They are trapped in a spaceship with no power. Outside there is no air and no heat. Earth spins two hundred miles below.
Ironman One, a spaceship completing a crucial mission, is returning to Earth when an accident occurs. One of their retro rockets will not operate. Without this particular item, our three astronaut heroes Jim Pruitt (Richard Crenna), Buzz Lloyd (Gene Hackman), and Clayton Stone (James Franciscus) are royally screwed.
What is there to do? NASA chief Charles Keith (Gregory Peck) has this big problem to weigh in on but eventually with the urging of astronaut Ted Dougherty (David Janssen), a potential solution is found. They will attempt to launch a newly remodeled rocketship, transfer the three astronauts from ship to ship, and return to Earth. One potential problem: oxygen is running out on Ironman One and there is a good chance the three men will be dead before they can be rescued. All the men can do is sit tight and wait.
In 1969, this was definitely accepted as science fiction. A year later, the country would be hanging on their seats when a similar thing happened to the astronauts of Apollo 13. Some aspects of Marooned remain fictional, but the fact that something like this could (and almost did) happen adds to the overall uneasiness and suspenseful nature of the film.
The film, based on a novel by Martin Caidin, isn't heavy on plot. I have not read the Caidin novel, so I have no way of telling you if it's faithful or not. I can only testify about the quality of the film, which is very high. The screenplay eschews plot in favor of developing suspense through the characters. Some will complain about the film's deliberate pace and will certainly blame it on the vague idea that nothing happens. That is a false charge. While the film is slow, that is a positive virtue. By taking its time to tell the story, it allows suspense to build on banality. We're aching for those astronauts as they face an uncertain future and we are caught up all the way through the story. As for the charge that nothing happens, that is a poor position to take. If anything, it resembles 2001: A Space Odyssey. It may seem that way at first, but plenty of action is occurring right before our very eyes. Not necessarily physical action, but cerebral and emotional action.
The visual effects are very good for their time. Like Stanley Kubrick, Sturges realizes that the most effective special effects are of the more subtle, artful variety rather than the zip-zap-zoom of contemporary space epics. It would be doing a major disservice to the mood of the film by having the ships moving too fast.
The director is John Sturges (1911-1992). His credits include The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Satan Bug, Ice Station Zebra, and The Eagle Has Landed. What all those films have in common was that they were exciting films that focused heavily on character rather than plot. He continues his winning streak with Marooned. His direction retains the strengths that made the earlier pictures classics but also adds enough style and mood to do justice to the story.
The performances are all natural and low-key, which is appropriate for this story. Gregory Peck is his usual earnest self in the role of the NASA chief. He resists overacting in favor of maintaining the reality of the situation in front of him. Gene Hackman appears to be going over the top toward the middle portion, but think about it: this could be how he would react if he were stuck in an oversized tin can in outer space. In fact, his performance is very mannered and real, more in the vein of his mellow films Scarecrow rather than the more forceful films that were Oscar contenders. Richard Crenna has always been an underrated actor and his work here is particularly impressive. James Franciscus and David Janssen's careers were very uneven, but here they do very good work. So good that you wonder why they didn't act like this more often.
Columbia TriStar gives us a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is just mediocre in quality. The print is in need of restoration as some scenes contain specks of dirt, scratches, and vertical lines. A light blanket of grain covers the picture and never goes away. Colors are muted, but that may have been a directorial decision rather than the ravages of time. It's better than the prints that have been circulating over the years, but I wish Columbia would actually start caring more about their transfers. It's just not enough to digitally remaster an existing print. Some restoration is often necessary.
The case lists the sound as being "Dolby Surround English." It is in English, but the sound isn't Dolby Surround. It's a workable Dolby Digital mono mix that isn't spectacular, but it gets the job done. Dialogue is clear and audible and the small amount of music sounds clean and strong throughout. Some hiss is present here and there, but nothing that will cause major problems.
Four theatrical trailers are included, but being Columbia, they remain true to form by not including the theatrical trailer for our feature. Instead we get trailers for four recent entries in the Ray Harryhausen DVD Collection: H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon (1964), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956). All are presented in full frame (despite being composed for 1.85:1) and are in terrible condition, both visually and aurally. What is the problem with presenting a trailer for Marooned? I guarantee it will show up in future Columbia discs. I guess we should count ourselves lucky that they even included trailers this time around. Fellow new release disc The Three Stooges in Orbit had not a single trailer.
Anyway, for those who enjoy science fiction but who also want an intelligent, well made film (re: fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Trek) will do well to rent Marooned. If you enjoyed the film, then a purchase would be the next logical step.
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