Here comes another script review: Orbit.
The movie is based off the 2006 John Nance of the same name.
The script was adapted by Sheldon Turner who currently has a billion projects in development, including Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air and X-Men Origins: Magneto.
Obviously, spoilers abound in these neck of the woods.
The main story is about a father (Matthew Dawson) able to go into space after winning a lottery game made by NASA PRs. For a few weeks, he is trained at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center by Owen, an astronaut whom Mat “replaced.” Once the training done, he leaves Earth aboard the Intrepid with four other peeps.
But when he arrives in space, he finds out that the other members of the crew have died. He is now trapped alone, with a limited amount of oxygen left, and no way back home.
Thinking he is a dead man anyway, he uses his computer to gather his final thoughts that are, unbeknownst to him, beamed back to Earth where the rest of the world begins to follow his last (?) moments.
The concept seems very intriguing and exciting. However, the execution was in this instance pretty bad (borderline awful).
Let’s begin with the two main differences with the novel.
A major change made was with Dawson’s personal life (named Kip in the original work).
Whereas in the book Mat/Kip’s main drive for being in orbit is due to his son blaming him for his wife’s death, in the movie however the main reason for him trying out for the NASA lottery is more somber. Matt still has a 15-year old son (Brian), but in this story he has lost his other child (Danny) and both he and his wife (Cindy) have difficulties coping with it. His son loved space, which makes for a logical character motivation.
The other important change will be talked about later on and concerns the computer used by Mat.
Now, onto the actual movie.
First, a lot of screen-time is given to the actual training.
Mat only goes into space around page 35 (out of 115).
Even if the 20 minutes are supposed to set up the relationship between Mat and his mentor/rival Owen, ultimately this is just wasting a lot of valuable time. This is something that basically leads to nowhere (the training that is). Sure, we all know that the efforts put into building astronauts are immense, but why spend a fifth of the movie on it?
Moving on to once Mat is in space.
Therefore I wasn’t too shocked to see him not being able to save himself. Who would be able to repair a broken spaceship?
That said, here comes the strangest part of the movie.
He begins e-mailing himself (or rather blogging) his last thoughts.
Yeah, don’t ask me how.
What I understood was that he hooked up to his Apple Computer a handy-talkie to make into a sort of “ham radio,” boosting his signal, allowing him to send messages (but not receiving any).
MacGyver MacGruber in space.
Remember that other important novel change?
In the original story, he actually writes on the spaceship computer, which makes way more sense than some pathetic attempt at product placement (yes, Apple is really written in the script).
And now we move on to the other huge pill to swallow.
As I’ve said before, he only has a few hours of oxygen left, and NASA is now aware that he’s trapped alone up there (thanks to his amazing Blogspot posts – true story).
What do they decide to do?
Put together in the span of literally a few hours a rescue mission comprised of Owen, two other astronauts, and an experimental shuttle (meaning one that has never, ever, flown).
The use of the latter allows this incredible exchange to occur:
(re: the experimental shuttle)
You ever seen anything like that?
Don’t you guys ever watch “Battlestar Galactica”…?
The departure of the rescue mission also reminded me a lot of Armaggeddon (not in a good way).
So, yeah, two utterly ridiculous plot points.
There’s also this pointless love story between Owen and the NASA PR lady.
Don’t even get me started on that.
Despite those (major) flaws however, a few good things came out of the script.
The space scenes are well-constructed and should be beautiful to see. I could easily picture them accompanied by some Bear McCreary-esque music.
The characters were also engaging.
So much so that at times what happened on Earth with Brian and Cindy seemed way more likable and interesting than what was going on elsewhere, starting with Mike.
Two small upsides, but still worth noting.
Bottom line: the execution of a great idea (man trapped alone in a spaceship) could have lead to a more interesting story that should not have lacked believability. Despite interesting characters, my disbelief couldn’t be suspended high enough, even if the story takes place way up in space (greatest pun?).
Orbit is slated for a 2011 release. Thomas Bezucha is currently on board to direct the pic for 20th Century Fox.
Last I heard it was one of the studio’s top priorities before a potential SAG strike (that never happened).