by David Christopher Bell
There’s nothing more American than cylindrical projectiles. After all – fireworks are loud, volatile, and smell like ash – much like us. While the whole exploding part is pretty gosh darn boss, really the true wonder comes from the pure act of launching something as goddamn far as we possibly can into the air. We like to know that we can conquer all three dimensions.
So in the spirit of good ol’ American propulsion lust, here are some of the more excellent tubes that movies have shot into the sky.
10. The Freedom and The Independence in Armageddon
It’s not that this movie is bad, just badly made. Like – the acting is fun, the plot is mindlessly acceptable, but the execution – the little things – that’s the suck right there. For example – the scene at the end when the nuke finally explodes the meteor – immediately following it and also right before it we are treated to shots of people around the world running for their lives and praying and then eventually celebrating, and no matter where they are it’s daytime. Just, daytime around the world. It’s such a ridiculous oversight, but sadly it’s one that we come to expect from Michael Bay at this point.
But whatever – the film also has a bunch of oil drillers launch into space and drive around in space buggies that are inexplicably armed with mini-guns. Because lord knows you need that in space. It’s still awesome – as is the two rockets that simultaneously launch side by side to save the day. Duel rocket launches may be horribly dangerous but they are still awesome to look at.
9. Totenkopf’s Ark in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Sky Captain should have been more popular. There are far worse movies out there that get a fan base, and had they kept making films in this style I think it would have been a blast. Not only is this the first ever film to be entirely shot on a green screen, but it was also a gorgeous justification of that process. They didn’t do it just to see if they could – they did it to put the actors in a moving piece of art. For this story, it worked. Also Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow already look computer animated to begin with, so that was a plus.
Also, sweet rocket. The film was so sci-fi retro that it would have been a shame not to feature a rocket ship at some point, and thankfully it came in the form of the finale scene as our heroes struggle to stop a doomsday ship from blasting into space after blasting the earth into oblivion. The whole ordeal is beautiful and ends with a bunch of animals parachuting from the sky, which is how every movie should try to end.
8. The Luna in Destination Moon
This film was the space film all those other hipster space films wish they could be – it had retro rocket ships way before it was considered cool, not to mention that the film outlines a plot surrounding a space race between the U.S. and soviets that leads to man’s arrival at the moon a full seven years before Sputnik and 19 years before we later managed to actually reach the moon. That’s how OG this film is.
One of the best moments is when they first launch, and instead of focusing on the ship’s journey into the heavens (possibly because of budget and technological limitations) the film stays on shots of the astronauts’ faces as they contort and pull back from the incredible amount of G forces that would occur during such a moment. Something about keeping the focus on the characters’ fear and discomfort makes the experience much more real than any model ship could during that scene. It’s a hip choice.
7. Dr. Evil’s moon ship in The Spy Who Shagged Me
Like every joke in the Austin Powers series, you are no doubt shuttering at the very thought of it. These movies created a period of viral quoting so embarrassing that we’re still trying to recover today – they’re the Macarena of comedies. But of course there’s a reason for it – there’s no denying that the jokes in these films, when first heard, were funny. There’s nothing wrong with them, just like there’s nothing wrong with the Macarena until you can’t stop hearing it wherever you go. Hell, even the films themselves kept repeating their own jokes, and no matter how good a joke it might be – it will die with repetition.
But hey… it’s pretty funny that his ship looks like a big penis still. Maybe not for everyone, but there’s a reason that we’ve been drawing dicks on things since the cavemen times: they’re just hilarious to look at. Face it – they’re God’s joke.
6. Homer’s rockets in October Sky
West Virginian coal mining town, young boys in a coming-of-age story, main character named Homer, NASA, this film is as American as pooping your pants at the fair – and while the movie’s rockets don’t exactly have a red glare, most of them are definitely bursting in air. And sure – they are not the biggest rockets around, but it doesn’t matter; it’s a true American story that anybody at any age can relate to: elaborately blowing shit up as a child. I did it to my G.I. Joes growing up just like my father did it to his toy soldiers before me. Circle of life or something.
The film is set in the real town of Coalwood, with residents that appear to represent the struggles that most hard-working Americans go through to make it in a rapidly changing nation. However this would have been a lot more convincing if the entire town didn’t keep stopping everything to watch some kids fire a rocket. I mean – how bored is this town when the kid making it into a science fair is a massive crowd event?
