Buzz, Kirk and the final frontier: humanity towards infinity

Buzz, Kirk and the final frontier: humanity towards infinity

Buzz, Kirk and the final frontier

Towards infinity ... Buzz Lightyear greets us in the trailer for the new animated series dedicated to the popular Toy Story character, recently announced by Disney, with the perfect soundtrack of Starman by David Bowie. Born as half of one of the most beloved duets in the history of cinema, Buzz and Woody, this toy now stops its traditional role to immerse itself in one of the themes most dear to sci-fi fiction: the last frontier. And if you are now thinking about a certain spaceship that plows the cosmos in search of new, strange worlds and new civilizations, know that this is normal. Whether it's Lightyear - The true story of Buzz or Star Trek, the suggestion of the unknown that awaits us among the stars, beyond the limits of our knowledge is one of the inspirations most courted by great storytellers.

A suggestion that, with the passage of time, has found in reality a reliable shoulder, with which to renew itself and always remain present within the sci-fi panorama. If we think back to when Jules Verne amazed the world of his contemporary with From the Earth to the Moon, humanity has made great strides in its path towards the conquest of the cosmos and the discovery of its innermost secrets. With each new mystery revealed, the frontier moves slightly further, inexorably attracts human curiosity and guides us even further into the depths of space.

But where does this myth of the last frontier come from?

At the edge of knowledge

Even before being among the stars, this edge of knowledge was initially decidedly earthly. Especially in American culture, the frontier was seen as the end of civilization, the beginning of an unexplored land where mysteries and infinite riches awaited the brave, the pioneers. The American West of the 1800s was the frontier par excellence for decades, insinuating this timeless myth into the DNA of the States. A concept that has become an integral part of world culture, either because the spirit of adventure is human heritage or because the spread of American fiction, especially cinematographic, has given rise to a definition of the fantastic that has always looked overseas for new stimuli.

It is the arrival of anticipatory fiction that gives the last frontier a new direction. As the Earth reveals more and more secrets to us, the new limits become the unfathomable oceans and the cosmos. It is no coincidence that the progenitor of science fiction literature, Verne, guided us to discover the depths of the sea with 20,000 leagues under the sea and From the Earth to the Moon, indicating a route on which other famous names of sci-fi would later join. literary. If the affinity with the terrestrial abysses faded rapidly, the vastness of space and the slow discovery of its mysteries became instead the origin of a curiosity that had its origins in antiquity, when the stars were gods and celestial events, then inexplicable, they were manifestations of divine powers.

It is no coincidence that all the great ancient civilizations, from the Greeks to the Babylonians passing through the Incas, developed their own vision of the cosmos as the kingdom of a divine pantheon, which they tried to probe, revealing its secrets. A healthy, incurable obsession that guided the human imagination, arriving in the second half of the 20th century at the first taste of space, with the first cosmonaut to make an orbital flight, the Russian Yuri Gagarin in 1961, and culminating with the imprint of the American astronauts on lunar soil in July 1969. The human adventure in the cosmos is the daughter of this attraction, the perpetual search for a new frontier to be conquered, an imaginary borderline between civilization and the unknown to be moved ever further forward. And if this drive is valid for science, how can we not make it a collective emotion by letting it emerge in the story?

There was therefore no better direction to turn to in order to find the new final frontier. The fascination of this imaginary border to our knowledge became a narrative lever that conquered every kind of narrator, from literature to the nascent cinema. From its beginnings, if we think that Fritz Lang, universally known for Metropolis, had seen an incredible potential in this suggestion, to the point of giving life in 1929 to A woman on the Moon, where the new frontier is our satellite, portrayed according to the fallacious knowledge of the time, but made the scene of a space adventure that in the following decades would become more and more rooted in the collective imagination.

Starting from literature, which especially in the pul period saw in exploration space and in the mysteries of the cosmos the new frontier of human adventure. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon or Captain Future were perfect interpreters of this vision, which was still the daughter of a still childish knowledge of the cosmos, especially among the great masses. Only the evolution of scientific investigation and new discoveries in the field of astronomy also led science fiction fiction to follow a different interpretation of the new frontier, which in the meantime left room for more concrete stories focused on spectacular battles. The years of the Second World War, the Cold War and the space race between the Soviet and American blocs led famous authors, such as Heinlein or Dick, to see sci-fi as an instrument of strong social criticism, leaving the myth of the new frontier in the background, preferring to focus on more everyday elements, as we can see in Ubik.

But it was only a matter of time before someone whispered space, last frontier.

Space, last frontier

The first series of Star Trek, in fact, still remains today one of the best sci-fi interpretations of the myth of the frontier. Not surprisingly, the first title thought up by Gene Roddenberry was Star Wagon, a reference to the caravans with which the pioneers faced the conquest of the West in the 19th century. In American television culture the western epic was a familiar presence as much as it was in the cinema, and Roddenberry saw in this adventurous spirit a compelling narrative mechanism, ready to be declined in a new key, that of science fiction.

