"Nothing lives there.
Nothing has ever died there.
But I'm going to bring it to life."
For those who think that a solo trip to Mars would be something adventurous or exciting and plans to register for an upcoming expedition, I recommend to watch Approaching The Unknown first. It looks like it's not entirely rosy.
And don't expect Star Wars or Star Trek situations. Chances are that loneliness and boredom can have a psychological impact on your mental system. Most movie-fans will heave an intergalactic sigh and shake their head while mumbling that the release date is very inconvenient. The comparison with The Martian is inevitable.
There's only one significant difference regarding the order of events. In The Martian there was a problem to get away from Mars. Here's the big problem to get there.
What I missed was in the first place both the humor and nerve-racking struggle for survival as in The Martian. And secondly the rousing action of Gravity. And also both these films had a considerably use of impressive imagery and expensive special effects. It's probably due to the limited budget available for this indie sci-fi movie.
Of course it's not necessary that it all has to be as spectacular and action-packed as in The Martian. But a total absence of these elements isn't conducive to the enjoyment as well. To be honest, it's mostly dull and boring. We witness how Stanaforth (Mark Strong) handles his daily routine in a monotone manner. He does his exercises. He sprays his plants. Works on his revolutionary invention (which in hindsight turns out not be so revolutionary) and learns for some reason Spanish in between. This isn't really entertainment of the top shelf.
The strongest point of Approaching The Unknown is the acting of Mark Strong (what's in a name?). A stoically calm scientist who sacrifices himself for this one-way trip. He made this informed choice as a service to mankind. So it's not a suicide mission for him. It's a perfect opportunity to make use of his invention.
The energetic and enthusiastic start slowly changes into an atmosphere full of despair. Eventually it looked like a self study about loneliness, routine, boredom and obsessiveness. A survival trip avant la lettre with water being the main problem due to a non-working world wonder and an error of judgment so the water supply becomes undrinkable. Reasonable harmful. Especially if you still need to travel several hundred thousand kilometers.
Unlike The Martian, where everything seemed pretty realistic and believable, there were some dubious situations in Approaching The Unknown. Why they launched another spaceship after the first one, eluded me completely. Wouldn't it be wiser if they've waited until the first one landed safely? And the moment this second spacecraft deviates from its course, they come to the conclusion that the gyroscope is to blame. This device looked so old-fashioned and primitive compared to the rest of this high-tech spacecraft. I was just waiting for them to demonstrate a weather station with a cheerful frog in it to make weather predictions.
Also the invention of Stanaforth was a source of questions for me. Why did he have to test this in a desert? To push his limits? Was this a functioning prototype or not? Wouldn't it be wise if they've tested it beforehand in a typical lab? I would have done that before sending him on a billion dollar costing mission. And apparently some solutions are plain simple. You can't connect two cables? No problem. Simply disassemble somewhere another one and place it in between. I guess that cable was function-less anyway and just hanging there as a prop.
In general Approaching The Unknown wasn't really an imaginative film. It paints a realistic picture of life in isolation and the willpower and discipline required to successfully complete such an expedition. Because of the lack of special effects (apart from a few images of space that looked like a lava lamp from the 70's and that reminded me of Fantastic Voyage) and the small budget, a challenging story-line surely was needed.
Unfortunately it wasn't really challenging. The ultimate goal was reaching Mars. Even an intriguing duo on a resupply station couldn't stop that. I guess Approaching The Unknown felt as a trip to Mars : monotonous and routinely. Even the masterful acting of Mark Strong couldn't solve this.
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