New Line // 1999 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Margo Reasner (Retired) // February 28th, 2000
Imagine the face of terror is the one you love.
While watching The Astronaut's Wife, when you're not playing a rousing game of "guess which movie this part of the plot was stolen from," you are treated to a beautifully filmed and directed movie.
Spencer Armacost (Johnny Depp -- Sleepy Hollow, Donnie Brasco, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) is a happily married astronaut about to go into space on a routine mission to work on a satellite. While enroute to space he manages to place a romantic phone call to his wife Jillian (Charlize Theron -- The Cider House Rules, The Devil's Advocate, Mighty Joe Young). Later that day as Jillian is preparing dinner she notices a special news report on the television with a picture of her husband. By the time she reaches the TV to turn up the volume the news report is over. As she's flipping through the channels trying to catch some news on what the special report was about the doorbell rings and when she answers she finds a NASA representative (Joe Morton -- Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Lone Star, The Brother from Another Planet) standing on her doorstep ready to take her to headquarters for a briefing about what happened to her husband.
We soon discover that Spencer and his partner experienced an explosion while they were working on the satellite and that they had been out of communication with NASA for a total of two minutes. They are, however, alive and on their way back to Earth. Once they return to Earth and spend some time in the hospital they go home to their wives, but slowly Jillian begins to find that her husband is a little different from when he left. She worries when he decides to stop flying (something he told her that he would never do) and takes a high level corporate job in New York City. And then there's his strange new-found fascination with the radio...Jillian desperately tries to piece together the mystery of what happened to Spencer on that fateful mission and tries also to hold onto her sanity during the process.
Rand Ravich wrote and directed The Astronaut's Wife and it would seem that he has a real eye for designing sets and setting moods. Charlize Theron's emotional state is often shown not only through her acting, but also by where the scene is filmed. When she is happy and life is normal she is shown in rooms that have walls of windows. As she becomes suspicious of what is going on around her there would be walls of windows, but you couldn't see through them. By the end when she feels trapped you find her in hallways that seem to be elongated for effect. Furthermore, each of the sets were rich in detail and absolutely delightful to look at.
As the title, The Astronaut's Wife, would suggest the lead role in this movie is played by Charlize Theron. She is the detective in this Sci-Fi thriller so we watch the mystery unravel through her experience. She goes from normal to suspicious to slightly crazy as she discovers things that seem not to be possible. If this sounds familiar it might be because you saw her create the same role in The Devil's Advocate and if you liked her in that movie chances are very good that you will enjoy her in this one as well. To his credit Johnny Depp allows her to take center stage and plays his part in an understated creepy way that feeds into her growing paranoia.
The picture is presented in widescreen 1:85:1 aspect ratio (even though the outside cover of the DVD says 2.35:1) and is enhanced for widescreen TVs. On a widescreen setup the colors are rich and vibrant and the transfer is pristine and nearly perfect in every way. The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is clear and well separated. Extras include the Original Theatrical Trailer (enhanced and Dolby Digital 5.1) and Cast and Crew Filmographies with three more trailers (Nightmare on Elm Street, Don Juan DeMarco, and Trial and Error -- all but Don Juan were enhanced and all had Dolby Digital 5.1 sound). There are also DVD-ROM extras including access to all of the original website contents, ability to read the screenplay while watching the movie and up to the minute information on the cast and crew members with web links. I didn't try out the DVD-ROM material personally.
Above I indicated that Rand Ravich wrote and directed this movie and that he did a good job directing. What I didn't talk about was the job that he did writing this screenplay. That's because I saved comments about that for this "what's wrong with this movie" section. The storyline is predictable because, to be quite honest, we've seen it all before. It was as though major themes of many different movies were pieced together in order to create this story. In the beginning we have a Southern couple that have an event occur in their life that gives them an opportunity to go to New York City and make lots and lots of money and once they get there the husband starts treating his wife differently. Sound familiar? It should as it's also the beginning plot for The Devil's Advocate. I think that I actually breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that Theron's character moved into a pre-decorated apartment so that I wouldn't have to watch her suffer the angst of decorating it herself again. The Joe Morton character reminded me of the priest in The Omen who wildly accused Damien of evil when he met with Gregory Peck at his office. I won't spoil anymore of the "guess which movie you've seen this in before" game by giving anymore away, but you get the idea. The pace of the story is also very slow...again I am reminded of the pace of The Omen without the horrific moments that were sprinkled through that one. In this one we watch Theron's character get frightened instead of feeling the fright ourselves. In short, viewers that are easily bored with rehashed, slow moving storylines should skip this one.
Fans of Charlize Theron who enjoyed her in The Devil's Advocate will want to purchase this one; fans of Johnny Depp who want to see him in a different type of role will either want to purchase or rent. Everyone else probably should rent before making a decision to buy.
New Line is off of the hook and totally acquitted. Rand Ravich is ordered to break all of his pencils and is hereby denied blank sheets of paper in order to encourage him to spend his time directing.
Review content copyright © 2000 Margo Reasner; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Original Theatrical Trailer
* Trailers for: Nightmare on Elm Street, Don Juan DeMarco, and Trial and Error
* Cast and Crew Filmographies
* Official Site