Although it looks down at mankind from the sky,
And we behold it every night,
The dark void of space is no friend or ally.
‘Tis death on our borders to push and defy,
An ever-black vacuum that wills us to die
If we from our atmosphere venture too high,
Which man will endeavor despite,
Despite the dread silence our fears amplify,
Despite the expanses too vast for the eye.
Despite all the dangers that could go awry,
Mankind will dare every new height.
MPAA rating: G (should be PG, for light language)
This one is a special request of my mom’s. I’ve been putting off reviewing Marooned for a long time, despite my mom’s insistence, because I remember her showing it to me as a kid, and I was bored out of my skull. Since that first viewing, I’ve always viewed it as boredom incarnate. To my mind for the last several years, it’s been “Marooned = dull.” Yet she finally convinced me to give it another chance, and I must admit it’s better than I recalled, perhaps because I’ve grown in patience over the years. (Plus, I have a new standard for boring-as-heck cinema, which I’ll review soon.)
It might seem that this story of a space shuttle mission gone wrong drew inspiration from the Apollo 13 incident, but surprisingly it came out shortly after Apollo 11, a year before the similar events of Apollo 13. Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman, and James Franciscus play the three NASA astronauts who are stranded in their capsule (called Ironman One) when main engine failure leaves them without enough fuel to return home or to their space station. Unable to do anything but conserve oxygen and wait, the astronauts rest their hopes on Mission Control, led by Gregory Peck’s flight director Charles Keith, and a daring last-ditch rescue mission.
Marooned is still rather slow in its execution, but my mom has a special connection with any movie about NASA, this included, since my grandfather worked on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions at Cape Canaveral and she also worked there during the Space Shuttle Program. In fact, she sees her dad in Gregory Peck’s administrator and, as a kid, imagined her father similarly calling the shots, though he actually played more of a background role. I too have that fondness to some extent, which helped me appreciate Marooned more than I was expecting this time.
One thing that I recognized with this viewing is how Marooned has influenced other stranded-in-space films. Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 is an obvious comparison, though that had a direct historical basis, while this is fictional. I could also point, though, to the rallying of support and resources for a risky rescue that was also seen in The Martian, and the emotional farewells between the astronauts and their wives were echoed in the video goodbyes of the space crew in Deep Impact. And of course, the desperate space-walking finale bears some resemblance to the whole concept of Gravity, though Gravity’s jaw-dropping effects make the Oscar-winning effects in Marooned look pitiful. (They’re decent, but at one point, I could see a string suspending a supposedly floating object.) In a way, this climax represents the problem with Marooned: it’s meant to be tense and gripping, but the now-hokey effects and lack of music (only space sounds) make it anticlimactic and far less engaging than it was meant to be, especially when we have films like Gravity that took similar ingredients and did them better.
Yet I can’t be too hard on Marooned anymore. It does feature some excellent performances, exemplified in the tearful calls between the astronauts and their wives, and Gregory Peck is in top form. Plus, that investment in the space program that must be in my blood helped me appreciate it overall, especially Keith’s impassioned defense of space travel, regardless of regrettable losses incurred, making the scrapping of our modern space program all the more disappointing. It’s still a bit dry, procedural, and overlong for my taste, but Marooned has at least moved up in my estimation, which at least should make my mom happy.
Best line: (reporter) “Are the results you’ve gained worth the lives you’ve lost?” (Keith) “You’re damn right they are! You want to know what they accomplished living up there in a tin can for five months? Because of men like these, we’ve taken the first step off this little planet. A trip to the moon was just a walk around the block; we’re going to the stars, to other worlds, other civilizations. Men will be killed in this effort, just as they’re killed in cars and airplanes and bars and in bed.”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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