Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Roger Christian
Writer: Christian Piers Betley, Roger Christian
Producer: Mark Montague, Kevin DeWalt, Isabella Battiston
Stars: Christian Slater, Amy Matysio, Michael Therriault, Brendan Fehr
Four astronauts face their own paranoia when a meteor shower unleashes deadly spores and traps them inside a moonbase.
To have any chance of being immersed in a low budget sci-fi fantasy, there has to be an understanding that the movie is not going to look like Ridley Scott made it. It cannot look like 1960’s-era “Star Trek” either, but it can still cheat the production value as long as the budget is not a distraction. Even “Star Wars” got away with using a video production switcher as the Death Star’s command console. And TV series “Babylon 5” was inventive, intelligent, and influential, in spite of its supposedly five mile long space station looking like it was confined to a studio apartment.
Independent science fiction films can start in the hole by biting off more than they can chew in the scenery department. With one or two zeros missing from the production account, it is a wonder why some even try filming ambitious outer space concepts without having the resources to be remotely convincing. “Stranded” appears aware of such limitations. It looks at least as good as a space-set episode of “The New Outer Limits,” and that is all it needs to be to push its atmosphere off the ground. It is not going to compete with “Prometheus” on this level anyway, nor does it have to.
The performances are also “good enough,” which may sound like a slight against the actors, but really it is a reflection on the script. Because while “Stranded” may be passable in production design and casting, a greater concern for the film is its lack of a gripping story or sensible character behavior.
When a meteor shower critically damages a base on the moon, the four astronauts in the facility scramble to repair the air filtration system. Once the oxygen resumes a free flow, the crew finds a new problem in the form of a strange space spore that is brought back onboard in a meteorite sample. As paranoia and sickness set in, the crewmembers are left to figure out if they are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, or if they have been infected by the spores. Either way, everyone’s judgment is severely impaired. Though that is a finger that can be pointed at the script, and not at the spore.
With dangerous levels of carbon monoxide entering the air filtration system, the station’s doctor makes a point to warn the other three crewmembers not once, but twice, that they must vigilantly monitor each other for symptoms of CO poisoning. Doc mentions that those symptoms include disorientation and headaches, among other things. His second warning specifically ends with, “if any one of you starts feeling confused or abnormal … you come see me immediately.” Just four minutes of screen time later, crewmember Ava suddenly becomes nauseous and asks to lie down. Even knowing that she had just been handling an unknown space spore that behaves like a bacterium mere moments earlier, the doctor then simply watches her walk right out of the research lab. Wait. What was that about vigilantly looking for symptoms?
Rivaling the doctor in actions that grossly violate his own advice is Christian Slater’s Colonel Gerard Brauchman. With Ava looking like death warmed over and now inexplicably six months pregnant after handling the spore, Brauchman has the idea to lock Ava down in quarantine. The colonel either does not know what the word quarantine means, or it has an entirely different definition on the moon.
After Col. Brauchman locks down the medical bay room to “isolate” Ava and the probable contagion, the door is unlocked no less than four times. On the second breach, the colonel specifically commands, “don’t touch her.” Each of the other two men does anyway. Following the third entry into her room, Brauchman exclaims, “I’m locking this room down.” The fourth time he closes with, “you’re suffering from contagion, I’m going to have to put you in an isolation cell.” In total, each male crewmember had already touched her at least three separate times since the “quarantine.” Whatever infection she may have, every dust mite on the station would have contracted it by this point.
And let’s not forget the troublemaker who started this mess in the first place. Crewmember Ava brings a space rock onboard the station that contains an unidentified living spore. When she cuts herself while examining the sample, she deliberately hides that fact from the doctor standing next to her. Forget about the negligent breach of research lab protocol. Would you not want the doctor to treat you immediately if you had just pricked yourself with an unknown organism from outer space?
I can accept that these crewmembers are not amongst Earth’s most elite military and scientific minds. That is probably why the four of them were shipped off to the moon for a yearlong mission of nothing more important than mineral collecting. Harder to swallow are the consistently boneheaded choices everyone makes simply so that there can be a story.
Without dimwitted decisions giving everyone something to do, “Stranded” would stand out even more as a poor man’s “Alien” clone. Although the creature here takes the form of a human, so there is not even a decent monster on hand to liven things up.
Had the personalities been able to carry believable suspense, they surely would have been crushed under the paint-by-numbers tale of flashlight hallway searches for a monster on the loose. Production wise, “Stranded” started off in a better position than most independent sci-fi. But its dull story just cannot spark any interest, much less sustain it.
Review Score: 40