The news that Russia has beaten Tom Cruise and NASA in the latest bout of the space race – by sending actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to the International Space Station to film a movie – almost certainly heralds a pointless new low in cinema.
Just like the difference between erotica and pornography, we all know that you don’t need to go in to space to shoot a film about it. In fact, it’s almost certainly better if you don’t.
I’m all in favour of method acting – whether it’s Timothy Spall sporting a paintbrush for his role in Mr Turner or Adrien Brody getting to grips with Chopin for The Pianist – but propelling actors into space defies the principal purpose of the space movie. There’s artistry to be found in the gap between our idea of space and its reality. Think of the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – it’s pure poetry.
In the same way that P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid and Ian Rankin have together filled a mortuary with fictional stiffs, none of them actually had to kill someone to establish the necessary verisimilitude in their work. Crime fiction is a form of escape – into a world where the chaos of a killing is made sense of through the clinical logic of a detective and the ordering force of plot. Real life offers no such reassurance and that’s why we turn to fiction.
The same is true of our attitude towards space; it signifies the daring of the unknown – humanity’s pioneering instincts. And these qualities are often best conveyed in fictional flights of fancy rather than in stark realities. Sandra Bullock glancing at a flimsy painting of Saint Christopher – the patron saint of travellers – in Gravity before she begins her treacherous return to earth says more than the scratchy audio of billionaire Jeff Bezos blasting off in his Blue Origin rocket.
Worse than simply being an unnecessary waste of time, effort and carbon, the sending of an actress and director into space for a 12-day shoot is also detrimental to the art. Because without having the room for the cameras, or the sound and lighting team, or any of the dozens of people running around with the lattes and gaffer tape that you need to competently make a feature film, you’re likely to end up with something that – funnily enough – lacks atmosphere.
What's left is a couple of emotionally volatile people (they are Thespians, after all) trapped in a tiny capsule thousands of miles from home. They’re likely to have other things on their minds, than remembering their lines – like a nervous breakdown. You don’t have to be Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg to realise that you’re unlikely to get the best out of your cast in these circumstances.
There is scarcely enough room to sustain life in space, let alone art – although blasting David Hockney up there with his paints and a canvas would actually make more sense than trying to shoot a film 300 miles up. At least in Hockney the helpful gulf between reality and fiction could continue to be exploited.
And besides, once the genie is out of the bottle there’s no end to the on-screen travesties that could occur. I can already picture the tedious novelty spin-offs: the first ‘space’ sitcom, Strictly come space travel or Celebrity Blast Off. Once the vastness of space is reduced to the colloquial, we’ll pine for the dream-like visions of Kubrick and Cuarón.