“Space Station 76”—A Movie Review

Figure 1 - VCON logo
Figure 1 – VCON logo

If you live within a two-hundred kilometer (120 miles) radius of Vancouver, BC, I urge you to consider coming to VCON 39 this weekend (Oct. 3-5) at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford hotel in Surrey, BC. Why? Well, not only is it a good, solid long-running non-commercial con, it’s also the Canadian National SF/F Convention, or Canvention (home of the Aurora Awards)! That means we have two (2) sets of Guests of Honour for your enjoyment! VCON’s GOHs are David Weber, author of the perennial favourite series about Honor Harrington (and do you know how hard it was NOT to type “Honour”? Canadian spelling is hard to get out of, once you start!) and the artist who has done—as far as I know—all the covers for the HH series, David Mattingly! If you like well-written military fiction in the space opera tradition, you’ve probably read at least one of Weber’s books; if you’ve read the books, you may have noticed the extremely well-done covers by David Mattingly (and he’s bringing some wonderful large prints of some of his favourite covers with him!). There’s also a Game Design GOH, Bruce Heard, who was an early TSR employee and who has worked on various games.

If that’s not enough to whet your appetitite, Canvention’s Guests of Honour are Tarol Hunt, author and artist of the popular netcomic Goblins (check it out!); and Melissa Mary Duncan, whose book FAYE – The Art of Melissa Mary Duncan, is getting lots of good press, and whose art will be featured at the VCON Art Gallery. The Aurora Awards will be announced at the convention (and two of Amazing Stories’ columnists: your humble writer—me!—and R. Graeme Cameron are, along with Dr. Robert Runté, up for an Aurora! Fingers crossed!) and there are all the usual convention goodies. If that’s not enough, besides the normal (!?) set of writers present (I don’t have room to list them all, and would probably forget some, so I won’t try) we will have two special local authors: William Gibson (Neuromancer, Johnny Mnemonic, the Bridge trilogy, et al.) and Spider Robinson (Stardance, Night of Power, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, et al.)! Gibson will only be there on Saturday, and is leaving after the Aurora Awards—but you can catch a Q&A session with him, and he’ll do an autograph session right after the Q&A. Spider will be giving—he’s an accomplished guitarist and singer—a special one-hour concert of his favourite little-known jazz and folk tunes. (In addition, Spider and a couple of his friends will be hosting a Beatles singalong as an ex-program item. There will be some kind of signage announcing time and place.) Spider is doing a reading and an autograph session as well.

Figure 2 - William Gibson and Spider Robinson
Figure 2 – William Gibson and Spider Robinson

You can’t afford to miss this con if you’re within driving distance! If all you’ve ever attended are commercial cons, like Fan Expo or ComiCon, you owe it to yourself to try a fan-run convention. (It’s cheaper, and, psst! No charge for autographs!) Hey, that’s today! Better get a move on, then!

And now, before I begin my review, I’d like to point out that if you enjoy any of these Amazing Stories Online columns (blog entries), whether mine, Graeme Cameron’s, Jane Frank’s or whomever’s, you can subscribe to each column to get an automatic link emailed to you every time one is published. Just scroll down to the bottom of the column you’re enjoying and click the “Notify me of new posts by email” box. By the way, you can share any column on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Reddit, or email—and print it—without registering or signing in! But I do urge you to register, sign in and subscribe; that way you won’t miss a single column, even if you’re away on holiday or whatever!*

Figure 3 – Space Station 76 Poster
Figure 3 – Space Station 76 Poster

On to the review (fanfare!) A movie supposedly paying homage to the space movies of the ‘70s, Space Station 76 (2014) appears to be a very polarizing film. Comments on IMDB are love/hate with the majority not appearing to love it. Adding that to the “R” rating (female nudity and sexual situations) plus the more mature but still attractive Liv Tyler, the movie became a “should see” (as opposed to a “must see”) for me.

Also starring Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, Watchmen), Marisa Coughlin (a number of TV series: Bones, Boston Legal) and Matt Bomer (Chuck, Glee, Magic Mike and White Collar), the movie also boasts appearances by such SF/F luminaries as Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey) and Jerry O’Connell (Sliders).

