Like Antarctica and the Moon, there is an agreement in principle that no nation can claim space or any of the heavenly bodies for itself, that they can only be inhabited, developed or have resources extracted for scientific research or the collective good of humanity, but as states are supplanted by corporations there will likely be a shift in policy as power moves to those who are not answerable to any law other than the inevitable and inexorable upward flow of money.
Be it Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, there will be those whose personal wealth separates them from the rest of humanity in an intangible but profound way, in a position where their decisions and policies will directly impact the lives of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people through the wages they pay, the rights granted or denied to their workers, the environmental impact of their businesses, their cooperation with or hostility to smaller concerns who could never be considered competitors in any real sense.
James Sullivan declares that his own incalculable wealth is unimportant, a statement which would be laughable were it not so ingenuous, one of the richest and most powerful men alive, founder and CEO of technology conglomerate UTS and aged 152 also the oldest person alive thanks to the rejuvenation therapies affordable only to those few in his lofty orbit, a man whose vision will take humanity away from the dying Earth to a new home on Mars, terraformed through “the tree of life,” a super plant engineered to grow in the Martian soil producing oxygen and food.
A new Eden created to his specification, hidden in the margins of his plans is the drawback that 95% of the population of Earth will be left behind, unable to afford the relocation or considered unworthy, undesirable, the poor, those with criminal records, those who toil in menial work where the ever-narrowing margins of profit mean they are not so much making money as trading debts, labourers, dockers, and those who clean up the debris left by dead satellites and the impacts as they fall from orbit, the space sweepers.
Set in the year 2092, Jo Sung-hee’s Space Sweepers (승리호) is presented as the first Korean space blockbuster, following the aptly named Victory, one of the most daring, fearless and comparatively successful of the junk ships crewed by the fractious mismatched quartet of Captain Sin Ji Jang (Kim Tae-ri), pilot Kim Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki), engineer Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu) and robot Bubs (Yoo Hae-jin), their fortunes turned around by their recovery of a lost weapon of mass destruction disguised as a small child.
Written by Yoon Seung-min, Yoo-kang Seo-ae and Jo Sung-hee, Space Sweepers presents a fully conceptualised and realised complex and elaborate world where the future is multi-national and multi-lingual, though the requisite villain of the piece is perhaps predictably English, The Hobbit‘s Richard Armitage delighting in the opportunity to unravel to the point of helplessly unhinged as futurist James Sullivan.
From floating cities to toxic clouds of nanobots, from masked balls to underground eco-terrorist groups, the costumes and sets of Space Sweepers are imaginative and practical, both in the sense that they have been constructed rather than rendered and have been designed to be functional rather than decorative, while the digital effects of exterior environments and ships are kinetic and compelling, driving the two and a quarter hours with only brief pauses for reflection on the mistakes and tragedies of the past.
The square pigs of Space Truckers served with a generous splash of hot sauce which succeeds where China’s lofty but dour attempt to achieve escape velocity with The Wandering Earth failed, Space Sweepers is energetic and surprisingly emotional as the crew of Victory move from viewing the precocious yet adorable trouble magnet Kot-nim (Park Ye-rin) as a liability or an asset to accepting her as a part of their broken family, their determination to protect her placing them as at odds with overwhelming apocalyptic forces, the sheer momentum meaning only the most hardened would find time to question the improbable orbital mechanics employed rather than enjoy the spectacle and characters.