Neill Blomkamp, the director behind District 9 and Chappie, might have understood how the wealthy would respond to global catastrophe. His second film, the forgettable Matt Damon vehicle Elysium, portrayed a not-too-distant future in which earth is ravaged by poverty, and where the wealthy retreat to a posh space-ring hovering above the atmosphere. The current pandemic has provided us with a sneak preview for how this might unfold, scaled up to the sustained destruction of our planet. Stir-crazy celebrities devolving into strange antics at home, largely isolated from the risk of mass death and unemployment.
Just in the past 24 hours, there’s been a noticeable fixation on space as a source for entertainment. On Tuesday morning, Netflix released the trailer for Steve Carrell and Greg Daniels’ new series, Space Force. A satirical comedy series that seemed to come together in record time after President Trump announced his plans to launch his space troops initiative to, I don’t know, blow up the moon or something. Based on the first trailer, they might not be getting to space in the first season, if at all. Space Force has walked into a sort of White House Down/Olympus Has Fallen situation with HBO’s even more farcical Avenue 5, which follows an interplanetary space cruise vessel.
Tom Cruise, who my friends and I have always joked would die in space, is reportedly in the early stages of planning a film in outer space. According to Deadline, Cruise is working with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and NASA on the first narrative film to be shot in space, which will be separate from the Mission: Impossible franchise. After he’s scaled the Burj Khalifa, hung from an airplane taking off, and performed risky helicopter barrel rolls, this is the logical next step.
Musk, who himself has been going through it as of late, selling off property and openly manipulating the price of Tesla stock ahead of X Æ A-12’s birth, has long been the face of impractical space exploration. Between launching a roadster into space and his pipe dream fixation on interplanetary travel to Mars, Musk is a natural pairing for Cruise’s undying commitment to the irrational and hazardous. Both have profoundly delusional cult-like ambitions, if the results vary significantly. (Musk builds slow, busted subways for single cars; Cruise stars in late-career action classics.)
In the case of something like Space Force premiering later this month, it’s both serendipitously falling into the right moment — everyone at home, tired of Office reruns — and feels incredibly quaint compared to the immediate crisis. A year ago, the real Space Force might’ve been remembered as a garish footnote to one of the worst presidencies in American history. Now, the pandemic stands to overshadow everything that preceded it and is nothing if not a sneak preview for the next several decades of climate devastation. Whether the wealthy seek its refuge to film an action sequence or to find a new home, space will only become a more alluring temptation.