Marooned (1969)

G   |    |  Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi


Marooned (1969) Poster

Three American astronauts are stranded in space when their retros won't fire. Can they be rescued before their oxygen runs out?


5.9/10
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  • Gene Hackman and James Franciscus in Marooned (1969)
  • Marooned (1969)
  • Marooned (1969)
  • Gregory Peck in Marooned (1969)
  • Marooned (1969)
  • Gene Hackman and James Franciscus in Marooned (1969)

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31 March 2005 | inspectors71
Gut Check
John Sturges' Marooned, based on the Martin Caidin novel, tells the story of three Apollo astronauts trapped in orbit when their main engine fails to fire, and the slow, agonizing realization that there's pretty much nothing that can be done for them.

Unless.

It's a slow movie, with Sturges taking his time (or his sweet time if you have no patience for this stuff) to build suspense and tension. Miles of film is expended detailing the boys at Mission Control and Kennedy trying to implement the "unless" I mentioned, a bold rescue mission that will arrive in the last moments of their O2, lifting off into the teeth of a hurricane, no less.

What makes the movie work are the very things that were lampooned so accurately by the boys at Mystery Science Theatre 3000, the terse acronym-filled jargon, the performances by Peck, Janssen, Crenna, Hackman, and Franciscus, and the glaringly non-CGI special effects (that looked great in 1970).

For a space-happy 11 year old, this was the ne plus ultra of movies--and the fact that the boys on the Apollo 13 had recently gotten back alive made Marooned more than a leetle beet unnerving in its topicality.

There's a moment that the movie transcends a clinical yawner, and takes on the mantle of heartbreakingly human drama. When the astronauts' wives are brought in to talk to them on small TV monitors, one after the other, and Nancy Kovack coldly tells the NASA suit "I know why we're here--we're here to say goodbye to them," you feel sucker-punched. It didn't seem real until right then.

Then the wives are warned that their husbands are "degraded," meaning they're tired, cold, and scared beyond description. Richard Crenna and Lee Grant have a touching exchange, the commander and his tough, beautiful, middle-aged wife trying to say everything to each other except goodbye. Kovack struggles with James Franciscus because her husband is the Spock of this mission, clinical and scientific. Yet he angrily assures her that they will make it. You can see him expending every bit of energy to convince her and himself that he's not a dead man orbiting.

Finally, Mariette Hartley tries to comfort Gene Hackman, who is bordering on hysteria and panic. She watches in a gut-wrenching horror as he reacts to her reading a letter the wives have written to the President. He cries and rages something like "I broke the lawn-mower, and I can't fix it and everyone is blaming me for it!" Hartley is hustled away, but she stops in dumb horror as she sees her husband on the big monitor in flight control, screaming "Don't kill me!" as Crenna and Franciscus hold him down to shoot him full of sedatives.

It's the most painful and human moment of the movie. Sturges has kept you on the edge of boredom, then wham, it's somehow all real. The movie goes from intellect to emotion in a matter of a few moments. I didn't appreciate this as an a tweenager, but God how my mouth went dry watching it a few days ago. These poor bastards are already in their titanium-shielded coffin!

The rest of the movie is predictable, but brutal in its denouement. You know that, if the men are to be saved, there's going to be some dues paid. I remember seeing Marooned at the Garland Theatre in Spokane in May, 1970. When those dues were paid, my mom was tearing up.

I thought, typical for a woman.

I was clearing my throat a lot and having trouble focusing on the screen when my family and I watched it over the weekend.

Adulthood has its upside, I guess.

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Did You Know?

Trivia

The space station using a spent Saturn S-IVB stage was based on early proposals during the Apollo Applications Program; at the time of filming, what came to fruition as Skylab was still under development. The only differences between the orbital workshop depicted in the film (which has a rocket motor attached) and the real Skylab was the incorporation of the Apollo Telescope Mount and two docking ports on the docking module, not to mention the absence of a rocket motor. The real Skylab was launched as a 'dry' workshop using a surplus Saturn S-IVB stage. The Skylab space station was built from Saturn IB S-IVB stage S-IVB -212; the backup from Saturn V stage S-IVB-513, now on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The three-man crew in the film spent 5 months living in space; the longest duration in the real Skylab was 84 days during the final mission, Skylab 4.


Quotes

President of the United States: Charles, just put away your slide rule for a minute and listen. There's more going on here than logic. A large part of the world is watching us and what we do about rescuing these men. Just to say that we've looked at the book and there's nothing we...


Goofs

The Earth as represented in the on-orbit shots is too small if the spacecraft is supposed to be in Low Earth Orbit (approx 200 miles) as would be expected for an orbital laboratory (and Voskhod) mission. The apparent altitude is more like 1000 miles.


Alternate Versions

The version titled "Space Travelers" is the one spoofed by Mystery Science Theater 3000. In this version, the scene where Celia Pruett learns of her husband's death is accompanied by a truly AWFUL electronic score (it sounds literally like random keys played on a toy synthesizer, something MST3K made note of). The original version has no music during this scene (and almost no other music; a muted, very low-key score can be heard when Pruett leaves the ship to "fix" it).

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Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Adventure | Drama | Sci-Fi | Thriller

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