Vintage SciFi Month was created by Little Red Reviewer and is moderated by Red Star Reviews. Any science fiction film, short story, play, or book released before 1979 is eligible for this celebration of classic science fiction.
A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage Dans la Lun) was a short silent film released in 1902 by French film maker Georges Méliès who was assisted by his brother Gaston. In other words, don’t turn up your volume when watching it! There is no sound. This was the first science fiction tale ever filmed to the best knowledge of modern film historians. A Trip to the Moon influenced generations of storytellers in this genre.
if you’d like to watch this film before reading my thoughts about it, click on the link below or hit play. It’s just under 13 minutes long.
Everything after this sentence will contain spoilers.
As you have probably surmised from the title, A Trip to the Moon told the story of a group of men who built a space ship and visited the moon.
One of the things that first grabbed my attention about their adventures were the roles women played in them. Women appeared to be part of the planning and construction committees but did not travel with the main characters to the moon. I would have loved to sit in on the meetings that decided who would play what role in this film.
I’d seen this image floating around online for years but never knew the context of it.
It came as a delightful surprise to finally discover why the moon had a face and, more importantly, why that face had a gigantic space ship sticking out of it.
There was also something interesting about seeing what the film makers thought were important things to bring to the moon.
Granted, this was pretty soft science fiction even for the era in which it was created, but I’d never think to prioritize packing pillows of all things. I suppose that everyone needs to feel comfortable when they fall asleep on the surface of the moon!
This pattern continued throughout the thirteen minutes of lighthearted lunar adventures. While this is thought of as science fiction, I saw so many fantasy influences as well. It made me wonder if those two genres were much more tightly entwined in 1902. I’d bet they were given how many scientific advances humanity had yet to make as well as the fact that this appears to be the first speculative fiction film ever made like I mentioned above!
All of you should absolutely watch this short film. It was a whimsical glimpse into how some people thought 119 years ago. Since we can’t sit down with them and pick their minds, seeing what they created is the next best thing.
Content warning: blood and death of an animal. I will make one brief reference to the former and will not discuss the latter at all in this post.
Life is a 2017 American science fiction horror film about a six-member crew of the International Space Station that discovers the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars.
Unlike Europa Report, this film makes very few assumptions about what its audience already knows about NASA, space flight, or what life might be like on other planets. This isn’t a criticism, but I’d classify it as something closer to the horror or thriller genres than hard science fiction.
Dr. David Jordan was from the USA and was the ISS medical officer.
He was so focused on his job that it sometimes negatively affected his physical and mental health. While his bedside manner was impeccable, I think I’d want him to have a nap and a hot meal before he treated me for anything more serious than a sprained ankle.
Dr. Miranda North was from the UK and was the CDC quarantine officer.
She was the sort of person who would double-check even the most mundane of tasks after completing them. This was sometimes a source of mild annoyance to her coworkers, but it’s exactly the sort of behaviour I’d want to see if I were working with an alien life form!
Rory Adams was from the USA and was the ISS engineer.
He was the jokester of this mission. His teasing was good-natured but could sometimes push the envelope a little bit too far because of how impulsive he could be.
Sho Murakami was from Japan and was the ISS systems engineer.
He was a warm, kind man who truly cared about his fellow crew members. Out of everyone on the space station, he seemed to be the person who was most strongly connected to his loved ones back on Earth.
Dr. Hugh Derry was from the UK and was the ISS exobiologist.
He was a trusting man who assumed the best in himself and everyone around him. One of my favourite moments in this tale happened when he shared a story from his childhood that I can’t repeat here without giving away spoilers. It was fascinating.
Ekaterina was from Russia and was the ISS Mission Commander.
She was professional and shared almost nothing about her personal life or backstory during the course of this film. One notable thing I can say about her is that she took her crew’s safety quite seriously.
Raise your hand if you love imagining what life on other planets might be like!
I don’t know about all of you, but I never grow tired of picturing what we’ll see on our screens if NASA ever calls a press conference to announce that they’ve found life on Mars, Europa, or some other place in the galaxy.
So of course I had to watch and review Life when I found out about it. While the discovery in this story isn’t of a little green man, it’s still something pretty spectacular. The trailer at the bottom of this post will give you a glimpse of it. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t go into much more detail about it other than to say that just because a creature is small doesn’t mean it’s harmless.
One of the things that I would have liked to seen done differently with this film had to do with how physically dark it was. While the plot was thematically dark, too, that’s not what I’m talking about here. I would have loved to see more lighting in the scenes, especially in the beginning. I ended up needing to turn off the lights in my house in order to properly see what was happening in the opening scenes as the characters introduced us to their work environment and gave us the first glimpse of the little alien.
Speaking of the plot, the horror themes were strong in it even though the main storyline was definitely science fiction. The scenes involving blood were brief and only happened occasionally, but this is still something I’d only recommend to people who like horror in general because of how much it affected the way the plot unfolded.
I was pleased with how much thought the screenwriters put into how the International Space Station would realistically react to the discovery of life that isn’t from Earth. While this would obviously be an incredibly exciting discovery, it could also be possibly dangerous. We have no way of knowing ahead of time how such creatures would react to us, if they pose a threat to our health, or if we might pose a threat to their health as well.
