Description from Amazon: Welcome to a 1970s’ version of the future, where the pants are wide, the music is groovy, and the new frontier is interplanetary. When a new assistant captain (Liv Tyler) arrives on the Omega 76, tensions spark, and more than asteroids collide. This smart and quirky film-festival favorite stars Patrick Wilson, Jerry O’Connell and Matt Bomer. Take a journey on an out-of-this-world adventure.
Looking at reviews and IMDB ratings of this film paint a pretty bleak picture. It has not been well received and that is absolutely the fault of how this film has been marketed. Erroneously described as a ‘spoof’ of 1970’s sci-fi, initial press for this film raised certain expectations, expectations of camp hilarity, which were somewhat reiterated in the trailer. Honestly, the trailer manages to cram in just about all the funny bits of the film – and a few scenes that didn’t even make the final cut – in a two minute teaser that completely ignores context and undermines what makes this film both smart and poignant.
Like so many others, I went in expecting comedy – which is a genre I rarely enjoy and usually avoid, endured here only because it was a) science fiction and b) starred Matt Bomer who was breath-taking in The Normal Heart. Given my distaste for comedy, this movie was a wonderfully pleasant surprise because I didn’t find Space Station 76 funny at all. Instead, this film is quite tragic, a soap-opera allegory with scattered moments of pitch-black humor. Oddly, this type of wry, even off-colour humour, appealed to me a lot more than the type of comedy the trailer and promos led me to believe were in the film.
Back to the bit about it being an allegory. This is where the film shows off that ‘smart and quirky’ personality, delving into the trials and tribulations of upper middle-class suburban life aboard a space station floating through a region of the galaxy devoid of any other ships, inhabited planets or signs of life. It’s this pervasive sense of isolation that becomes a recurring theme as we meet the motley crew of characters, each suffering some sort of emotional disconnect, not only from the rest of the station’s crew, but from themselves as well. The themes present in this film are universal and relevant today despite the retro setting, which is used to highlight the disintegration of the ‘American’ dream. Although this is set in space, the film presents itself like a slice of American apple-pie life: good-looking on the surface but rotten to the core.
These characters broke my heart, but none more so the leading trio of the captain, lieutenant and Ted played by Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler and Matt Bomer respectively. Wilson’s role in particular was as morbidly amusing as it was incredibly sad as his character struggles with issues of identity and the complication of trying to love someone when you hate yourself. Liv Tyler plays the strong female character threatening Wilson’s already compromised captaincy with her estrogen and new ideas for running the station. She in turn catches the eye of the other males onboard and the scorn of their wives, struggling to make friends while maintaining her independence in a psychological paradigm where women should be subordinate nurturers, not career-driven astronauts! And of course Matt Bomer shines no matter what role he’s given. His portrayal of Ted the welder comes across as extremely authentic with many raw moments on screen – especially between him and his character’s young daughter. Ted highlights the lack of emotional integrity in those around him, overcoming the sometimes gauche elements of the film.
While I did enjoy the movie, I found the ending a little abrupt and disappointing, as if they’d made their point and decided to leave it there instead of providing some sort of thematic resolution. I think the writers/director could’ve dug a little deeper, but I guess the 90 minute mark rolled around and they had to yell cut. So be it. Rather leave me wanting more than wishing the movie was an hour shorter!
So… Don’t watch Space Station 76 expecting a slick, CGI-tastic sci-fi movie – although the same team who did the effects for the original Star Wars films, worked on the set of this one! Similarly, don’t go in expecting a raucously funny Austin Powers-esque romp. This movie is neither and so much more. It’s a study of human nature and family drama, the secrets we keep from our loved ones and the lies we tell ourselves in order to survive the daily grind of existence. This scores 4/5 ink splats!