Bil’s rating (out of 5): B. USA, 1969. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Frankovich Productions. Screenplay by Mayo Simon, based on the novel by Martin Caidin. Cinematography by Daniel L. Fapp. Produced by M.J. Frankovich. Production Design by Lyle R. Wheeler. Costume Design by Seth Banks. Film Editing by Walter Thompson. Academy Awards 1969.
Some movies are so terrible it’s a wonder to behold. Three astronauts are sent into space and left to float when a malfunction puts their ship’s thrusters out of commission and leaves them coasting along the earth’s atmosphere. Their oxygen supply is running out and there’s little they can do about it, leaving it up to mission control back home (headed by Gregory Peck) to try and solve the problem. While their wives (including one played by Lee Grant) sit and worry, the men up in the sky (played by Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman and James Franciscus) do their best to stay sane but, with their air running out, are finding it hard to do. The attempt to create a bit of drama between three guys strapped into their seats in giant red helmets is admirable, but the fact that none of the scenes on earth manage to stir up the slightest bit of conflict is truly awe-inspiring. It’s probably an attempt to make a serious science-fiction film that defies the silliness of earlier movies like Destination Moon or When Worlds Collide, but a serious movie is still a movie, and the audience still needs something to actually happen at some point. When things finally do heat up, and grave danger arrives in the final third and inspires some preposterous acting from Hackman (astronauts are actually psychologically tested to make sure they won’t fold under pressure), it’s too late to really salvage the experience. The visual effects are bad even for their time, making the Academy Award very difficult to understand, but most baffling is that this was all brought to us by the director of The Great Escape and Bad Day At Black Rock.