Sitting in a tin can: why sci-fi films are finally telling astronaut life like it isApril 15, 2021
New Netflix drama Stowaway is the latest in a crop of movies that suggests space travel is more random death and boredom than warp speed nine
Anybody who fancies watching a new science fiction film this month can count their lucky stars. A Netflix drama, Stowaway, features Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette and Daniel Dae Kim as a trio of astronauts who are on their way to Mars when they discover that an unfortunate launch-plan engineer, Shamier Anderson, is still onboard. The trouble is, there is only enough oxygen for three of them. American viewers can also see Voyagers (due for release in Britain in July), in which 30 hormonal starship passengers are preparing to colonise another world. The trouble is, something goes wrong on their mission, too, and the trip turns into an interplanetary Lord of the Flies. The moral of both stories is that you should probably push “astronaut” a few slots down your list of dream jobs. But if you’ve caught any other science fiction films recently, it’s bound to be quite far down the list, anyway.
Again and again over the past decade, cinema has warned us that venturing beyond the Earth’s atmosphere is uncomfortable, dangerous, exhaustingly difficult, frequently tedious, and almost certain to involve interplanetary angst and asphyxiation. George Clooney’s morose The Midnight Sky rounded off 2020 with a fatal spacewalk. Aniara and Passengers posited that existence on a colony ship was a lot grimmer than Wall-E had led us to believe. The “sad dads in space” sub-genre coalesced with Brad Pitt’s Freudian moping in Ad Astra, and Robert Pattinson’s in High Life. No wonder today’s youngsters would rather be YouTubers or influencers than astronauts. The overriding thesis of current science fiction films is this: space travel is rubbish.