Director: Jack Plotnick. Starring: Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Marisa Coughlan, Matt Bomer. USA, 2014. IMDb: 4.9. Budget: roughly 1 million. My rating: 2.5/4. Retrofuturistic black parody, Jim Jarmusch vs Wes Anderson on a 70-s space station.
(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)
(a discussion between 2 guys about newly arrived female crew member)
Can you imagine the future with corded telephones and colonies on orbital space stations, VHS cassettes and interstellar travel? If you can’t, Jack Plotnick did it for you. ”Space Station 76” is a 1970-s version of the future that never came. And “Space Station 76” has one of the best A.I. ever. Seriously.
It’s not exactly a comedy – at least, not if you understand modern comedy only as ”21 Jump Street” or Seth Rogen-like comedy. It’s more of a Jim Jarmusch vs Wes Anderson on a 70-s space station-like film. Deadpan humour. You never know when the characters are actually joking – well, probably except for the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot, the true gem of the film.
It’s not really a science fiction, or, at least, not in first place – the film mostly mocks its retrofuturistic sci-fi setting and ridiculous 70-s costumes, but in a nice and elegant way. It’s not a pure parody – the film really cares about its characters, never using them just as subjects of ridicule. It’s not an art-house movie – the film is not that experimental and distant from the viewers. Last but not least, it has R rating and uses it smartly – no dick jokes, but deadpan humour. The scene with the frozen dog was just nuts.
Combination of all this makes ”Space Station 76” pretty unique – and as it often happens with movies of this kind, the audience hardly got it. ”I wanted to explore what it was like to be a child growing up in the summer of the 70s, which was my experience, but I wanted to tell it in sort of an artistic way by setting it in the future as we had imagined it would be in the 70s”, said Jack Plotnick in an interview.
There’s a weird funny episode when Liv Tyler’s character, Jessica (who just arrived at the space station) and Matt Bomer’s character, Ted (who has been living there for a while with a psychotic wife) are trying to approach each other and having a meaningful intimate conversation. Ted has an artificial arm that sometimes goes out of control. When Jessica, following her romantic impulse, puts Ted’s arm on her heart, the hand goes rogue and starts to squeeze Jessica’s left tit. All of this showed with in a deadpan manner, finishing with Jessica finally saying ”I think I should go now”.. If you like that kind of humour, you’ll find ”Space Station 76” brilliant.
Visually it’s a beautiful film. You may accuse it of anything but the style. It really squeezes most of its tiny budget, citing 70-s science fiction classic like Logan’s Run and Star Wars. And Dr. Bot, oh! That’s the quintessence of artificial intellect and a good parody. It reminded me of another oddball movie ”Dark Star”, the episode when Sgt. Pinback was trying to convince the Bomb N. 20 not to explode.
(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)
(The captain visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)
What I didn’t like. ”Space Station 76” is at times uneven, especially in the first part. The photography, the acting, the music – all is well-crafted and you feel the movie was made as a passion project, but it’s the screenplay that occasionally sags, running out of fuel – maybe because it was written by 5 different people? Some scenes intended as funny left me perplexed. Some felt really unnecessary. Some plot lines got lost in the middle and didn’t get the development. A more carefully crafted screenplay would really help the film. It’s especially seen in the first half of the film, with the second being more juicy and concentrated.
All the actors created memorable and bright characters – maybe, even too much, as at times they seemed little bit too monotone in their role, like playing the same note over and over. Of course, it was intended as a part of the movie’s style, but a little more versatility wouldn’t harm the film. Liv Tyler (superhero satire “Super“, sci-fi “Robot & Frank“, “Armageddon“) was a nice exception to that, as her character was actually alive, with doubts and flexibility. It was great to see Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl in “Watchmen“, “The Conjuring”) who added a weird touch to the film with his pseudo-sexist obsessions.
The production. The project was originated by Jack Plotnick at his house while experimenting with his friends and favourite actors. This is his debut film, but Plotnick is by no means a newbie – he is in first place an actor with 20+ years of experience (”Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, ”Drawn Together”, ”Wrong”).
Worth watching? Decide by yourself. ”Space Station 76” is an interesting project, but definitely not for everyone. If you like weird and touching humour of ”Super”, ”The Lobster” or ”Defendor” combined with a retrofuturistic sci-fi look on the 70-s, definitely yes. I started to watch it with bias but learnt to appreciate it more and. Visually stylish and delicate, ”Space Station 76” still leaves weirdly good aftertaste, even far from being perfect. It’s an odd little movie that is trying to find its own tone.