The Secret History of Geekiness in Houston
By Christopher Erickson
Nestled in the southern part of Texas near the Gulf of Mexico, Houston would seem like a very Southern city more akin to ranch and cowboy culture than a city with a history of science and science fiction. However, Space City has a prominent history of science and science fiction.
Houston’s nickname of Space City comes from the long history of Johnson Space Center, originally called the Manned Spacecraft Center. The center officially opened in September 1963. Since then it has been used to control all of the manned space flights run by NASA. The facility has been used as both a filming location and a movie setting for films including “Futureworld,” “Armageddon,” “Apollo 13,” “Space Cowboys” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”
With the opening of Johnson Space Center, several things in Houston received names in connection with space. The domed stadium originally called Harris County Domed Stadium was quickly renamed the Houston Astrodome shortly after it opened in 1965. The complex around the stadium was named Astrodomain. The artificial turf that was used in multi-purpose domed stadiums became known as Astroturf. The professional baseball team Houston .45s changed their team name to the Houston Astros when they moved into the Astrodome. The professional basketball team was originally called the Rockets when they were in San Diego and kept the name when the franchise was moved to Houston (since the name had a stronger association with the city).
When the Astrodome opened up, it was the first multi-purpose domed stadium in the world. This earned it the nickname “The Eighth Wonder of the World” and made Houston seem like a city of the future. The building kicked off a number of other domed stadiums such as the Pontiac Silverdome (Pontiac, Michigan), the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (Minneapolis), the Superdome (New Orleans), the Kingdome (Seattle), the RCA Dome (Indianapolis) and the Skydome (Toronto).
The Astrodome was also the filming location and setting for “Brewster McCloud.” If featured a recluse who lived at a fallout shelter in the building who attempted to construct a pair of wings to fly with.
With the reputation of a futuristic city, several movies were filmed or set in Houston as a futuristic city. Besides “Futureworld,” the most famous of these is “Rollerball” and “Logan’s Run.” “Rollerball” was set in a futuristic Houston where corporations replaced governments as the world power and followed the exploits of a roller derby team. “Logan’s Run” was partially filmed inside the Houston Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The city was also the setting for a number of other films. “The Swarm” featured a hive of killer bees sweeping across Southern Texas. “Student Bodies” is a satire of the slasher horror movies. Horror-comedy “My Best Friend is a Vampire” was partially shot in Houston. Part of the movie “Twins” is set in Space City. “I Come in Peace” is about a Houston vice cop on the trail of an extraterrestrial drug lord. “RoboCop 2” was primarily filmed in Houston as well.
Houston has a surprising history of nerd culture. With its famous catchphrase (Houston, we have a problem!) and its strong connection to space exploration, it is not hard to see why the city has been a magnet for geek productions.