By Emily Carney
“Before this decade is out . . . we will make a boring movie called Space Travelers.”
—Crow T. Robot, Mystery Science Theater 3000
You know you’re in for something special as soon as the NBC Nightly News circa-1980s opening credits run, boasting music which sounds like it was stolen from the time Les Oraliens degenerated into wholly panoramic 1970s porn.
Marooned was actually a REAL movie from 1969, which possessed actual actors like Gregory Peck and Gene Hackman. It must have been repackaged under the alternate title Space Travelers during the 1980s. At any rate, with any title, Marooned is so thoroughly awful that it makes Starship Troopers look like an epic Stanley Kubrick production. This movie was so terrible and completely offensive to the space program, I think even Jim Lovell—the famous, “aw shucks!” nice-guy astronaut known for saving the day on Apollo 13 in 1970—would have walked out on this bitch after throwing a Molotov cocktail at the screen. The boys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 summed it up best when they called the renamed Space Travelers “the cable access version of Marooned.”
The film opens with several “scenic,” completely dislocated shots of Mission Control talking over footage of a Saturn V rocket launch, which adds no dramatic credibility to the film whatsoever; I thought I was watching the torturous program called “Video Files” on the NASA Channel (there is really a NASA Channel in the United States). MST3K improves this sequence immensely when they bust out the famous Alan Shepard line, “OK GUYS WHY DON’T YOU SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS AND LIGHT THIS LITTLE CANDLE . . . ” (I laughed.)
Seriously, this shit goes on forever. WE GET IT, they’re launching a big-ass rocket into space. MST3K‘s Tom Servo points out helpfully that despite this film being a multimillion dollar production, they’re still using NASA stock footage. What the hell? Also, the Apollo astronauts here are wearing bright red bubble helmets. As an Apollo-phile this drove me a bit nuts; I don’t think the boys of Apollo ever wore bright red Pac Man-esque helmets. Then again, this entire film is technologically inaccurate, so this oversight really doesn’t affect much.
Gregory Peck plays the Deke Slayton character in the film, who is supposed to be The Big Boss Man in Charge of the Astronauts. He sort of sucks at his job, but we’ll discuss this in more detail later. This is when the film mercifully begins the plot, at long last. The three Apollo astronauts are apparently on a long-duration spaceflight on a space station. They’re battling the effects of being stuck in a floating shit can for extremely long periods of time (NO KIDDING!). I almost wished Frank Borman would have shown up to punch everyone in the face, but I digress. As MST3K states observantly, “Music by Tangerine Dream” (seriously, the theme music is portentous as hell).
Gregory Peck decides that it’s for the best if the boys of Apollo 69, or whatever they’re called, return back to Earth. However, they cannot burn their engines to achieve retrofire to get back to Earth. This is really mega bad. There’s much annoying talk with “Houston” about what to do. In short, the astronauts are generally Screwed By Life, and a rescue mission is in order. Of course, this is the beginning of the Longest, Most Boring Meeting Scene Ever in Cinematic History.
During this agonizing meeting scene, Gregory Peck (a.k.a .The Bad Deke Slayton) seems like he doesn’t give two shits about the safety of the three poor saps stuck in Earth orbit. It’s quite embarrassing, and I wish the In-Real-Life Deke Slayton, flanked by a pissed-off John Young, had walked in and smacked everyone in the room, pimp-style. Also, during this part of the movie, a hurricane develops in the spacecraft splashdown zone (as MST3K chants, “SUBPLOT! SUBPLOT! SUBPLOT!”).
There’s also much hair-raising dialogue and acting, which I’d rather not even get into. It made me ask, how did they recruit Gene Hackman into this disaster of a film? And why . . . ? By this point the boys of Apollo 69 are losing valuable oxygen. Houston brings in the wives to say goodbye, which is just an excruciating, upsetting scene, really. The film’s hair and makeup people did do a fantastic job of duplicating the Stepford Wives-like appearance and demeanor of the Apollo Wives, I’ll give them that.
By this point, Gene Hackman (named “Buzz” in the film, no kidding) starts freaking out in space. Apparently the lack of oxygen has affected his brain (REALLY? You think?). It is way less compelling than it sounds. The rescue mission also manages to get scrubbed. The guys give their last testaments to Big Boss Gregory Peck.
We’re about an hour into this film, and my eyes are about to close. If I were those three guys in the Apollo capsule, hell, I’d be taking the “kill me pills” as well, just to get away from this movie. I’m going to be honest with the reader: I took a small nap during this section of the movie. Marooned brought the same long-winded, hammy, hysterical vibes to space flight which The China Syndrome brought to nuclear power.
Richard Crenna (who is “Jim,” the mission’s commander) spices things up by having a Wally Schirra Apollo 7 style fit at the Gregory Peck character, therefore causing a mutiny in space. We’re treated to some other various long shots of the three guys lying prone in their couches. Somebody kill me, please.
After much bitching, Richard Crenna decides to go outside and fix the spacecraft’s engine. I have no idea why no one thought of this tactic several days ago, but whatever, man. Also: boys, you might want to get your helmets on, because you’re gonna die without them . . . just saying. Richard Crenna cuts his suit on a sharp edge during his spacewalk. He dies. The two other guys are stuck in space with no mission commander, and the poor widow is notified.
At this point, I found this film deeply offensive, only because I thought . . . if any actual astronauts had seen this film in 1969 . . . how traumatized would they have been by these depictions? What about their real life wives? Sheesh. I also noticed that mercifully, they let the hot guy survive (some random third astronaut named “Stony”). Thank God, they let the hot-ass blond guy live. That’s the only thing that made me genuinely happy about this film.
To spare you some more descriptions of various awful acting scenes and other assorted bullshit, the Soviets show up and rescue their American counterparts in space. They guys speed away back home on a Soviet spacecraft which MST3K points out looks like one of the Scrubbing Bubbles (“We do all the work so you don’t have to!”). The end.
In summation, if you want to see an excellently depicted spaceflight movie, watch Apollo 13, watch the miniseries From The Earth To The Moon, watch the documentary When We Left Earth, watch anything EXCEPT Marooned. You’ll have me to thank.