Overview: A solo astronaut embarks on one of the most historic missions to Mars with the intention of being the first to colonize the red planet; Paramount Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 90 minutes.
Space Adventure and Existential Introspection: Captain William D. Stanaforth (Mark Strong) has 270 days to kill until he lands on Mars, and with no human interaction other than video feeds, it’s a trip only the most introverted would contemplate accepting. While Captain Stanaforth spends much of the movie applying too much self-destructive thought, with the film being only an hour and a half long, there is never enough substantial background to build on Stanaforth’s idiosyncrasies. Captain Stanaforth isn’t someone to relate to. In the shadow of The Martian and Gravity, Stanaforth’s narration hints at the onslaught of an ornery autobiography post-mission. When the ship advances through a solar storm, it’s the climax of Stanaforth’s mental degradation. His sudden transformation from an unhinged man back to his former self is an acceptance of his final destination and the devotion to carry out his work regardless of the dysfunctional state of his equipment. Perhaps it’s his way of saying, if he can create water, he can cheat death.
Perception of Time: Time stamps are a typical go-to method for showing how time passes. Approaching the Unknown is, at first, no exception. Atypically, as the film progresses, the time stamps disappear. In its stead are monotonous activity serves as a time keeper, both for character and audience. This transition discards the importance of measured time.
The Future of NASA: Approaching the Unknown fronts a warning. If the U.S. government does not increase the budget for space exploration and research, the future looks abysmally dim, especially if humanity depends on thriving on extraterrestrial soil. Captain Stanaforth’s man on the ground, Louis Skinner (Luke Wilson) monitors the status of the ship and its lone passenger from the comfort of a small office/cubicle. The single-most imperative mission with the capability of changing humanity relies on communicating with one individual (for what can only be explained as massive budget cuts). You can’t help but feel the pity of what limited resources Skinner has to work with, prestige and history of innovation of the NASA name weighing upon him. Captain Emily Maddox (Sanaa Lathan) departs shortly after Captain Stanaforth, in her own solo vessel, to conduct the colonization efforts. I applaud the efforts of writer and director Mark Elijah Rosenberg for including a female cohort in a field primarily dominated by males, even if the inclusion disappears in the light of Strong’s forcefully positioned heroic character.
Overall: Approaching the unknown suffers to plot holes and sub-par supporting turns, while Strong’s execution of the mentally torn engineer is the film’s only lifeline.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures