If you’re like us, you’ve been following our continued exploration of the universe pretty closely, with new announcements from NASA coming every few months, from possibly habitable worlds in another solar system to celebrating the extended life of our rover on Mars. These various news bits only tease our science-fiction addicted brains with the possibility that one day, someday, we could step foot on an alien planet.
This desire is embodied in the films we make, with a number of films dedicated to not only chronicling some of our past attempts (Apollo 13, The Challenger Disaster), but imagining where our future selves might find themselves, somewhere out yonder. Of course, these films don’t always reveal the most successful of off-world missions, and news from NASA about life on the ice planet Ganymede had us thinking about all those cinematic failures. Too many to list really, so today we will focus on humans from Earth who have attempted to land on alien planets, as opposed to any humanoid civilization already out in space that encounters trouble on an alien world, meaning Star Wars is out.
The film that ties in most to our recent news from NASA is Europa Report, which takes a look at a manned mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. Europa is one of the ice moons believed to hold water under the surface, and the film follows this idea as the mission sets out to place scanners and sensors to help with the long-running search for life in our universe. Obviously, they find life on Europa, and that life sets about killing off the members of the mission in horrifying fashion. The film itself is full of holes and clearly had a limited budget, but it showcases some of the fears we should have when contemplating a visit to an alien world.
Now we can’t talk about failed landings without mentioning the Alien franchise. For our purposes, this includes Prometheus, Alien Covenant, Alien, and Aliens, as the other films did not include any planet landings from Earth. In the first Alien from Ridley Scott, they arrive on LV-426 in response to a distress call from a terraforming family on the surface. Once there they encounter the titular alien and all hell breaks loose. Similarly in Aliens from James Cameron, though this time there are more guns, more aliens, and more bodies. Prometheus and Covenant serve as the prequels to the events of the Alien film, building the Xenomorph legacy through more disastorous planetfalls. You’d think the Company would have learned about investigating these types of planets and avoided the deaths of Alien and Aliens, but then we wouldn’t have one of the best sci-fi horror franchises out there.
While Pitch Black does feature a more space-bound human race then we are looking at for this list, it also reference their origins on the planet Earth. The film follows a crashed transport ship and its survivors, including the pilot, a few nomadic settlers, and a bounty hunter with very dangerous cargo – the criminal known as Riddick, played by Vin Diesel. The planet they find themselves on is already inhabited with dangerous creatures who only come out at night, and the planet they are on has a long, long night. The alien creatures tear through the survivors one by one, leaving Riddick alive to star in a couple of less than impressive sequels.
Another entry for James Cameron, this time we see Earth basically invade the planet of Pandora, where they first attempt to learn from the local Na’vi, at least until the evil corporation shows up intent on mining the planet for the lazily named Unobtanium. While the film focuses more on the Na’vi and the avatars humans use to blend in with the alien culture, there is no doubt that the forces of Earth encounter major resistance from the Na’vi, resulting in a loss of life and resources for Earth, regardless of who was in the right. Sure the Na’vi were able to save their planet for the time being, but with sequels in the works for a few years now, we may see another attempt by the Earthlings to come away from this alien planet following a more successful mission.
Based on the sci-fi classic by Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers follows Earth’s army as it engages an insect-like race of aliens, both on Earth and various planets in between the two armies. The main battle in the film takes place on the bug planet Klendathu, which results in seriously heavy casualties for the human race. While ultimately their mission is successful, the cost seems to be a little too high, especially when we aren’t quite sure who the invading hordes are. Even after the bugs torch Buenos Aires on Earth, it still feels like the bugs are reacting to the oncoming threat, leaving the ambiguity of Earth’s invasion ever present in our minds. The film documents a battle won for Earth, though reading between the lines we really see the war lost for Earth’s humanity.
As far as we know NASA’s mission to our moon ended after Apollo 17, but this found footage film details an unknown crew that went to the moon and found something very sinister. While most of the entries on our list feature horrible consequences for the far away planets and the alien races that inhabit them, this film takes a look at our Moon and posits the reason we haven’t returned is due to the alien threat that exists on the planet, which is slowly revealed over the course of the movie. When the space mission fails and the astronauts are abandoned by their government, we see the further danger of being out in space without help, even if it’s only as far as our own moon.
Christopher Nolan took us to the stars through fairly unusual means in Interstellar, which documents the last ditch effort by a clandestine NASA to save humanity from the dustbowl formerly known as Earth. The last astronauts, piloted by Matthew McConaughey, leave Earth and travel through a wormhole to another galaxy that has a few possible worlds that the last vestiges of humanity might be able to inhabit. The first world they attempt to land on takes one of their crew, as massive waves move across the water planet daily. The second planet they land on is even worse, a frozen wasteland with a human traitor waiting that almost costs the whole crew their lives. In the end, they find a habitable planet and even secure a happy ending for humanity, but the first two strikeouts almost did it in for the human race.
The oldest film on our list is largely considered to be one of the most iconic sci-fi films ever made and features a few interesting firsts on film. The movie tells the story of the crew of starship C-57D – the first faster-than-light starship created by humans on film – who have been sent from Earth to the planet Altair IV to find out what happened to a previous expedition that has been missing for 20 years. Once on the planet, they find Dr. Morbius, his daughter Altair, and Robby the Robot as the only survivors. This is one of the first out-of-the-box depictions of a robot in a sci-fi film, with Robby acting as a unique character instead of a mechanical tool throughout the film. The crew soon learns of the powerful alien Krell device at the heart of the planet, which not only killed the Krell and the members of the first expedition but is responsible for monsters from Dr. Morbious unconscious that are trying to kill the remaining members of the rescue crew. They manage to escape to a safe distance to watch the destruction of the planet Altair IV, a planet left off much worse than it was before humanity landed on it.
So while we celebrate our societies constant growth and exploration of the universe around us, it’s important to remember the lessons we’ve taught ourselves in our own cinematic imagination… Humanity may be striving to put our feet down on another planet in this universe, but that planet may be better off without us.
Which cinematic planetfall do you remember going badly? Let us know in the comments section below and join the discussion on the GEEK FB!
Images: MGM, Magnet Releasing, 20th Century Fox,
Dimension Films, TriStar Pictures, USA Films, Warner Bros.