Bad Science Fiction Films: Astronaut: The Last Push (2013)

Full disclosure: The only thing “bad” about this film was the low budget. (Spoiler alert: Some plot points given away below.)

If you don’t mind a film that doesn’t have a lot of “action” in it, this one is well worth the time. Not that there wasn’t plenty of dramatic tension; it just doesn’t come with any bells and whistles, strapping heroes, or damsels in distress.

Here’s the concept: Two astronauts head for Jupiter’s moon, Europa, where whale-like species have been spotted by NASA probes. Funded by a private investor, the mission looks to be hastily conceived, rushed to execution. Sure enough, while the astronauts are in cryogenic sleep, something goes wrong: a small meteor. One of the two astronauts is killed; the other has to survive, awake, the rest of the mission.

At the point of meteor impact, the low budget effects are admittedly cringe-worthy. To make sparks from electrical stuff–ya’ know, electrical sparks have to fly when something goes wrong on a space ship–they apparently hand-drew light onto the film, with something like Microsoft Paint.

Okay, that was harsh.[1] Especially since the effects are decent the rest of the film. And, kudos to them, they put the ship into a spin to simulate gravity. (Why you would do this in real life, with cryosleep going on, is beyond me. But it helps the low-budget film not look stupid, since everything on board happens in earth-g, having been filmed on earth.)

The sparks are my one and only real beef with this film–and I got over it. At first, I was thinking, how is this an improvement on Apollo 13? (And why do I always seem to reference Tom Hanks films? It’s not like I’m an uber-fan. But I digress.) Astronaut, though, goes in a very different direction from Apollo 13 (and manages to steer clear of Castaway, too, in case you’re wondering. Unlike Love, which I wrote about here.)

The film’s dramatic tension comes out of the situation the astronaut is in. Which, in my view, is handled well. In fact, this film is exactly the sort of the thing hard SF fans like: realistic science, competent scientists working against incredible odds to survive, and a nice satisfying ending that follows naturally from what comes before. The main character even develops through the film.

Seriously, I recommend this one. Especially if you enjoy Star Trek-like SF. Give it a shot. And let me know what you thought.

[1] Turns out my spark remark was also wrong: The film’s writer/director, Eric Hayden, tells me that “the sparks were real”. Shows what I know about special effects!

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