I read the IMDB comments before watching this film, because I wanted to know what I was getting into; as I said, watchers tended to either find it funny—it’s a comedy!—or deadly boring—“a turd inside a Fabergé egg” was one comment. My reaction was that I liked it fairly well—I neither loved it nor hated it. I would dearly like to know the ages of the respondents, because my suspicion is that if you didn’t live through the ‘70s, you’d probably be baffled and/or bored by it.

The movie was a play first; and even though parts were filmed at Walt Disney studios, it’s not a big-budget movie. The director, Jack Plotnick, deliberately set out to make it look as if it were filmed in the ‘70s, like a Stanley Kubrick film, or Dark Star, Andromeda Strain, THX-1138 and the like. The interior sets are a strange mixture of space station (2001: A Space Odyssey) corridors and 1970s suburban split-level homes; the characters dress as a ‘70s designer would have thought future people might dress, when they’re not dressing in actual ‘70s style (Jerry O’Connell said that it would be his only chance to “rock a turtleneck,” as those styles would probably never come back into fashion.) The video is of the VCR type; the holograms are the old green/red/blue coloured type), and the robots are those little bitty ‘70s Radio Shack-type robots, even the Robo-Doctor. And the music (played from 8-track players, looked like) was all Todd Rundgren, Neil Sedaka and Spanky and Our Gang.

Figure 4 - Space Station 76 cast
Figure 4 – Space Station 76 cast left-right: Marisa Coughlin, Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler and Matt Bomer

I’m not sure I can really talk about this film without spoiling something… if I did, it wouldn’t be the ending, as this film doesn’t have a conventional ending, and that’s all I can say about that. The characters are all acting from a ‘70s viewpoint, full of angst, hidden agendas and sexual innuendo (or open sexuality). Captain Glenn, played by Patrick Wilson, has difficulty accepting or expressing the fact that he’s gay; his lover leaves the ship and is replaced by Liv Tyler as Jessica, a woman who can’t conceive and is possibly sublimating by doing her job exceptionally well. She meets Ted (Matt Bomer) and his wife Misty (Marisa Coughlin) and their seven-year-old daughter Sunshine (Kylie Rogers—easily one of the best actors on set!), forming a bond with Sunshine while at the same time forming a hate/hate relationship with Misty.

Misty, on her part, while loading up on Valium—prescribed by Doctor Robot (“I’m increasing your dosage to… whatever you want!”), is boffing Jerry O’Connell’s character Steve, whose wife Donna (Kali Rocha) is getting down with the wine and has self-assumed the Welcome Wagon duties while secretly dreaming of Steve’s promotion and leaving all this behind. Yep, it’s a soap opera in space. Some of it’s kind of comedic—dark comedy—while some of it’s just uncomfortable, because you—or at least I—have known people like that.

Glenn, meanwhile, since his lover Daniel (Matthew Morrison, of Glee fame) left, is morose—an alcoholic—and attempts at least twice to kill himself, only to be thwarted by the ship’s AI, unknowingly. Also, noting that Jessica has formed a bond with her child Sunshine, Misty starts lying to the girl, telling her that Jessica is a bad person. It all builds to a head at the Christmas party, but I can’t tell you anything more about that. In fact, I’ve left out so much, not only for spoiler reasons but for space (column space, not outer space) reasons… I don’t want to narrate the whole movie to you; if it sounds like something you’d like (especially if you’re old enough to remember the ‘70s), you’ll want to find it out for yourself. I thought it was very funny that most of the cast—and the director—only remember the ‘70s from a child’s perspective. By the way, I never did see Kier Dullea.

Will I watch it again? Yes, I think so. I’d like to see what the Beautiful and Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk, who’s watched a zillion B-movies with me over the last 25 years, thinks of it. She might be impatient… she’s getting a low tolerance for a lot of stuff she used to like—last night she left the room a lot while I was watching the new Michael Bay Transformers movie. On the other hand she might like it. (I haven’t reviewed that last-mentioned movie simply because I’m still digesting it. I may still. Watch this space.) So my rating, out of five stars—if I were to rate it, would probably be a solid three stars.

I’d be pleased if you were to comment here about my column—good or bad, doesn’t matter; I’m happy that you consider it worth reading—which means you’d have to register… but that’s free, and quick! If not here, then please, comment on Facebook in the several groups I’m a member of. You don’t have to like what I say to comment. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other bloggers. See you again, next week!

*Ed. Note:  lend us your eyeballs so we can bring you free stuff!)

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