Space and Survival: Roger Christian’s Stark Alien Epic Makes Up for Battlefield Earth

A bare-bones sci-fi thriller

Christian Slater in Stranded.

Christian Slater in Stranded.

Demon Seed meets Alien in this commendably unpretentious but imaginatively bankrupt not-so-thrilling sci-fi thriller directed by Roger Christian, the man behind the historic catastrophe Battlefield Earth. Heading a cast of unknowns, Christian Slater plays Col. Gerard Brauchman, commander of a bio-dome spacecraft exploring mining operations on the moon, which is hit by a deadly meteor shower that unleashes deadly spores causing schizophrenia, insanity, paralyzing terror and death. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

While studying the genetic makeup of the spores, two of the four crew members meet horrible fates. First infected is the only woman on board (Amy Matysio), who is dispatched to repair a damaged wing full of carbon monoxide gas and test samples from the meteor. After she accidentally cuts her finger on a glass test tube, she discovers to her everlasting regret that the spores are capable of multiplying in record time. Suddenly she becomes pregnant, and in a screaming bloodbath of flesh-ripping pain, gives birth to a snarling, chomping mutant creature that turns the flight engineer (Michael Therriault) into a murderous clone and sucks the crew doctor through an open airlock into outer space. The rest of the action is about what happens after the clone goes berserk and the two survivors fight for their lives to get the spacecraft back to planet Earth before their supplies run out. This is standard-issue sci-fi stock that incorporates every cliché Ridley Scott ever thought up first, but I have to credit director Mr. Christian for doing it all on a much lower budget with a refreshing absence of computer graphics. He creates enough claustrophobic paranoia to make up for the substandard script, but after the monster births (appropriately gruesome, but hardly as scary as anything in the Alien flicks), the juice eventually dries up and there isn’t much to prevent you from dozing off.

The poor lady astronaut gets the film’s only laugh when she tries to convince her fellow crewmen, “Something was on top of me; I felt the weight of it on my chest. This creature was feeding on my breasts!” The rest of the cast is forced to say stuff like, “Close every hatch and bay as you enter, otherwise you could start a chain reaction … Decompression’ll blow us all to hell!” and “Doc, I need you to get down to the fuel cell … see if you can buy us more time by activating the emergency filtration pumps!” It all sounds written by a lab assistant at MIT reading a Flash Gordon comic book. Mr. Slater, the only real name on view, looks embarrassed to be slumming in something so cheesy. But I liked the simplicity of the narrative structure and the lack of extraneous background information you get among most movie flight crews (we don’t need to know where they graduated from high school to feel their panic). Stranded is no blockbuster, but it manages to pass the time better than most of them have done in this summer of discontent.

rreed@observer.com

STRANDED

Written by: Christian Piers Betley, Roger Christian

Directed by: Roger Christian

Starring: Christian Slater, Brendan Fehr and Amy Matysio

Running time: 84 mins.

Rating: 2/4 stars