So it was nice to see the astronauts take this discovery seriously. They talked extensively about the precautions they took to avoid unnecessary exposure to this alien until they knew more about what it was and how its body worked.
As someone who has seen countless horror and science fiction films, I was able to figure out the twists in it pretty early on. It would have been nice to have more surprises thrown in along the way, especially when it came to how the astronauts reacted once things began to go horribly wrong for them. Their reactions were pretty predictable once the pacing sped up.
With that being said, this was still something worth watching. I liked all of the characters and thought their camaraderie was written into the script nicely. They obviously didn’t have much time to do non-work activities, especially once they made their big discovery, but I did come away from this story with a sense of satisfaction. I got to know them just well enough to genuinely care about what happened to them, and that’s always important in this sort of tale.
If you love horror, outer space, or thrillers, this film might be right up your alley!
Content warning: Found footage and mental illness. I will be discussing these things later on in this post.
Europa Report is a 2013 science fiction film about an international group of astronauts who are sent on an expedition to Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, Europa, to see if they can find any evidence of life there.
This story expects its audience to already know the basics of how space exploration works and what astronauts would realistically hope to accomplish on a mission like this one.
While the plot definitely does meander into places that are beyond the scope of our current understanding of other parts of our solar system, I classified it as hard science fiction and would suggest spending some time reading about real-life spaceflights and NASA’s tentative plans to explore Europa before watching this film to anyone who doesn’t already have a basic understanding of these things already for reasons I’ll explain in my review below. (Both of those links are nonfiction and 100% spoiler-free).
I should note that this was shot as found footage, so there is shaky camera work in a few places. This is a technique that has made me a little nauseated when it happened in other films. While it didn’t bother me in this one, I still thought it would be best to make note of it for anyone who has a more sensitive stomach.
Captain Wu was the level-headed leader of this crew who was excited to see Europa regardless of what they discovered there.
Rosa was the pilot and archivist. A risk taker at times, she signed up for this mission because she wanted to go “faster and farther than anyone else before.”
Andrei was the chief engineer. He was highly skilled at his job but found the living accommodations on the Europa One to be less than ideal, especially once he began to deal with his emotional reaction to something difficult that happened earlier on in the mission. My fan theory was that he was a deeply introverted man who struggled to find enough peace and quiet in such tight living quarters even before that experience occurred.
Katya was the science officer. Her background was in marine biology and oceanography, but she was ironically scared of flying when she signed up for this mission. She was adventurous and yearned to fulfill the crew’s mission and discover life on Europa.
James was the engineer. He’d left behind a wife and young son to go on this mission and often spoke of how much he missed them.
Daniel was the chief science officer. His friendship with James provided a few lighthearted moments in an otherwise serious tale.
Don’t let the introduction to this post deter you from giving this film a try if you’re unfamiliar with the topics it covers. While it does expect the audience to come with some prior knowledge of spacecrafts and space travel, the storyline was well written and fascinating.
“The Europa One Mission was the first attempt to send men and women into deep space. For over six months the world watched every moment.”
All of the characters had spent years gaining the education and experience necessary to be eligible for this sort of history-making mission. Since this was a plot-driven story, there wasn’t a great deal of time spent exploring their backstories. I did learn enough about them to become emotionally attached, though.
As mentioned in the content warning and character description, there is a subplot about Andrei’s struggles with his mental health. All of the astronauts had been taught about the dangers that this mission could pose to their mental health, from the effects of Zero G to the natural consequences of living in relative isolation for so long. I appreciated the way the filmmakers handled this topic.
While I can’t discuss the incident that contributed to this character developing a mental illness without giving away spoilers, it was handled sensitively. There was nothing salacious about it, and it fit into the storyline perfectly. Honestly, I could very well have had the same response if I’d been in his shoes. This is something I’d be happy to discuss in more detail privately with anyone who asks for it.
The camaraderie between the six astronauts was well documented and provided a nice contrast to all of the scenes that went into detail about the various scientific studies they were conducting and the many things they needed to do to keep their ship in good shape.
Some of the most exciting scenes were obviously the ones that showed what happened after the astronauts arrived on Europa.
They had a long list of samples they wanted to take from the ice and sea beneath the ice.
What would they find there? How would the readings of this moon taken from Earth compare to what it was actually like?
I had so many questions about this part of their journey, so I was thrilled to see what happened after they arrived and began analyzing everything. Yes, there were certain acronyms and references mentioned during this portion that weren’t explained to the audience. Some of them could be figured out from context clues. Others might require searching online for viewers who aren’t already familiar with this stuff.
Honestly, I think doing a little of research is well worth figuring out exactly what characters are talking about when they’re testing a sample of water or discussing how to fix a damaged portion of their vessel. While that may make this film a little less accessible to the average viewer than it would otherwise be, I thought writing it that way was the right choice. Actual astronauts wouldn’t pause to explain every technical term they used, after all!
To share one final note, the plot was shared out of chronological order in certain scenes. Everything you need to know is included if you pay attention, and the reasons for filming it this way will become clear if you stick with it.
This was something I had a wonderful time watching. I highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to put a little effort into piecing everything together.