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After spending several months in an orbiting lab, three astronauts prepare to return to earth only to find their rockets wont fire. After initially thinking they might have to abandon them in orbit, NASA decides to launch a daring rescue. Their plans are complicated by a hurricane headed towards the launch site and a shrinking air supply in the astronauts capsule. Written by
KC Hunt <email@example.com>
The Earth as represented in the on-orbit shots is too small if the spacecraft is supposed to be in Low Earth Orbit (approx 200 miles) as would be expected for an orbital laboratory (and Voskhod) mission. The apparent altitude is more like 1000 miles. See more »
Listen, all you guys gotta worry about is where you want me to set you down after I make the transfer. Go on, pick your spot. Edwards? Vegas? How about the beach at Malibu?
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John Sturges' Marooned, based on the Martin Caidin novel, tells the story of three Apollo astronauts trapped in orbit when their main engine fails to fire, and the slow, agonizing realization that there's pretty much nothing that can be done for them.
It's a slow movie, with Sturges taking his time (or his sweet time if you have no patience for this stuff) to build suspense and tension. Miles of film is expended detailing the boys at Mission Control and Kennedy trying to implement the "unless" I mentioned, a bold rescue mission that will arrive in the last moments of their O2, lifting off into the teeth of a hurricane, no less.
What makes the movie work are the very things that were lampooned so accurately by the boys at Mystery Science Theatre 3000, the terse acronym-filled jargon, the performances by Peck, Janssen, Crenna, Hackman, and Franciscus, and the glaringly non-CGI special effects (that looked great in 1970).
For a space-happy 11 year old, this was the ne plus ultra of movies--and the fact that the boys on the Apollo 13 had recently gotten back alive made Marooned more than a leetle beet unnerving in its topicality.
There's a moment that the movie transcends a clinical yawner, and takes on the mantle of heartbreakingly human drama. When the astronauts' wives are brought in to talk to them on small TV monitors, one after the other, and Nancy Kovack coldly tells the NASA suit "I know why we're here--we're here to say goodbye to them," you feel sucker-punched. It didn't seem real until right then.
Then the wives are warned that their husbands are "degraded," meaning they're tired, cold, and scared beyond description. Richard Crenna and Lee Grant have a touching exchange, the commander and his tough, beautiful, middle-aged wife trying to say everything to each other except goodbye. Kovack struggles with James Franciscus because her husband is the Spock of this mission, clinical and scientific. Yet he angrily assures her that they will make it. You can see him expending every bit of energy to convince her and himself that he's not a dead man orbiting.
Finally, Mariette Hartley tries to comfort Gene Hackman, who is bordering on hysteria and panic. She watches in a gut-wrenching horror as he reacts to her reading a letter the wives have written to the President. He cries and rages something like "I broke the lawn-mower, and I can't fix it and everyone is blaming me for it!" Hartley is hustled away, but she stops in dumb horror as she sees her husband on the big monitor in flight control, screaming "Don't kill me!" as Crenna and Franciscus hold him down to shoot him full of sedatives.
It's the most painful and human moment of the movie. Sturges has kept you on the edge of boredom, then wham, it's somehow all real. The movie goes from intellect to emotion in a matter of a few moments. I didn't appreciate this as an a tweenager, but God how my mouth went dry watching it a few days ago. These poor bastards are already in their titanium-shielded coffin!
The rest of the movie is predictable, but brutal in its denouement. You know that, if the men are to be saved, there's going to be some dues paid. I remember seeing Marooned at the Garland Theatre in Spokane in May, 1970. When those dues were paid, my mom was tearing up.
I thought, typical for a woman.
I was clearing my throat a lot and having trouble focusing on the screen when my family and I watched it over the weekend.
Adulthood has its upside, I guess.
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