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Approaching the Unknown

This film had the means to do better than it did, but was overshadowed by other, bigger-scale releases with similar themes like The Martian.

It deals with a lone astronaut, Stanaforth (Mark Strong, doing a quite ropey American accent that gets in the way of your suspension of disbelief at times) who leaves Earth on the ultimate space mission. Along with a female commander on another vessel leaving Earth not long after him, he’s on his way to colonise Mars, never to return.

At first Stanaforth is resolute and steadfast, communicating occasionally with his mission controller back home (Luke Wilson) and doing interviews with groups of schoolchildren, but otherwise he’s quite alone with his instruments and the revolutionary water-generation system he invented – and happy to be so.

When he stops off at a far-off space station to resupply and finds the crew half mad with isolation he knows it’s a glimpse of his possible future if he isn’t careful, but Stanaforth goes along his way single-mindedly.

It’s no real surprise to reveal that the insanity of spending so long by himself does start to take over – there’d be no movie otherwise. The machinery and craft around him starts to break down faster than he can keep fixing it and by the time NASA back home orders him to abort and turn around he’s lost his grip, instead hurtling onward towards Mars obsessively like Captain Ahab after Moby Dick, even though he might not be on course anymore.

And there’s not much more to it than that. There are no real dramatic emergencies like those that drove the plots of The Martian or Gravity, it’s simply about the rigours of long term space travel and the damage it can do to the human mind no matter how strong the spirit.

Everything is brilliantly designed, the movie realistically depicts the white fabric panels and occasionally cramped conditions of space travel rather than the sliding silver doors and huge CGI sets of more traditional sci-fi.

Unfortunately, it’s just going to need a bit more excitement than a guy growing depressed and forgetting to shave to keep most audiences interested.

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