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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Approaching the Unknown movie review: no life on the way to Mars

by MaryAnn Johanson

Approaching the Unknown red light

I wish I could figure out what this would-be trippy space odyssey wants to say. I was hoping for sci-fi philosophy. I got nothing but lifeless nonsense.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): total Mars geek, love Mark Strong

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I wish I could figure out what this would-be trippy sci-fi space odyssey is trying to say. Just a hint would be nice. Astronaut William D. Stanaforth (Mark Strong: Grimsby, Kingsman: The Secret Service) is on a one-way, one-man trip to Mars, which by itself makes no sense. One-way, maybe. One-man? No way. What space agency would put a single solitary person in a tin can and send him hurtling across space for nine months? This is a recipe for psychological disaster… which is, I fear, the point: writer-director Mark Elijah Rosenberg, with his feature debut, has concocted a preposterous scenario precisely because this is what he requires in order to explore Stanaforth’s state of mind. Except his state of mind is never any deeper than “I’m not going [to Mars] to die” — long pregnant pause during which you know exactly what he’s going to say next — “I’m going to live.” And that line comes very early in the film, after which very little of any psychological significance happens, in spite of Stanaforth’s ruminations on the shedding of the human skin and his apparent delusions about space starting to look like the inside of your eyeball when they take that picture at the optometrist. I think it’s supposed to be nebulas he’s flying through. There are no nebulas between Earth and Mars.

Maybe the whole Mars mission is a delirious hallucination as Stanaforth lies dying of thirst in a desert on Earth as he experiments with a device that lets him extract water from soil. (Those look like flashbacks to before the mission, but who knows?) There really is no indication that this is the case, but it might explain the unscientific ridiculousnesstweet of instantaneous communication between Stanaforth’s Mars-bound ship and mission control back on Earth (Luke Wilson: Concussion, The Skeleton Twins) when there would, in fact, be minutes-long delays, as well as the utter absurdity that his ship could stop at a space station and then restart its journey, or that it would be possible for him to abort halfway to Mars and turn around and return to Earth. I mean, this is clearly meant to be very near future, and the tech is on a level of “we can slingshot this tin can to Mars but that’s about it.” He’s not on the Millennium Falcon. There’s no stopping and starting possible here. He has no fuel for this. That’s what those fuel tanks jettisoning in the NASA stock footage indicates.

Rosenberg seems to have taken all the best bits of The Martian and Europa Report, thrown them awaytweet, and mixed whatever was left with the wormhole bits from Interstellar that got left on the cutting-room floor, and then still couldn’t figure out what his story was about. It’s very sad. I was hoping for some authentic sci-fi philosophy. And I got nothing but lifeless nonsense.

red light 1 star

Approaching the Unknown (2016)
US/Canada release date: Jun 03 2016 (VOD same day) | UK release date: direct to VOD

MPAA: rated R for language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language)

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    the wormhole bits from Interstellar that got left on the cutting-room floor

    The mind boggles…

  • lakersnation86

    I agree with much of this analyses, except I wasn’t bothered by the scientific inconsistencies of the whole movie. I focused more on the whole souls searching, psychological part, which wasn’t as rewarding as it could’ve been.

  • RogerBW

    Shame – this looked interesting, but a first-time writer directing his own work is a huge warning for me that seems to have been justified in this case.

    (Also, one astronaut can get sick in ways that are trivially fixed if there’s another astronaut present with some basic medical training.)

  • Joe Schmoe

    Shouldn’t his craft have the standard urine and moisture reclamation systems they have on space stations? Why wasn’t his wonder water from dirt device tested and perfected by others before the launch, considering how important it was supposed to be for the mission? Too lame!

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