Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Fifty Years Beyond Apollo

If you didn't already know it, you will soon. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first Moon landing, and you can be sure there will be all sorts of celebrations and commemorations all over the world. Of course, it's not the first time Apollo 11 has been commemorated. Just one decade after Neil Armstrong's one small step, it was celebrated in a TV documentary presented and co-written by Ray Bradbury.

Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo seems to have begun life as an undated Bradbury script titled Beyond 1984, probably written in 1978. The documentary's presenter, called "Interlocutor" in the script, looks back on the Moon landing and asks philosophically what it was all about, whether it was worthwhile, if there is any hope, and what happens next. The tone of the script reflects Ray's frustration at humankind's greatest achievement - escaping the Earth and setting foot on another world - being cast aside and forgotten.

Ray's view was reflected in his other writings of that era. While at the peak of the US Moon preparations he had written eagerly about Houston Mission Control for Life magazine ("An Impatient Gulliver Above Our Roofs", 1967), a few years after Apollo he wrote a poem called "Abandon In Place", inspired by the now-deserted rocket pads of Apollo at the Kennedy Space Centre.

Ray developed his Beyond 1984 script through various drafts and titles - "Remembrance of Things Future" (March 1979) being one of them. By this draft, the "Interlocutor" was to interact with such futurist luminaries as Isaac Asimov and Alvin Toffler. The final version of the script, now titled Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo was written jointly by Ray and his producer-director, Malcolm Clarke. In this version - as in the finished documentary - Ray Bradbury is clearly identified as the presenter, stepping into the interlocutor role.

Malcolm Clarke would go on to an illustrious career as a film-maker. He received Oscars for best short documentary in 1989 and 2014 (You Don't Have to Die and The Lady in No. 6 respectively), and his other awards include those from the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, Cable ACE - and an Emmy.

Incidentally, this wasn't the first time a Bradbury script had cast him as a presenter. In 1966, he drafted a TV science special called Tomorrow is Now where he would have shown the viewer a history of science from the Ancient Greeks to the present day. And in 1970 he wrote Death Warmed Over, another TV special with himself as host, this time on the subject of horror. Neither of these specials was produced as far as I know, although Death Warmed Over re-surfaced as an essay in a magazine.

Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo first aired on 17th July 1979 on ABC-TV, ten years and a day after the launch of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins on Apollo 11. The final page of the script talks of humankind taking to the stars in solar-powered ships, like giant kites flying in formation, and like Christopher Columbus' ships heading out into uncharted waters. (Bradbury was never afraid of mixing his metaphors.) Ray's final lines echo Tsiolkovsky: "For Earth is only our birthplace after all. It needn't be our home forever."

A cut-down version of Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo can be viewed on Archive.org, here: https://archive.org/details/infinitehorizonsspacebeyondapollo_201505

My thanks to the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies for providing access to Bradbury's papers, which include the various draft scripts referred to above.


Unknown said...

Hello Mr. Nichols, I am a student and I am writing an end of year research paper on Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder. I found your extensive website on Bradbury and I was hoping you might have a blog post of two on the subject. As this work is more obscure, I have had difficulty finding anything scholarly on the subject, and you seem to be well-versed in his works. If you could help, that would be amazing!
Thanks so much,
Chloe Tibbits

Phil said...

Hi Chloe,

I have blogged about "A Sound of Thunder" a few times. Try this link: https://bradburymedia.blogspot.com/search?q=sound+of+thunder

I also reviewed the RAY BRADBURY THEATER adaptation of the story, here: http://www.bradburymedia.co.uk/rbt/24thunder/sound_thunder.htm

I hope these help!

- Phil