Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mining Science Fiction Films

A recent post in the G+ Geoscience Community posed the question, "What are some science fiction films that involve mining?" The three that came immediately to mind were Outland, Arnie Goes to Mars, er, Total Recall, and Avatar. The post also commented that the colony in Aliens is also described as a mining operation, which I'd forgotten.

I concluded "Can't think of any, off the top of my head, where mining is central to the plot though- it's just a reason for people to be where they are." I've since thought of two more where mining, defined broadly, is central to the story: Moon and Dune. In Moon, we see Sam Bell doing maintenance and trouble-shooting as the singular occupant of a Lunar He3 mining operation, and in Dune, spice mining is at the center of the whole plot- again, mining broadly speaking. Spice is a biological material found in an aeolian setting, but in a way, it's no different from coal/peat/lignite.

Let's see... going through lists...
  • There's the famous line "We must not allow a mine gap!" by George C. Scott in Dr Strangelove, but again, mining is peripheral to the story.
  • The Abyss is centered around a deep-sea drill rig, nominally designed for oil exploration. While many of the techniques and gizmos in this setting are interesting from a geologic perspective, once again the real focus is on other things.
  • I'll simply mention Armageddon so you know I didn't forget it, but purposely ignored it.
Having now gone through four lists of "Top Sci-Fi Films," I'm not seeing any others that jump out at me. I doubt I got every example, but likely most of the bigger, better-known ones.

Of the above, Moon is probably the top example for those with a geologic bent. Dune is a horrible film that looks very good, and as such is sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. Outland, which I saw when it came out (not impressed), was much better for older me last year; it's a sci-fi remake of the classic High Noon. Dr. Strangelove is absolutely top-notch science-fictiony satire, and a true classic in its own right- and I've found many younger people have never watched it. Avatar and Aliens were both enjoyable box-office blow outs, and if you like sci fi, you've likely already seen them more than once. Total Recall, meh. Cartoonish violence, way dumbing down of PK Dick's original story idea, and an almost total loss of the ambiguity inherent in much of his work. Fun, in an Arnie sort of way. I haven't seen the remake, and it was widely panned, so I may not ever. And rounding it out, I quite liked the Abyss, though the geology is best expressed in the earthiness of its characters.

Any others I missed?

Followup- oh yes, the absolutely awful remake of The Andromeda Strain has as its "hero" in the climax a bacterium derived from ocean ridge mining. Part one was over the top, but I would have given it a mildly positive rating. Part two, though, was horrid. Don't waste your time.

Followup 2: Cowboys and Aliens. Dumb, goofy and fun movie. I won't say highly recommended, but it's not ashamed to be what it is, and I enjoyed it.

Followup 3, 2/22/13: In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Kirk spends part of the film incarcerated in Rura Penthe, a penal mining colony run by the Klingons. Being an even-numbered film in the Star Trek franchise, this one is pretty good. And while not a "film" per se, The Devil in the Dark is likely most geologists' favorite episode in the original series. I was also reminded by a G+ commenter that The Chronicles of Riddick* takes place in a mining colony. I disliked that film quite a bit, and had forgotten the setting entirely. *Correction: I don't think I've seen The Chronicles of Riddick. It was Pitch Black that I found uninteresting and unmemorable. I felt no need to watch a sequel.


Garry Hayes said...

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Bogie immediately came to mind. Gold miners going nuts with greed, and not needing no stinkin' badges.

Garry Hayes said...

Of course, that wasn't science fiction now that I give it even a moment's thought...

Scott Johnson said...

Another that's dumb and goofy (in its way) and also features 3He mining on the Moon is the recent "Iron Sky". Bonus points for space Nazis and a very obvious Sarah Palin caricature as President.

Lockwood said...

@Garry: I was going through a kick around 2000 where I was watching classics, and that was one I really enjoyed.

@Scott: Haven't seen that one yet. It's another where the premise just sounds awful, but if carried out with the right attitude could be a lot of fun.