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Friday, 5 January 2007
Given that this is 1969, the year Neil Armstrong made his small step for man, this is completely believable. It's a good companion piece to Destination Moon, merely made twenty years later after some of this had become reality. The technology here looks awesomely real. It's by far the most real retro tech I've ever seen on film, but of course it wasn't retro tech at the time. What's most notably real is the way the whole plot kicks in. Three astronauts, Jim Pruett, Buzz Lloyd and Clayton Stone, had headed up to an orbital space station to become subjects in an experiment to see how seven months of living up there in weightlessness would affect human beings.
Gregory Peck plays the man who seems to really be in charge, Charles Keith, and he ends up with the unenviable task of trying to bring them down when their retros won't fire. He's more serious than the rest of the cast but then he's Gregory Peck. He's also very pessimistic about the chance of bringing them back and so doesn't even want to try until he's ordered to by the President of the United States. To be fair he's got a point, because the rescue ship hasn't been flown, Hurricane Alma is coming in and, most importantly, the astronauts have only 42 hours before they run out of oxygen. To say that they're up against it is about as huge an understatement as you could get.
The astronauts are respectively Richard Crenna, James Franciscus and a young Gene Hackman, two years after Bonnie and Clyde. Crenna is the reliable captain, Franciscus the active brain who makes things happen and Hackman the rebellious one who comes apart under the pressure. David Janssen, the lead in The Fugitive, the original one, leads the rescue mission. All of them are thoroughly distinctive, both in character and in portrayal, but it's elsewhere that the film falls down.
Given that this is by definition an action film without a heck of a lot of action, it really needed a lot of tense scenes to make up for it and they just aren't there. Really the film is almost entirely a single two plus hour tense scene without any relief at all until the final few seconds, and tension isn't something that can be sustained without at least something to grant relief. For all the grim realism here, Destination Moon was far better at being a science fiction story, a feat of heroism and a ripping yarn.