SXSW Review: Space Station 76


Space Station 76 is a bit of an odd duck. It’s outward appearance of a riff on 1970s science fiction makes it appear to be an oddball comedy full of visual puns and hilarious jokes at the expense of dated future technology. The truth of the film is that its far more dark comedy than playful and its real focus is on drama and the unfulfilled American dream. Pretty heady stuff for a film whose sets look like they were ripped from the original Star Trek.

That’s probably what makes Space Station 76 hard to enjoy at first. The dichotomy between the drama on screen and the ridiculously dated sets means your brain has problems putting the two together. That leads to a film that opens up to you gradually, with a beginning that feels slow, and a movie that doesn’t really reveal itself in total until after you’ve finished watching it and had some time to digest.

Space Station 76
Director: Jack Plotnick
Rated: TBD
Release Date: TBD

When Space Station 76 begins you’ll be instantly impressed with just how well it captures a future that never actually occurred. This is the future of the 70s and it looks exactly like you remember it from cheesy science fiction films that had futuristic dates like 2001. Colors are muted and everything is brightly lit and white. In a straight comedy it would be hilarious, in Space Station 76 its an intriguing commentary on a future that never was and the faults that lie in the mad rush to the suburbs in the 60s and 70s. Getting kind of deep, right?

Plot wise the film isn’t anything to get overly excited about as its main strengths lie in its themes and metaphors. As the name suggests the movie takes place on Space Station 76 in a future where mankind has expanded to the stars and is living in amongst them. Arriving to 76 is new co-pilot Jessica (Liv Tyler), who finds herself under the command of Captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson). Also on the ship are Misty (Marisa Couglan), her husband Ted (Matt Bromer) and their daughter Sunshine (Kylie Rogers). Misty and Ted’s marriage isn’t going so well as Misty spirals into self-centered depression and Ted starts yearning for Jessica. Meanwhile Captain Glenn is struggling with some repressed homosexuality and Misty is having an affair with another ship resident.

What you have is a very complex suburban dark comedy set in a 1970s future. It can get a bit weird. As the film starts its hard to piece everything together, especially since conflict is sparse with the movie choosing to slowly burn into its characters lives instead of charge into them. As you start to realize that the movie is addressing more than the humor of 70s future style it opens up and gets far more interesting with the personal relationships and social undercurrents building and shaping the film.

Unfortunately its hard to get all this while watching the movie. The problem is that Space Station 76 functions better as a metaphor than a story. After watching it there’s a ton to analyze and think over, but during the watching of it the film just sits. It’s so focused on its message that it often misses having as much fun as it should. As a striking visual metaphor and social commentary the film is fantastic, as an engaging film it falls flat.

For the most part the performances work with Wilson’s Captain Glenn being a stand out as he somehow channels every cliche space captain you’ve ever seen while still creating an actual character. Tyler waifs her way through the performance delivering her usual style while Couglin keeps things balanced between humor and darkness despite her character verging into caricature. The stand out performance probably belongs to Rogers who holds her own very well in a group of talented actors.

While its great to have good performances they still have the same fault as the film overall, which is that they’re driving the themes and not the story. It makes a bit of sense since the movie is based on a stage play where metaphor can play a bit of a stronger role, but Space Station 76‘s best attribute is also its biggest flaw. Post movie you’ll have plenty to discuss, its just too bad you won’t enjoy it as much while you’re watching.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.