My mom was in town yesterday, and, while I was chilling in her hotel room, we were watching Turner Classic Movies. On came this 1950 sci-fi film called Destination Moon which looked shockingly ahead of its time. Some of its science was pretty wonky, and they sold the idea of space travel to the manufacturing industry with a Woody Woodpecker cartoon (Speilberg totally stole the cartoon-explains-the-science set-up for Jurassic Park!), but all together, what we saw of the movie looked pretty interesting. It was made all the more interesting by the recent buzz about the last space shuttle launch. I told my mom that one of my friends had posted on her Facebook a really funny and profound statement about the state of NASA, and my mother lamented the loss of wonder that had once surrounded space travel, having grown up at a time when space travel was all anyone could talk about. Essentially that Facebook status lamented that, if you play the story of NASA backwards, starting from today, then you have a linear story about a country that has no interest in flying manned missions in space, then, twenty years later (the 1980s) becomes very fascinated by the prospect of sending men into orbit, and then, finally, a few years later, manages to put a man on the moon. It’s a little sad really.

Woody Woodpecker Helps Explain Space Travel in Destination Moon (1950)

Then I saw this trailerbefore Super 8 and it all flashed before my eyes! The big picture. An entire filmic timeline. The way the slow death of the space program has influenced science fiction from the 1930s, when space travel was only a dream, to today, when space travel is a beurocratic nightmare. Apollo 18 could not be more perfectly timed as a movie. “You see, there was another mission to the moon,” the trailer tells the space-starved puclic, “and you guys don’t know anything about it, and it was exciting!” And we go, “Cool!” And then the trailer says, “and this is why we never went back,” and we go, “Oh…” This movie has the potential to tap into that feeling of ennui that the Apollo program suffered such a premature demise, and the above trailer is a promising indication that it might live up to that potential even if the trailer may give way too much away. But it kind of wants to give evrything away. It wants to emphasize that it views space travel, in this post space shuttle age, as a kind of tragedy, a lonely horror story. That’s the objective I see, and I’m eager to see whether the film delivers the goods promised here. In the meantime, this trailer is a brilliant indication of how far we’ve come in the sixty years since Destination Moon. In the span of one day, I saw a young, idealistic Hollywood treat the moon as some Shangri La that Americans can reach if we only work together, and then I saw a much older, much wearier Hollywood treat the moon as an isolated nightmare world where no one, not even NASA, can hear you scream. That, in my opinion, is a long way to come!

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