Depending on your point of view, Marooned directed by John Sturges was considered either “a taut and interesting film…” or “Tedious and Sad…” upon its release. That still remains the case today. It’s curious that despite the space race being such a big story at the time it seldom translated into good drama on the big screen. Like Robert Altman’s Countdown from the preious year, Marooned suffers from a rather clinical approach to the subject matter and a somewhat pedestrian pace. Perhaps the focus on real space travel and science fact was the problem. Robert Parrish’s Journey to the Far Side of the Sun which was released at the same time is far more dramatically engaging with its more overt science fiction narrative.
Marooned focuses on the three man crew of Ironman One as they experience a technical malfunction which renders the ship inoperative. Unable to return to their space station or affect a re-entry, it soon become apparent that both oxygen and time is running. Mission control desperately tries to find a solution, turning to an experimental space vehicle to affect a rescue. A further dimension is added to the problem when political pressure is applied from the President, anxious to avoid a disaster in space and the associated propaganda fallout. Does the only viable solution lie with co-operation with the Russians?
Marooned is technically proficient, yet struggles to find the correct balance between accurately depicting the technology of the time and making it cinematically entertaining. The effects work was cutting edge at the time and is cleverly used with a selection of matching stock footage to create a credible environment. The movie boasts a quality ensemble cast for the times, featuring such names as Gegory Peck, Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman and James Franciscus. It does it’s best to be avoid an excess of melodrama but the deliberately slow pacing is somewhat challenging. The earnest script and technical exposition is the main culprit here.
Fans of director John Sturges may well be flummoxed by this uncharacteristic change of style. Marooned could easily lose twenty minutes of material to tighten the flow of the story. Perhaps NASA’s direct involvement in the production hampered the development of some of the more dramatic story lines such as the political dimensions and the public “handling” of the astronauts’ wives. The film can be rewarding to the patient viewer as well as a window into the space race during the cold war era. For the more casual viewer it will be an uphill struggle.