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James L. Conway
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Charles Brubaker is the astronaut leading NASA's first manned mission to Mars. Seconds before the launch, the entire team is pulled from the capsule and the rocket leaves earth unmanned much to Brubaker's anger. The head of the programme explains that the life support system was faulty and that NASA can't afford the publicity of a scratched mission. The plan is to fake the Mars landing and keep the astronauts at a remote base until the mission is over, but then investigative journalist Robert Caulfield starts to suspect something. Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A great premise is rendered merely watchable by a script that produces a poor middle section
America is excited by a new space launch; the mission to mars putting them past their 'space fatigue'. However, mere minutes before the launch, the astronauts are spirited away from the rocket while the mission goes ahead but unmanned with the vast majority of NASA, the media, the politicians and the American people completely unaware that this has occurred. The astronauts are taken to a soundstage and informed that the mission would have failed, killing the space programme; however the plan is to fake the landing and keep the funding a plan the astronauts begrudgingly agree to when they see their options are very limited. However when the rocket explodes on re-entry, the astronauts realize that the men in charge have only one way to keep their secret killing them. Meanwhile journalist Robert Caulfield tries to follow a suspicious lead given to him by a man inside NASA only for the man to vanish and for Robert to be nearly killed when his brakes 'fail' he investigates what he suspects but cannot believe.
The film opens with a blacked out screen with a man introducing the mission launch to gathering (unseen) journalists. This is a solid start and it continues in an aborted launch that immediately sets up a premise that is so simple and so effective that it promises a great film to come. However from the moment the astronauts escape the film has already taken a real dip from the good start. What spoils it is the writing; the start gives it the foundation to build on but it doesn't manage to build very much at all. Things happen but there is no consistent tension or excitement to speak of the astronauts are forced into one-off moments of danger but that's about it; this leaves Caulfield as the main thread which, while enjoyable, still doesn't manage to cut it. The film should have been tighter, with a deeper conspiracy, a tangible threat and a real sense of it being a race against time but it doesn't manage it. It still remains interesting and watchable but the word 'thriller' is not one that I would pick.
The film ends in a stronger final 20 minutes where we get a helicopter chase and some well shot scenes with a crop duster but even these are filled with the same lack of logic that the middle section of the film suffers from. Sadly even an exciting conclusion gives way to a rubbish final shot of slow-mo sentiment. The cast are part of the reason that the film is watchable as they are quite good even if the material lets many of them down. Gould is always watchable even though his section should have been much more dramatic. Of the astronauts, Brolin is OK, Waterson has an average character and Simpson is wisely given little opportunity to flex his acting muscles. Holbrook starts with a good sense of conspiratorial menace but the film practically forgets he is there and he just slips away. Black is wasted and she doesn't even look like she wants to be there, but the presence of Huddleston is always welcome. Savalas is good value even if he seems to have walked in from another film but he is good fun and breathes quite a lot of life back into what was becoming a rather stale affair.
Overall this is watchable and quite enjoyable but it is frustrating to see the potential of the premise wasted. The opening 30 minutes is great and sets up a tense film that is sadly never forthcoming. The majority of the film after the rocket is destroyed goes gradually downhill as logic fails and it totally fails to ratchet up the tension in the manner it really should have. Watchable but it should have been loads better I'm not a remake fan per se, but surely somebody can remake this film and make good on the potential.
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