Outta this world, baby.
It’s the future. Jessica (Liv Tyler, Jersey Girl) arrives at Space Station 76 to start her new job as the second in command. She faces tension from the captain (Patrick Wilson, The Conjuring) because she’s a woman. Married shipmate Misty (Marisa Coughlin, Boston Legal) immediately dislikes the childless Jessica after Jessica reaches out her young daughter.
Despite its intergalactic trappings, Space Station 76 has more in common with any given episode of Mad Men than with, say, Silent Running. Just as Mad Men holds up a mirror to the ’60s to say “This is what we used to be like,” Space Station 76 attempts the same with the early-to-mid ’70s, exploring the societal and sexual foibles of the era. As a comedy, the singular “joke” of the film is how it takes real-life ’70s emotional problems and attitudes and puts them front and center in an outer space ’70s sci-fi setting.
Yes, this is comedy, but it’s a dry, dry, dryyyyy comedy. There aren’t really jokes or slapstick. It’s more a comedy of tone. The comedic scenes are the kind you nod your head along with rather than laugh at. An A.I. psychiatrist speaks only in vapid pop psychology terms. Misty lives by some similarly vapid hippie/new age philosophies. Everyone’s sexual and gender-based frustrations are at the forefront. The characters are open-minded when it comes to smoking weed. The female characters seem obsessed with having babies, a reflection of the Baby Boomers coming of age and spurting out kids of their own in ’70s. All of this rings true, yet it could all take place in the ’70s suburbs rather than space and very little, if anything, would change.
Space, nonetheless, is one of the movie’s big selling points. The best thing about the movie is how far everyone has gone to recreate pre-Star Wars ’70s retro-futurism. The clothes and hair are straight out of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, all feathered hair and fetching jumpsuits. The walls are gleaming plasticky white and the tech is lit-up dials and switches. A running gag, if you can call it that, has characters watching videos on overly-large VCR tapes, as if to posit that this is something representing futuristic tech. Exterior shots are few, and reveal themselves to easily to be CGI, but the stark white designs of the spacecraft still reflect old school model work.
Picture quality on this 2.40:1 widescreen-framed DVD is good, as expected for a recently-made film. The 5.1 digital surround sound, however, is off, with the music often overwhelming the dialogue, sometimes making it hard to hear what the actors are saying. The disc also contains a behind-the-scenes featurette, outtakes, and some deleted scenes.
This one’s a tough call. We’ve got unlikable characters, languid pacing, a meandering narrative, and a one-joke premise, all of which will frustrate most viewers. However, this is clearly the exact movie the filmmakers set out to make, so in that sense it’s a huge success and should be celebrated. If you’re looking for comedy that provokes and challenges you intellectually, then definitely see Space Station 76. If you’re looking for the next Spaceballs, you’re better off just watching Spaceballs again.