Kirk , Spock, Bones and the crew of the Enterprise thus became the new pioneers, not only among the stars but also in contemporary culture. Incredible to think that in 1966 the Americans, Japanese and Russians worked side by side on the deck of a starship of the future, or that a black woman could have a leadership role. If it is true that the cruises of the Enterprise took her to the borders of known space, to get where no man has gone before, it must be recognized that this adventurous momentum was also reflected in the way in which the society of the United Federation of Planets was portrayed. , in which racism and misogyny were, albeit with the naivety of the period, treated in such a way as to be overcome. In a way, Star Trek rewrote the myth of the last frontier, seeing humanity's new test bed in space.

A vision that was lost in the next two series, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine , who instead had a more intimate approach to the life of the Federation, no longer an expanding political force but an organism intent on consolidating and seeking a diplomatic life, less adventurous when necessary. Mirror of the times, one would think, given that the first Star Trek series was born during the years of the space race, while the following series were children of a period in which space was no longer in people's hearts, after the end. of the great space missions. We had to wait for Voyager and Enterprise to once again feel an affinity with that space, the last frontier that had accompanied us on Kirk's previous voyages.

If the concept of the last frontier is valid for Star Trek, what about its famous rival, Star Wars? The Lucas saga, on closer inspection, has no relevance to this concept, animated by a different vision of sci-fi, in which the characters move within a circumscribed world and unwilling to expand. Especially in the first Trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Again and Return of the Jedi) there is a lack of momentum beyond the confines of known space, the struggle to dethrone Palpatine and Dart Vader focuses the attention of the characters towards the heart of the known galaxy. . A feature that is also found in subsequent trilogies, leaving derivative works, such as novels and video games, to show a bland frontier interpretation, in which, however, there is always the will to take an extra step to embrace the unknown, letting instead it is perceived as the ultimate boundary of known space.

The adventure among the stars

But not only has Star Trek been able to exploit this idea. In the television sector it would be enough to mention Space 1999, a famous British production in which the Moon, after a nuclear explosion, was thrown from its orbit, pushing the inhabitants of the Alpha lunar base into the depths of the cosmos. Wanting to look for other interpretations of this concept, one could see in the film adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969) the desire to identify a dualism in space exploration with the knowledge of the mysteries of life, touching on the metaphysical. Path also followed by Solaris (1972), considered the Soviet response to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It is interesting to note how the very concept of the space frontier has been deeply linked to the evolution of the 'real' exploration of the cosmos. Star Trek was the daughter of a conception halfway between the fantastic and the futuristic, mirror of a scientific research that took off after the Second World War and that after only three years from the airing of the first episode of the series would have led the man to step on the lunar soil. One wonders if the very concept of the last cosmic frontier, given its affinity with the ancestral thirst for human adventure, is not fueled by new discoveries and inventions that, in a certain sense, bring them closer to feasibility. It is no coincidence that in the period in which NASA had drastically reduced its missions, cinematic science fiction saw the flourishing of various influences, from the horror of Point of No Return to the historical reconstruction of Apollo 13. Especially the first title mentioned allows us to see how, after Alien (1979), space becomes a source of threats, as if our curiosity is appeased by the warning that great dangers can be hidden among the stars. Ideally, one can see in this genre a personification of everyday fears and anxieties, which are exorcised in these films.

Yet, after the conquest of new scientific achievements, such as the landing on Mars of the first rovers from exploration, the myth of the space frontier takes effect again. The passage of the years and a greater scientific awareness of authors and the public pushes, however, to give a more realistic vision of this theme, painting with greater attention the concrete risks and human challenges of this cosmic adventure. A typical example is Survivor (The Martian, 2011), where an engineer of a terraforming project on Mars, played by Matt Damon, must survive in a confined environment, challenging the rugged nature of the red planet. Road on which Nolan also sets out with his Interstellar (2014), where a desperate humanity is looking for a new home among the stars. The contemporary themes of resource scarcity and pollution transform the new frontier, in this case, not into an exciting adventure but into a desperate need.

Survivor and Interstellar are two good examples of the new frontier identity spatial, more scientific and, although still adventurous, less fictional. There are obviously concessions to adrenaline-fueled narrative, but the feeling is that the awareness of space and its peculiarities have become sufficient elements to guarantee great stories, mature and adult like Ad Astra.

Towards infinity ...

But our adventurous spirit still needs heroes who remind us of that emotion without scientific limitations and pure, authentic thirst for knowledge and great adventures. There could not have been better times than that of Buzz Lightyear, who in a sort of retaliation goes from being the playful incarnation of this boyish aspect of sci-fi, seen in the Toy Story saga, to the protagonist of an animated series that with the its trailer recalled the cornerstones of adventurous sci-fi.

Dangerous aliens, worlds to explore and spaceships with a futuristic look are the perfect elements to take us back to a frontier full of promises and mysteries, waiting to see how the Space exploration saga par excellence, Star Trek, will return to this distinctive trait with another animated series, Prodigy. Are you ready to launch yourself into infinity, to get where no man has ever gone before?

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