I have always been fascinated with the use of the corridor or futuristic hallway in science fiction TV and movies. It’s a tool that has been used over and over again to show a utilitarian function that we use today as we might see it in the future. By showing a simple hallway with different colored walls, attachments or adornments, greater or lesser lengths, cinematographers give you feelings from claustrophobia to cold chills to the repulsion of the dripping, dank space freighter, or the immaculately clean hospital-like environment. And creators get to show us the future as they envision it, in part by contrasting something we see every day today with something far more elaborate, or far less elaborate, years from now.
The corridor is also a great storytelling device. Take the obvious: the dramatic play. You can’t easily show a hallway conversation when you have three major sets for your playhouse production. It’s been done, but with TV and film it’s a lot easier to use to carry a story along. Especially in movies, the typical story consists of one staged set after another, a destination, as opposed to the pathway between. Practically the director cannot spend time in a hallway as she can on television. Corridor conversation is obviously not just a science fiction tool. Hospital themed TV series use hallway space conversations as much as any other location for a scene. Yet there is something unique with the sci-fi corridor that has been fleshed out in science fiction design to create a different feeling of the future.
Take for instance the barren corridors in George Lucas’s THX 1138:
Or this cold hallway where we find the main character played by Robert Duvall:
Compare the above desolate images with this seemingly highly technical, computer-dominated labyrinth from the same film:
It’s these images, both stark and complicated, that likely helped build Lucas’s style for Star Wars. My favorite of his uses, and the most overt, was this entry way for the slow path Luke Skywalker had to take to confront Darth Vader for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back:
But that wasn’t Lucas’s most dramatic use. That has to go to our introduction to Darth Vader for the first time as he bursts into the hall of the Tantive IV freighter from his giant Star Destroyer in the original Star Wars:
What is the most noticeable from comparing the use of corridors in sci-fi is the scale the corridor typically creates for the viewer. From the prior scene we know this is a ship smaller than the attacking ship, yet look how big this ship must be from its long hallways. Yet nothing prepares us for a mechanized facility the size of a planet, and with the Death Star, we have something so unimaginably large, it is one corridor after another, from the escape in the prison block:
…to the corridor where Obi-Wan Kenobi confronts Darth Vader after turning off the gravity beam:
What are those vertical lighted things on the walls? What do they do? It doesn’t matter. It never matters. They are all just technobabblish frescoes that only need to look like they do something.
But looking only at Lucas’s films is just skimming the surface. Check out Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, where darkness, power conduits, and leaky valves translate to fear aboard the space vessel Nostromo:
And Scott contrasts this with the more antiseptic feeling corridor for other locations:
More than any other idea illustrated by corridors in science fiction is the design concept of form following function. The long tubes interconnecting parts of the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey follow this theory as we see the interiors reflect the ship’s tubal exterior:
In an ongoing television series, writers and designers are always looking to improve their storytelling. More than in a two-hour movie, you have plenty of time over one or more seasons to spend time “in between”–moving from place to place, where you don’t have the luxury of so much time in a movie. The Star Trek franchise allowed conversations to carry on as the crew strode from the bridge to sickbay to engineering, to continue the plot unimpeded, despite the technical capability of just beaming from place to place. It also served to break up dialogue and setting. This occurred throughout the various series, from the original Star Trek:
…to the corridors of the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: The Next Generation:
…to Deep Space Nine, which had a space station like that of 2001: A Space Odyssey, again, full of hallways:
And although we’re speaking of the future’s future, somehow this more modern starship from Voyager looks and feels even more futuristic:
This continued with the prequel series Enterprise, which reflects some early inspiration for the future of corridors, that of military vessels:
This brings us to the likely source for all these corridors, the military naval vessel, going back to the submarines from decades ago. As can be seen in the nuclear submarine in Hunt for Red October, passageways are quick visual for scale:
And why do these endless corridors make us feel the way we do? Usually… creepy. A screenshot from the earliest of science fiction movies, Metropolis, may give us a hint:
Definitely something Orwellian about this image. Was it filmed at a prison? A subway station? Wherever it is, it’s not pretty. It makes us uncomfortable.
The sci-fi corridor continues to be a tool used in modern science fiction. Here are futuristic cyclindrical walkways from Gattaca:
Dark angular passages from Doctor Who:
A bright and vivid corridor Rise of the Planet of the Apes:
In 2009′s Star Trek:
And even the illustrators of animated futuristic films can’t escape their own corridors, as in The Incredibles:
Mutants know how to make slick causeways in X-Men:
And our own Earth could hardly look more bleak than in Terminator 4:
Yet the movie Moon’s imagery appears more like the future as seen in 1970s films:
The visual imagery and feeling conveyed by the corridor is a staple in science fiction. No doubt production designers must include some budget for these locations as a minimum ingredient in every new futuristic tale.