Random Film of the Week(end): MAROONED

maroonedWhile Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY is raking in its massive weekend box office bank and garnering all sorts of critical accolades and yes, awards potential, I thought I’d crack open the vaults and take a look at the first major Hollywood hit about a crew of astronauts lost in space. Granted, the doomed crew of 1950’s Rocketship X-M got lost, ended up somewhere scientifically implausible and came back down to Earth in the worst way possible first. And yes, yes… the crew of the Discovery from Kubrick’s epic 2001: A Space Odyssey don’t quite count because they were done in by a very confused computer in such a low-key manner that by the end their deaths are forgotten in that film’s grander cosmic scope.

But John Sturges’ 1969 film (which won an Academy Award for its visual effects) has the benefit of some much better actors performing in lead and supporting roles, although the film’s science and yes, now dated “by today’s standards” visual effects don’t hold up all that well these days.  It’s worth a viewing these days when it pops up on TCM just to see how Hollywood was trying hard to make a timely sci-fi film while chasing (and not coming close to) the higher level of quality Kubrick and his team of SFX technicians spent years crafting…

(thanks, SteveTheMovieGuy1!)

Then again, for a film set in the time period it was released in, what’s here isn’t bad at all because it’s not trying to be “futuristic” or fancy. In the film, the crew of Ironman One (Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman and James Franciscus) get stuck out in space when their thrusters fail and they’re too far from Earth and can’t return to the space station they’ve come from. With only two days of air left and the chances for a rescue out of the question thanks to a few factors, initially, NASA wants to write them off as a tragic loss, chalking the incident up to the realities of space travel. But pressure from the president to affect a dramatic rescue in order to keep confidence in the space program (and no doubt score some prime political points in the process) forces the space agency to send up an untested vehicle that’s not even supposed to carry a human crew.

Marooned 2As this is a 60’s flick, there’s also a side trip with the astronaut wives in here as the weepy (and maybe a bit sexist) emotional angle, a hurricane headed to the launch site and other issues to distract from the three astronauts working out their fates. Thanks to the aforementioned dipping into melodramatic elements, the film isn’t the documentary style of a Destination Moon or Conquest of Space, but as noted earlier, it’s much better grounded in reality thanks to the filmmakers trying to be as accurate as possible. OK, to a point, as a few effects rely on viewers knowing as little (or not at all) about how sound and light are affected by outer space.

That said, Sturges’ direction is more than solid here and the actors deliver some pretty great performances. I’d say this one’s worth catching if you see it popping up on cable, although that alternate poster above still makes me laugh. Is Gregory Peck there threatening people if they don’t see that movie he made, punching through the poster badly or launching that rocket from his closed fist? Eh, don’t worry about it much. He’s not in space in this one, but he does play the NASA director. I’ve always gotten a big chuckle imagining his too-tall self stuck outside that space capsule with a cable wrapped around him like the ropes on his doomed Captain Ahab from 1956’s Moby Dick. But then again, I am a bit of a nut…

2 thoughts on “Random Film of the Week(end): MAROONED

    • It’s still quite good, warts and all. I just thought of it because people have been writing up how “original” the plot to GRAVITY is and it’s not the plot at all, but the execution that’s the point in that new film…


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