our real-life quest to explore beyond the earth’s atmosphere remains a fascinating subject, but much of what draws fans to science fiction is its speculative nature. FACT present a screening of Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009) on Sunday 7th October. This chilly, brainy thriller stars Sam Rockwell as an astronaut mining lunar gas who makes an ominous discovery as his three-year contract winds towards its conclusion. In an inspired move, FACT have paired Jones’ film with Georges Méliès’ innovative, 1902 short A Trip To The Moon.
According to the tagline for Ridley Scott’s Alien, “In space no one can hear you scream.” Horror and science fiction often overlap and Scott’s iconic 1979 film is arguably the high point of that intersection. Screening on Sunday 14th October, Alien stars Sigourney Weaver as part of a commercial space crew who inadvertently disturb a colony of extraterrestrials that would have been better left alone. Scott mines the quiet isolation of life aboard a spacecraft for all it’s worth, utilising dark corners and confined spaces to craft a supreme spectacle of suspense.
Budgetary restraints often mean that spectacular, large scale films set in space are usually commercially driven and reserved for the multiplex. From Alejandro Jodorowksy’s Dune, to David Fincher’s Rendezvous With Rama, the history of cinema is littered with examples of ambitious works of science fiction that never made it to screen because the numbers didn’t make sense. On occasion, however, visionary filmmakers have succeeded in bringing extravagant, philosophically-minded sci-fi to screen — and the results are pretty special.
With that in mind, FACT balance their season with a couple of arthouse heavyweights in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1976, Sunday 21st October) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Sunday 4th November.) The films have had a bit of play recently thanks to recent retrospectives for their respective directors, but cinephiles will welcome the chance to catch these two on the big screen once again. Both Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey rank consistently on lists of the greatest films ever made and their brand of cerebral, mind-expanding mystery sits as a nice counter to the fact driven works elsewhere in the season.