5. Gandalf’s dragon firework in The Lord Of The Rings
If there’s anyone who knows how to pull off a killer fireworks show, it’s a wizard. The bonus is that even if things go wrong, with all that hair on their heads it will surely be delightful to watch. It’s surprising that Gandalf even goes near a pipe – but considering the primo wizard stash he no doubt carries it’s probably worth that risk.
The dragon firework, which is prematurely let off its chain in Fellowship, has to be the most perfect firework ever created. It covers all four stages: anticipation, delight, mortal terror, and finally celebration. Terror is a very important one – it’s the magical moment where the sparks begin to descend and everyone realizes, for only a second, how irresponsible the whole event is. It’s childishness on a massive scale. But before you can truly register this, another firework goes pummeling upward and it starts all over again.
Fireworks are why birds shit on us.
4. The Phoenix in Star Trek: First Contact
Nothing better shows the spirit of American ingenuity than a half-drunk yahoo moving faster than sound through the clouds in the hopes of breaking a speed record. Throw in rock and roll and two Starfleet officers who’ve traveled back in time and you’ve got yourself a great moment in Star Trek history. First Contact wasn’t the best by far – but it filled in a great piece of the Trek timeline by showing us the moment when Zefram Cochrane tested the very first warp drive, drawing attention to Earth and causing our first ever contact with aliens. It’s a cool story, and we also get to see Worf kill some Borg and Troy get drunk – all good things.
Interesting bit of information about Cochrane – while the role was written with James Cromwell in mind, they did almost go with another actor: Tom Hanks, who happened to be a big Trek fan. Turns out that Hanks had a previous commitment and couldn’t do it, and while a lot of people (including director/Riker Jonathan Frakes) thought it was ultimately for the best, it would have been neat to see Hanks in the Trek universe.
3. The Space Ark in When Worlds Collide
They just had to be different, didn’t they? When everyone was going all nuts over rockets launching vertically into the sky, the makers of When Worlds Collide went ahead and reverse-bobsleded that shit. But hey – it got them an Academy Award out of the deal so the joke’s on us.
What makes this film so badass is that it has almost all the typical space-disaster staples in it long before they were popularized. Everything – the lone scientist pleading with world leaders only to be laughed at, the threat of extinction and the race against time to build escape ships whose occupants are selected by a lottery, young lovers who are separated by said lottery, and people heroically sacrificing their seats. It really sets the stage for many of the extinction porn we see today – if only the rocket sled track thing caught on, that would be boss to see done with modern visual effects. The characters also wore these killer space-robes, which should totally be a thing.
2. Johnny Knoxville’s Big Red Rocket in Jackass Number Two
If there were a human on this earth that perfectly represents the freedom our founding fathers had in mind when fighting for the United States, it’s Johnny Knoxville. No other person is so happy doing something so unwise, and the image of this man strapped to a big stupid rocket is more American than the flag itself.
The funniest thing about Jackass is the outrage people have for it – not the superficial outrage mind you; there’s nothing wrong with finding their stunts upsetting or too gross to watch or anything like that – I’m talking about the people who see Jackass as some kind of sign that our country has gone downhill. People who throw up their arms about Jackass because its violent displays of fleeting comedic physicality have clearly never seen a Buster Keaton film or a vaudeville or side show act. Like the daredevils and freaks before them, Jackass scratches a very traditional itch in our country.
1. The Saturn V in Apollo 13
No denying this launch for a few reasons – firstly, it’s an amazing moment of movie visual effects, and secondly, while it’s badass enough to watch any movie character get launched into space –it’s a whole other enchilada when it’s something that actually happened. Seriously – can you imagine it? It’s space! They went into space! It doesn’t matter what happens to them after that, hell, just getting off the launch pad is beyond Fonzie-cool. There’s no way that you can fail after that moment. Sure – they had some problems up there, but even so – the worst-case scenario in space is that you die, and dying in space is 10 times more badass than doing anything on earth. It’s win-win.
This is why we need this NASA business: it’s not about doing something useful with the effort but rather proving to ourselves, God, and any snot-nosed alien out there that we don’t need air to have a good time. It’s about working a job that requires a 50 million budget and five-star actors, directors, and producers to recreate. Ron Howard sure as shit isn’t interesting in recreating just anybody’s boring work week – so we need to crank it up. Let’s get our ass to Mars. Go America!
What’s your favorite movie rocket?