Saturday, December 10, 2005

Review: Spacejacked (1997)


Sometime in the near-future a spaceship called the Star Princess is gliding from Earth toward the moon. The Star Princess is a luxury cruise ship which takes the extremely wealthy on pleasure trips, and this voyage is one such excursion. The passengers are all billionaires with the exception of Dawn, an administrative assistant who won her trip in a contest.

With the cruise underway, the guests are busy making use of the virtual reality couches, mood-altering drugs, and free booze. On the bridge, however, there seems to be a malfunction with the ship's life-pods. We soon learn that the malfunction is actually sabotage, perpetrated by the ship's second mate Barnes (Corbin Bernsen) and his android partner-in-crime Gibson. The two ne'er-do-wells kill the Captain, deploys all but one of the life-pods and cause an explosion that nearly destroys the ship (the size of the explosion having been a little bigger than Barnes intended.)

The surviving passengers in the ship's lounge include Dawn, first mate Taylor, the bartender, the cruise director, a seemingly mentally retarded android named Mac, and a handful of billionaires. Barnes appears to them on a monitor from the ship's bridge and demands bank account access codes from the rich folks, threatening to leave them there to die if they don't comply. He inexplicably gives them thirty minutes to "think it over" (which in movies always means "try to escape.")

Taylor hatches a plan to try to make his way to the bridge and send a distress signal. The explosion knocked out life-support for most of the ship, so Taylor sends Mac to retrieve a space suit for him. This almost works, but when Mac runs into an exposed and very live wire he fries his already questionable mental circuitry and goes wandering up to the bridge himself. Barnes shoves him into the airlock and jettisons him into space.

When the allotted thirty minutes have elapsed Barnes has Gibson bring one of the billionaires to the bridge. Barnes forces the bank code out of him and then guns him down, not bothering to confirm that it was the correct code first. It isn't, of course, so Barnes is forced to use a code-cracking computer program instead. Meanwhile, Taylor and Dawn find another way to the space-suits and make their way toward the bridge. Knowing that the life-pod can only hold seven of the eight "good" people on the ship, Taylor sends Dawn back to gather the other passengers and lead them to the pod while he continues to the bridge to make another attempt at sending a distress signal. Barnes, aware that Taylor and Dawn are up to something, sends Gibson to kill them.

Taylor sneaks onto the bridge through an air duct and jumps on Barnes. During their fight a stray shot from Barnes' ray-gun hits a pipe and black smoke comes out. Taylor wisely zips up his space-suit but Barnes is unprotected and the smoke causes him to choke. He dies in seconds, frozen in a goofy position for all eternity. Gibson finds Dawn and nearly strangles her, but she sticks some C-4 on him and blows him through a wall. She collects the other passengers and they head for the life-pod. On the way the bartender is pointlessly killed, opening up a slot in the pod for Taylor.

Dawn, somewhat unwisely, sets the life-pod to launch in five minutes and then rushes to the bridge to get Taylor. She and Taylor don't quite make it back in time and they're left behind on the ship, which is slowly losing life-support. Fortunately (I guess), Mac the android shows up just in time with a rescue party and saves them. Hooray.


According to the Theory of Special Relativity, a person traveling very quickly through space may experience a peculiar phenomenon known as "time dilation." The idea is that if you move fast enough you will experience time differently from someone at a fixed point. For example, if you left Earth on a spaceship traveling at 99% the speed of light, and continued at that speed for 86 minutes, back on Earth 602 minutes would have elapsed (because time is distorted by a factor of seven at that speed.) Coincidentally, watching Spacejacked can also make 86 minutes stretch to what seems like 602.

Seriously, this movie hurt me in a deep and profound way. In trying to write the synopsis I had to stop to question my memory several times - so many things just didn't add up. Was I remembering incorrectly? I consulted with my wife (who endured this pile of space-crap with me), but our questions only served to confuse us further. With all apologies to any hardcore Spacejacked fans out there, I did the best I could with it. Actually, I think my summary might make more sense than the movie did.

Spacejacked is a film which lacks any redeeming qualities whatsoever. Terrible acting, cheap production, bad effects, incomprehensible script - I really can't think of a single nice thing to say about it. Well, it had a couple of sex scenes for those desperate for a peek at some boobs, but that's it. And if I were those boobs, I'd feel very wasted on this movie.

Of its myriad offenses, its plot is perhaps Spacejacked's weakest point. The general concept is pretty generic - that much I could forgive - but as the story unfolds there are so many inconsistencies and unanswered questions that you're left feeling completely bamboozled. How, for instance, can a ship as seemingly massive as the Star Princess get by with no support staff? Why does Gibson plant C-4 all over the ship and nearly blow it to kingdom come before the plan is even underway? Why does Barnes need to hold the billionaires hostage when he has a computer program that will crack their bank account codes? What is the mysterious black smoke that comes out of the pipe and causes Barnes to freeze like a statue? Why does Dawn have to set the timer on the life-pod for five minutes? I'm sorry - I shouldn't burden you with these questions. I brought this on myself.

Another fatal flaw in Spacejacked is the performance of Corbin Bernsen. Before seeing this film I had a reasonably positive impression of the man, but his portrayal of Barnes is so unbearable that I found myself gritting my teeth each time he came on-screen. When he's not bellowing like an enraged gorilla or tormenting his space-captives he's throwing petulant tantrums and berating his android. I don't know if he smoked a bad batch of crystal meth or what, but his behavior is so psychotic that I really started to pity his costars (and myself) for having to endure him.

While I was gratified to finally see a movie where the androids weren't played by Frank Zagarino, the two androids in Spacejacked made me almost wistful for his beefy, stoic performances. Gibson and Mac are both so feckless that you wouldn't trust them to fix your refrigerator, much less operate a spaceship. Gibson is spastic and unpredictable; Mac seems sort of like the android equivalent of that guy from Sling Blade. If this is the future of human simulacra, I think I'll take a pass.

The one thing about Spacejacked that truly sets it apart from other films of its ilk is its soundtrack. I hesitate to use the term "score" because I'm afraid it would give it too much credit, but I think I can say without reservation that Spacejacked has the most inappropriate music in film history. It almost (ALMOST) makes the movie worth watching - I laughed out loud several times at the unbelievable disconnect between the music and the action. What best suits a tense, dramatic scene? A three-minute bongo drum solo, of course. How about a jolly, lilting clarinet tune to go with your action-packed fight scene? If you told me that the entire soundtrack was lifted directly from an unreleased feature-length episode of "Scooby-Doo," I wouldn't doubt you for a second.

Final Analysis

Despite the entertainment value of its soundtrack, Spacejacked was truly a painful movie experience. It starts with a tired and overused premise and then makes it almost unintelligible through bad screenwriting, directing, and acting. It's bad, and not a good kind of bad. This little mission never should have made it off the launch pad.


At 9:02 PM, Blogger Ethan Brown said...

Wow... I agree that the movie was pretty darned bad, but the music was the best part by far. The improv jazz during the chase scenes and explosions made the chaos seem kinda.... Chaotic...

The bongos... OMG. Haven't heard music that was such a disconnect from the genre (Maybee the guitar in Firefly, but they were going for space western there) ever. Would like a heavy metal soundtrack for a movie about the Amish or something.


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