By the time you read this, I will have seen Christopher Nolan’s ambitious new spacefaring drama Interstellar, as I imagine it’s “intended to be seen”: in a 70mm IMAX film-projected theater setting (though word is getting around that some moviegoers may find the sound mix in this format problematic at best). My anticipation sent me eagerly to the home library to have another look beforehand at some of my favorite Classic Space Movies:
Funny—we don’t often hear critics trumpet the virtues of a new film they love by saying, “It’s the next Casablanca,” or, “It’s the next Citizen Kane.” For good reason. We do, however, hear frequent declarations along the lines of “It’s the next Wizard of Oz!”—and, more relevant to our purposes here: “It’s the next 2001!” That’s what some writers are already gushing about Nolan’s new film.
Maybe the comparisons are valid; far be it from me to dispute them before laying eyes the movie myself—but a fan can’t help but be suspect of these hyperbolic claims after feeling burned by them too often in the past. You’re invoking the name of one of the Big Boys when you set any new film with similar subject matter up on the same shelf as Stanley Kubrick’s monumental production. I’d love to have the power to embed some sort of psychic self-censorship reflex—or even just the impulse to take a few breaths for sober reconsideration—into the heads of critics who repeatedly make these grandiose associations. You can suggest, or predict, that Interstellar will become one of cinema’s classic space movies without the rhetorical grandstanding.
The stars have been a destination on the screen since the days of Georges Méliès—and in the same way we might consider A Trip to the Moon a kind of marker in the history of space-related cinema, we can also look to the Kubrick, and to last year’s visually extravagant Gravity (the film that hit the top spot on my favorites from 2013) as major benchmarks in the genre. Here, I focused my choices on a particular kind of “Classic Space Movie”; no doubt you’ve noted that at least one of my selections doesn’t even take place in outer space at all, but I think it’s probably clear what kind of films I had in mind when curating this list of favorites.
There’s an entire cosmos of Classic Space Movies remaining now to be praised, critiqued, and pored over. Time for me to pass you a stick of Beeman’s so you can chase those demons in the comments below!