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The Evolution of Space Movies

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July 20 marks the 48th anniversary of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon — prompting the well known quote, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But that wasn’t the first or last time that space played a major role in motion pictures.

Today, we’ll look at some significant moments for space in film, beginning with the New York Film Academy itself.

In celebration of the 48th anniversary and the launch of JSWT, here’s a list of space movies in Hollywood and how they’ve evolved over the years.

“Apollo 13” (1995)

Ron Howard directed the 1995 docudrama space adventure, “Apollo 13,” featuring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris. The film dramatizes the 1970 mission for American’s third Moon landing. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise aborted the mission, after an on-board explosion left the astronauts without most of their oxygen supply and electric power.

“Apollo 13” was considered a technically accurate movie—Howard sought NASA’s assistance in astronaut and flight controller training for the cast. Howard even had permission to film scenes aboard a reduced gravity aircraft to give a more realistic feel to the movie.

The movie was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound.

“Mission to Mars” (2000)

“Mission to Mars,” directed by Brian De Palma, takes place in 2020 when a manned Mars exploration mission goes wrong. An American astronaut, played by Gary Sinise, coordinates a rescue mission to save those who were on the exploration missions.

The film employed special effects that involved the NASA spacecraft and Martian vortex, which were created by various digital effects companies. More than 400 technicians were involved in the production of special effects, which ranged from visuals to miniatures, and animation.

“Gravity” (2013)

 

What happens when a space shuttle is destroyed after mid-orbit destruction? Director Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 movie, “Gravity.” Sandra Bullock and George Clooney portray two American astronauts who are stranded in space and can’t return home because of their damaged space shuttle.

The cinematography, musical score, Bullock’s performance, visual effects, and the use of 3D all contributed to the critics’ positive reviews. “Gravity” received 10 Academy Award nominations and won seven, and was awarded six BAFTA Awards.

“Interstellar” (2014)

“Interstellar” is a movie focusing on the survival of mankind—a team of astronauts travel through a wormhole to find a new planet that can sustain human life. The science fiction film was directed, co-written, and co-produced by Christopher Nolan. The movie’s cast included Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, and Michael Caine.

The film was shot on 35 mm in anamorphic format and IMAX 70 mm in Alberta, Iceland, and Los Angeles. Extensive practical and miniature effects were used in the film, and Double Negative created additional effects.

“Interstellar” won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Production Design.  

“The Martian” (2015)

Matt Damon portrays a stranded astronaut in the 2015 film, “Martian,” directed by Ridley Scott and based on Andy Weir’s novel, “The Martian.” The film follows Damon, whose character is presumed dead and left behind on Mars, and struggles to survive while others attempt to rescue him.

Twenty sets were built on a soundstage in Budapest, Hungary, and Wadi Rum, Jordan was also used as a backdrop for filming. The movie won a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture and nominated for seven Academy Awards.

NYFA & NASA

Did you know the New York Film Academy has worked with NASA?

In 2014, the New York Film Academy collaborated with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help raise awareness for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

NYFA, NASA, and Northrop Grumman used visual storytelling to give the audience insight into the development of JWST. The telescope is scheduled for completion and launch in 2018 — and JWST will replace the famous Hubble Space Telescope. New technology will allow scientists to continue studying galaxies, the formation of stars and planets, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

Do you have a favorite movie about space? Let us know below! Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

5 Of The Best Space Documentaries Now Streaming

What lies beyond the confines of our own atmosphere is mind-boggling in the truest sense of the word, so it’s little wonder that space—and the stuff in it—makes for compelling subject matter when it comes to documentaries.

That said, it’s a double-edged sword for students at documentary filmmaking school looking to focus on the cosmos. For one thing, space documentaries have to rely on inventive ways to represent the subject matter visually since there’s usually no direct footage or images of deep space objects or abstract concepts.

Secondly, it’s tricky to balance the writingyou don’t want to lose 99.98% of the viewers who don’t know the intricacies of Minowski spacetime, but at the same time you don’t want to patronize them with details most 8th graders know.

What follows is a roundup of titles that serve as near-perfect examples of space documentaries which manage to tick all the right boxes. Set your warp drives to maximum as we chart:

The Best Space Documentaries Currently Streaming

1. Life in Our Universe

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A six-part series lead by the hugely engaging (and award-winning) Dr. Laird Close, Life in Our Universe charts the progress of scientists and uncovers how our civilization is conducting the hunt for others. The question of whether or not life exists amongst the stars has always been an exciting one, and this series does the magnificence of the question justice.

Streaming on: Netflix

2. In the Shadow of the Moon

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By far the most comprehensive documentary about the Apollo lunar landings ever produced, this British-made documentary managed to do something never done before: bringing all of the key players of the moon landings together to reminisce on their experiences (even those who had previously been interview shy.)

Even those who think they know it all will be surprised at the amount of detail coveredif you loved Andrew Chaikin’s book A Man on the Moon or the HBO series it spawned (entitled From the Earth to the Moon), you’ll love this.

Streaming on: 4oD (may not be available in all regions)

3. NASA: The Space Shuttle

Just as interesting as space itself are the marvels of technology that got us there, and this YouTube documentary is both a fascinating look back at the Space Shuttle fleet as well as a celebration of its time in service (even more poignant given that the last Space Shuttle was retired in 2011.) But we can sell this documentary about rocket ships with just one line: it’s narrated by William Shatner.

Streaming on: YouTube

4. The Journey to the Centre of the Universe

In the span of just 90 minutes, this National Geographic documentary covers a lot of ground—namely, from the sands of our own planet to the borders of the known Universe. While the special effects are somewhat rudimentary by current standards, it’s nevertheless one of the best space documentaries on YouTube.

Steaming on: YouTube

5. Cosmos

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No list of the best space documentaries available for streaming would be complete without a hat-tip to Cosmos. These days Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s reputation as a compelling astrophysicist speaks for itself, and although the show has been aimed at a broad audiencemeaning the science is a little entry-level at timesit doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Extremely impressive special effects, excellent animations, and every bit as good as you’ve no doubt heard.

Streaming on: Netflix

Know of any other fantastic space documentaries currently streaming that we should be watching? You know what to do – descend on down to the comments below and jettison your suggestion!