Keith Melton's 50-film montage of space helmets reveals a lot about our hopes and fears of stepping off the planet.
A handful of the helmets are duplicates from real space exploration, like those from Apollo 13. But the rest have been made up to imagine what would be needed in a variety of environments.
Major themes are:
- Claustrophobia v. Agoraphobia: Space is either a place where you become trapped or where you realize how insignificant you are. Either way, it's a place where life is far beyond your control.
- Decapitation: The space behind and below the head is almost always black, often with shadows extending across the face. This disembodiment conveys that the person is disconnected from everything they've known -- their body, their lives, their planet. Also, there is nothing behind the hero to return to; they must move forward to something new.
- There's something behind you: Whenever you see the astronaut's face, you see reflections in the helmet that feel like they're behind you. Is it a threat or something amazing? The tension that comes from not being able to turn around is intense. The most popular reflections are starlight, weapons fire and electronics (usually malfunctioning equipment that's one of the hero's adversaries).
- Armor v. Glass: Unknown, hostile environments are matched by bulky, protective helmets, while the all-glass approach is for places that are well-understood and safe. Sometimes though, the reverse approach is used. A glass helmet in a hostile environement generates greater fear of swifter death, while bulky helmets in placid locales signal neophyte explorers who are overdressed.
- Military v. Civilian: Some of the helmets come right from fighter cockpits, while others hail from the "we come in peace" NASA wardrobe.
- Mouth covered v. unvovered: A number of the films have helmets where the mouth is obscured, making the audience focus more on the expressions of the actor's eyes -- usually fear or wonder. The mouth-covered approach also communicates the loneliness of the experience...when you can see the actor's mouth, it's because they're talking to their fellow travelers; they're not as alone.