Fifty-four years ago, US president John F. Kennedy told his country that it was going to the moon (video). “As we set sail, we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked,” he said in his now-legendary 1962 speech at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas.
He likely didn’t envision his words being used five decades later as a voiceover in a trailer for a film about alien life, but here we are. Yesterday, Sony Pictures released US and international versions of the trailer for its 2017 film Life, with the former appropriating Kennedy’s inspiring speech to much more menacing effect.
Life tells the story of the six-person crew of the International Space Station studying the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. Of course, it looks like they’re in for more than they bargained for.
Kennedy’s speech haunts the trailer: “There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet,” he orates, as we see the American film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds float around the ISS. Maybe there’s no national conflict, but it appears that there’s an impending conflict with more cosmic implications.
The international version of the trailer also uses some compelling archival audio about space exploration. It borrows from the “Life Beyond Earth” symposium (video) held in 1972 at Boston University, during which renowned astronomers Carl Sagan and Richard Berendzen (among others) discussed the consequences of the inevitable discovery of extraterrestrial life.
“More and more scientists feel that contact with other civilizations is no longer something beyond our dreams but is a natural event in the history of mankind that will perhaps occur within the lifetime of many of us,” Berendzen said, quoting a National Academy of Sciences report from that same year.
Watch Life visualize that scenario:
The film is the latest in a trend of Hollywood putting out roughly one tentpole movie about space per year: Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014), The Martian (2015), Passengers (2016), and next year, Life. As images and videos of space exploration have dominated social media feeds over the past few years, the film industry has noticed, aiming to seize that enthusiasm and turn it into box office success.
These movies have not only been financially successful, but also critical triumphs, with some of them becoming best picture Oscar contenders. Whether or not it presages breakthroughs in space exploration, Sony will hope that Life can keep that momentum going.