Cinematic Mountains Out Of Space

Johannes Vith


Beginning in the last decades of the 20th century, humanity has started to undertake serious efforts of using other planets as extraterrestrial lifeboats to escape the confines of a dying Earth. This idea has long been anticipated by the technological imagination of science fiction film. In our conception of extraterrestrial spaces, mountains often serve as extra-planetary markers that assume a role that signpost foreign territory. The reason for this may be traced back to the cultural importance of mountains and to the fact that they show signs of an internal tension. While they form the basic geological substance of our landscape, they still appear to be foreign, almost extraterrestrial objects even. The symbolic charge may be productively compared to the classical mountain film genre, where mountains often serve as agents that gauge extremes. This comparison introduces several cinematic and imaginary exchanges between terrestrial and extraterrestrial mountains. The first exchange becomes apparent in the conception of extraterrestrial mountains, as they are often based off earthly mountains. The rendered mountain can share not only the physiognomy with the real mountain, but also our cultural conception. This raises the question about authenticity and artificiality of cinematic landscapes in general. These artificially created mountain spaces become particularly interesting in the anthropocenic discourse, as they are truly man-made. Next, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial mountains are highly important for scientific undertakings and almost serve as giant laboratories. The third exchange can be seen in the commodification of both spaces, as scientists are already anticipating extraterrestrial mining. All aforementioned aspects inform the ideological investments related to these mountain spaces in their philosophical dimension of the sublime, in their political dimension as spaces for vicarious imperialism, and in their ecocritical dimension. The productive comparison between traditional mountain film and extraterrestrial mountain film can show us similarities and differences in the rapprochement of mountain spaces and maybe also illustrate aspects of the traditional mountain film previously unexplored.


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