Communion Of Dreams

Aging well.
December 5, 2010, 3:05 pm
Filed under: H. R. Giger, movies, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, Space

So, last night I was in the mood for a little classic science fiction, and decided to watch Alien.

It’s a movie which has aged remarkably well, and as a friend mentioned to me this morning doesn’t seem just silly or cartoonish. The design elements are still widely emulated in science fiction film and television. The special effects are solid and hold up to our modern standards. The cinematographics are perfect for the horror storyline, except for some 70’s lens-flare which seems a bit dated. The anti-corporation subtext is still relevant. And the saga of survival timeless. It’s a great movie.

But one thing about it bugged me while I watched it last night. And thinking more about it this morning, it still bugs me.

It’s the “self destruct” mechanism.

Yeah, I know, this isn’t the first film which had something like that in it. And it certainly wasn’t the last – seems like there isn’t a SF movie or TV show out there which manages to completely avoid using this trope (or at least playing with it).

But think about it: why would you actually build that kind of mechanism into a commercial vehicle? We don’t do that today. The Nostromo was a space tug, hauling an ore-processing facility and some 20,000,000 tons of minerals. You’re talking a huge capital investment – no corporation would want to destroy such an asset, I don’t care how many people were killed on the thing or what sort of horrors happened there. They’d want to be able to salvage as much of the ship, facility, and cargo as possible, no matter what.

And designing the mechanism to act the way it does in the movie doesn’t make sense, either – shutting off the coolant for the nuclear reactor which powers the ship? That’s building a weakness into a system which you would rather want to make as safe and redundant as possible. That’s just asking for trouble.

OK, yeah, I’m being picky. But it really is this sort of thing which I try to pay attention to in my own writing – looking at what makes sense in terms of human motivation and practical engineering, whatever the story or tech that you’re playing with.

But it is still a great movie. I’d hope that Communion of Dreams ages half as well in say, 30 years.

Jim Downey

3 Comments so far
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Hey Jim, I think it has more to do with the energy level than economics. Every thing that I know of that develops orbital energy levels has had a self destruct, NASA has used them for years, and I am sure the falcon/falcon 9 have them also. Say you have a Nostromo returning from far solar orbit and becomes disabled around the orbit of mars on a collision course with Earth. If destroyed that far out the debris cloud would not be much of issue, a 20M ton meteorite would. Does the ISS have a self destruct, I don’t know but my money is on yes, and that it is controlled from the ground, not the orbiting station. At least the Nostromo’s wasn’t a big red button; it was a complex series of positive action interlocks. I also have to agree, a great movie that still holds its own today, not like Logan’s Run, which while an interesting commentary, has not aged gracefully.

Comment by Ken Clark

Interesting idea, Ken – that’s an argument which makes a certain amount of sense. Though I still tend to think that once things shift over to an established commercial model that corporations would find a way to salvage any such investment. But then, I’m a cynical bastard . . . 😉

Comment by James Downey

[…] a big fan of Alien, and Ridley Scott in general. And the above Prometheus trailer is pretty damned […]

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