When it comes to SciFi/Horror hybrids, it’s actually quite difficult to get the mix just right. Too much of any one thing overwhelms the other half, and the end result often feels uneven. More often than not, it ends up being one-sided, much more in favor of Horror than it is SciFi, and the mismatch kills the possibility for building an audience of any notable size. Why is that? Well, that’s probably because most hardcore SciFi fans aren’t as fond of Horror as they could, should, or would be … and I’ve been told the opposite is true as well.
On that point, Stranded tries very hard to walk that fine line, but, as you’ve probably already guessed if you’re here reading the review about it, I think it fails. However, I don’t think it failed as badly as it could have – the end result is that all too often the film feels vastly derivative of other better works. When you’re, say, “inspired” to do something in the vein of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) or John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), that’s a great place to start. If you’re not equipped to do that derivation justice, then maybe you should’ve hung it all up before you started.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
The Ark Moonbase – under command of Colonel Gerard Brauchman (the increasingly forgettable Christian Slater, which is very, very sad) – finds itself cut off from all communications with Earth due to an unexpected meteor shower. The four-man crew does what it can to save themselves, but when a vicious alien lifeform finds its way onto the station, they’ll risk life and limb to evacuate before becoming the beast’s dinner!
My initial problems with Stranded really do stem from what I’d have to call its cookie-cutter plot. While I certainly can’t prove how Christian Piers Betley and Roger Christian wrote their film, I’m still inclined to believe that they approached it like a cook does a recipe: put in one dash of Alien (1979), put in two cups The Thing (1982), add just a dash of Sunshine (2007), and sprinkle it liberally with two teaspoons of Das Boot (1981) just for seasoning. Everything – and I do mean everything – in here feels as though it was pieced together based entirely on their respective inspirations. On the surface, one might conclude that, with all of those terrific flavors, they’d end up as a real winner. Instead what director Christian delivers feels only half-baked.
I mean … did this project even have a science advisor? I would honestly have to guess that – since there was science all over it – they should have. Well, if they did, that advisor probably should be taken out and drawn-and-quartered for good measure as so very, very, very little of it makes even common sense, nor is much of it practical. Things like “how is it they have gravity on a moonbase?” shouldn’t be just a passing fancy. How is it that one astronaut/scientist visually detects a spore on the surface of a downed meteor when spores are commonly microscopic and require a certain amount of scientific examination … and then, in the next scene, the audience is shown that the spores are, in fact, inside the rock? How did he see it on the outside, then? And how is that fire burning inside the cargo bay that you just said has no air? And when the station loses all power, how is it that the gravity and life support are sustained? And why do the chairs on a moonbase – a fixed and immovable installation – have safety belts if you’ve visually established that they have gravity?
And don’t even get me started on the “massively accelerated space pregnancy” that the station’s physician detects!
In any event, Stranded may not be very smart, but what it does have is some nice elements. For example, the special effects team delivered up some nice practical miniatures that serve as the space station and the lunar surface; despite being readily identifiable as miniatures, they’re still quite good. Furthermore, the station’s interiors do feel largely claustrophobic, much like contemporary spacecraft and space station modules are. Those are some nice touches, and no doubt they were made by folks who have an established appreciation for Science Fiction. When you’re delivering cinema of this type on a budget, it pays for you to get a few things right; at the very least, Stranded did.
Stranded (2013) is produced by Gloucester Place Films, International Pictures Three, Minds Eye Entertainment, and Moving Pictures Media. DVD distribution is being handled through RLJ Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds mostly very solid – certainly as good as most direct-to-DVD releases go. To my surprise, the disc does boast a few special features – nothing all that grand – but they’re worth a quick look: the ‘Making Of Stranded’ and ‘Life on the Moon: The FX of Stranded.’ They’re short, but they’re quite nice compared to some other special features I’ve had the misfortune of watching.
As I’m sure most will disagree with me, even the smallest, weirdest, and/or worst films can have some merit, and Stranded – despite a plethora of scientific, logistical, and narrative shortcomings – had a solid chance to be something greater than what it was. From a nostalgia standpoint, I loved the fact that they used practical miniatures – damn near unheard of in science fiction these days – for the Ark Moonbase, and I thought the set direction was better-than-average with some nice claustrophobic moments captured within its interiors. Otherwise, yes, it’s a mostly forgettable spin on material we’ve seen explored to vastly greater effect elsewhere.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of Stranded by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.