Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It Came From The Video Store: Space Station 76

Space Station 76 was written by Jack Plotnick, Jennifer Elise Cox, Sam Pancake, Kali Rocha and Michael Stoyanov. It was directed by Jack Plotnick.

Seriously? It took five people to write this thing? The only familiar name (to me at least) on that lengthy list is Michael Stayonov, who you may remember as eldest brother Anthony Russo on the 1990s TV series Blossom.

I was really looking forward to seeing this movie, assuming it was a spoof of 1970s sci-fi shows such as Space:1999, Buck Rogers and even Jason Of Star Command. As Thorin Oakenshield would say, "I have never been so wrong in all my life."

Instead of a fun bit of space satire, we get an alleged dark "comedy" that examines the changing social mores of 1970s suburbia— but in space! Think Bob And Carol And Ted And Alice on a space station (that movie actually came out in 1969, but you get the idea). In fact, if you strip if of its science fiction elements, it could easily pass for a period drama set in a dysfunctional neighborhood. 

I feel like this film tricked me into watching it. The subject matter— relationship drama— is something I would normally steer well clear of, but it enticed me with its promise of retro sci fi action. Much the way a pervert uses candy to lure an unsuspecting child into his windowless van.

I'm honestly not sure what to make of this film. Nothing happens in it. There is absolutely no plot whatsoever, unless you call toxic relationships deteriorating before your very eyes a plot.

All through the movie I kept checking my watch, trying to reassure myself as I thought, "Well, it's been 45 minutes, any time now the plot's going to kick in." Alas, it never happened. It's 93 minutes of various characters going through the motions of their dull lives.

The film supposedly started out as a stage play written by Jack Plotnick. When it became a minor success, he decided to adapt it into a movie. I have no problem believing that. The story, what little there is, is filmed and staged very much like a play, with endless static shots of people sitting around conversing or brooding.

If you've ever sat in front of your TV and thought, "I wonder what the crew of Moonbase Alpha does in their off hours and how they get along with their spouses," then this is the movie for you. For everyone else, run swiftly in the opposite direction.


The Plot:
Well, there is no plot. As the film opens, Jessica (played by Liv Tyler) arrives at the space station as a replacement co-pilot (why a stationary outpost needs a co-pilot, I have no idea). She then has trouble fitting in with the insular and neurotic inhabitants. Believe it or not, that's it!

• I really don't have a lot to say about the movie, other than it's the future as imagined by people of the 1970s, made by people in the 2010s.

• The producers used cgi to simulate the look of spaceship models and 1970s era special effects. It all looks nice, but it makes me wonder why they just didn't use actual models in the first place. I suppose it had to do with cost, but cgi ain't cheap either.

• One of the film's few bright spots is the awesome set design. It's an amazing mix of 1970s interior decorating aesthetic combined with the sterile, modular look of Space: 1999 and 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can occupy yourself during the film's many lulls by admiring the sets.

The costumes are equally impressive, perfectly invoking the style of the 1970s, complete with yards of rayon and velours.

• I enjoyed all the retro and anachronistic touches in the film, such as the characters' constant smoking and drinking and the over dependence on valium. At one point a woman even checks out and orders the latest Earth fashions on a Viewmaster reel! High tech!

The retro look and feel of the film are all top notch. It's just a shame that the filmmakers did nothing with it.

• Jessica becomes close to Ted, the station's maintenance man. Ted has a robot hand which looks very much like a Nintendo Power Glove. I'm sure that was intentional, as it's exactly the sort of prop a cheap 1970s sci-fi film would use. It's one of the few discernible bits of humor in the film.

Unfortunately if we're strictly following a 1970s design template, then it shouldn't be there. The Power Glove wasn't released until 1989, well after the target period. Whoops!

• In a similar vein, there are several small robots assigned to the station. They all appear to be refurbished Verbots, made by the Tomy company.

Like the Power Glove though, the Verbot was released in the mid 1980s, and also doesn't fit the 1970s period.

• One of the few halfway comedic parts of the film is Captain Glenn's attempts at suicide. Glenn is a closeted homosexual, and his lover Daniel has recently transferred off the station after a spat.

Depressed, Captain Glenn then tries to kill himself in several different ways, only to be thwarted each time by the station's automated defense systems.

You know, when the funniest thing in your movie is a guy trying to kill himself, perhaps it's time to reevaluate your script.

• Even when something halfway resembling a plot point threatens to happen, nothing ever comes of it.

Case in point: all through the movie we see occasional shots of a huge asteroid tumbling through space, heading inexorably toward the station. As the asteroid looms closer and closer, the tension begins to build as we realize the characters are doomed.

During the station's Xmas party, everyone is bickering and accusing one another of various infidelities and atrocities. Suddenly an alarm sounds and the characters all watch helplessly as the asteroid tumbles relentlessly toward them. At the last second it barely scrapes the top of the station before moving on.

The characters realize what a close call they've all just had, stop their arguing and reaffirm their feelings for one another.

THAT'S IT?!! I sat through 93 interminable minutes of absolutely nothing for that? Screw this movie and the pretentious, art house projector it rode in on.

Space Station 76 is a peculiar film that's hard to describe, and even harder to watch. It definitely looks good, but ultimately goes nowhere. I give it a C+.

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