Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Sturges|
|Produced by||M. J. Frankovich|
|Screenplay by||Mayo Simon|
by Martin Caidin
|Cinematography||Daniel L. Fapp|
|Edited by||Walter Thompson|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$4.1 million (USA/Canada rentals)|
Marooned is a 1969 American science fiction film directed by John Sturges and starring Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, James Franciscus and Gene Hackman about three astronauts who are trapped and slowly suffocating in space. It was based on the 1964 novel Marooned by Martin Caidin. While the original novel was based on the single-pilot Project Mercury, the film depicted an Apollo command and service module with three astronauts and a space station resembling Skylab. Caidin acted as technical adviser and updated the novel, incorporating appropriate material from the original version.
Three American astronauts -- commander Jim Pruett (Richard Crenna), "Buzz" Lloyd (Gene Hackman), and Clayton "Stoney" Stone (James Franciscus) -- are the first crew of an experimental space station on an extended duration mission. While returning to Earth, the main engine on the Apollo spacecraft Ironman One fails. Mission Control determines that Ironman does not have enough fuel remaining to use the reaction control system as a backup to initiate atmospheric entry. Nor is there sufficient fuel to re-dock with the station and wait for rescue. The crew is effectively marooned in orbit.
NASA debates whether a rescue flight can reach the crew before their oxygen runs out in approximately two days. There are no backup launch vehicles or rescue systems available at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and NASA Administrator Charles Keith (Peck) opposes using an experimental U.S. Air Force lifting body, the X-RV, that would be launched on a Air Force Titan IIIC booster rocket; neither the spacecraft nor the booster is man-rated, and there is insufficient time to put a new crewed NASA mission together. Even though a Titan IIIC is already on the way to nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for an already-scheduled Air Force launch, many hundreds of hours of preparation, assembly, and testing would be necessary.
Ted Dougherty (David Janssen), NASA's Chief Astronaut, opposes Keith and demands that something be done. The President agrees with Dougherty and tells Keith that failing to try a rescue mission will kill public support for the crewed space program. The President tells Keith that money is no factor; "whatever you need, you've got it".
While the astronauts' wives (Lee Grant, Mariette Hartley and Nancy Kovack) agonize over the fates of their husbands, all normal checklist procedures are bypassed to prepare the X-RV for launch. A hurricane headed for the launch area threatens to cancel the mission. High winds cause a scrub of the launch in time to save all three Ironman astronauts. However, the eye of the storm passes over the Cape 90 minutes later during a subsequent launch window, permitting a launch with Dougherty aboard in time to reach the ship while at least some of the crew survives.
Insufficient oxygen remains for all three astronauts to survive until Dougherty arrives. There is possibly enough for two. Pruett and his crew then debate what to do. Stone tries to reason that they can somehow survive by taking sleeping pills or otherwise reducing oxygen consumption. Lloyd offers to leave since he is "using up most of the oxygen anyway", but Pruett overrules him. He orders everyone into their spacesuits then leaves the ship, ostensibly to attempt repairs, although this option has been repeatedly dismissed as impractical.
When Lloyd sees Pruett going out the hatch, he attempts to follow. Before he can reach him, Pruett's space suit has been torn on a metal protrusion and oxygen rapidly escapes, leading to Pruett's death by anoxia. (It is not made explicit in the movie whether Pruett's death is intentional or not. While he had discussed the oxygen supply with the other astronauts, he shows clear alarm and shock when he sees the tear in his suit.) Lloyd looks on as Pruett's body drifts away into space. With Pruett gone, Stone takes command.
A Soviet spacecraft suddenly appears and its cosmonaut tries to make contact. It can do nothing but deliver oxygen, since the Soviet ship is too small to carry additional passengers. Stone and Lloyd, suffering oxygen deprivation, cannot understand the cosmonaut's gestures or obey Keith's orders.
Dougherty arrives and he and the cosmonaut transfer the two surviving and mentally dazed Ironman astronauts into the rescue ship. Both the Soviet ship and the X-RV return to Earth, and the final scene fades out with a view of the abandoned Ironman One adrift in orbit.
An earlier version of the film (based on the 1964 version of the novel) was in pre-production in 1965, with Frank Capra producing and directing, from a screenplay by Walter Newman; Capra heavily revised the script while seeking funding from investors, in order to reduce the budget. Amid concerns about the size of the project, Columbia Pictures' M. J. Frankovich offered Capra 3 million to make the film, prompting him to abandon development. When Marooned was eventually produced with John Sturges as director and Mayo Simon as screenwriter, the budget was 8 million.
Given that Apollo missions were being watched regularly by television audiences, it was very important to the producers that the look of the film be as authentic as possible. NASA, and its primary contractors such as North American Aviation and Philco-Ford, helped with the design of the film's hardware, including the crew's chairs inside the capsule, the orbiting laboratory -- which used an early mock-up of the Skylab concept -- the service module, the actual Plantronics headsets worn by the actors in the spacecraft, as well as authentic replicas of actual facilities, such as the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) at Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Air Force Launch Control Center (AFLCC) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Contractors' technicians also worked on the film.
The Apollo Command Module used in making the film was an actual "boilerplate" version of the "Block I" Apollo spacecraft; no Block I ever flew with a crew aboard, mainly due to the Apollo 1 fire exposing over a thousand defects. While the Block II series had a means of rapidly opening the hatch, the Block I did not (a major factor in the Apollo 1 fire), and the interior set was constructed using the boilerplate as a model. To blow the hatch in the movie, Buzz pulls on a handle attached to a hinge.
Astronaut Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn Lovell referred to the film years later in a special interview. Their recollection is shared as a feature on the DVD release of Apollo 13, a 1995 film directed by Ron Howard. The couple describes a 1969 film -- never specifically named -- in which an astronaut in an Apollo spacecraft "named Jim" faces mortal peril. The couple says the film gave Lovell's wife nightmares. Her experience inspired a dream sequence in Apollo 13.
There were some discrepancies between real-life procedures and what is shown in the film. For instance, several scenes show various people communicating directly with the astronauts in space. In actuality, only CAPCOM (an astronaut) and astronauts' wives would have been permitted to communicate with the spacecraft, all others in MOCR and AFLCC would only be able to communicate on the internal network or to their respective backroom teams. Conspicuously absent from the film is any person resembling a flight director. In real life, "Flight" is in charge of a space mission during that director's shift. The filmmakers felt that adding a flight director would distract from the interpersonal dynamic between Keith and Dougherty.
The film premiered at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles on December 12, 1969. Its New York premiere on December 17, 1969 at the new Ziegfeld Theatre was the first film shown at the new theatre.
During the preliminary discussions for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the film was discussed as a means of alleviating Soviet suspicion. One purpose of the mission was to develop and test capabilities for international space rescue.
Under the name Space Travelers, the film was featured in the fourth-season premiere of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The episode debuted June 6, 1992, on Comedy Central, becoming the only Academy Award-winning film ever to receive the MST3K treatment. Kevin Murphy, a writer and performer on MST3K, called the movie the "first MST3K film with a budget," but neither the budget nor its Oscar-winning credibility makes it interesting: Marooned "moves along slower than a grandma at the mall."
The Space Travelers episode did not make the Top 100 list of episodes as voted upon by MST3K Season 11 Kickstarter backers. Writer Jim Vogel was similarly unimpressed, ranking the episode #176 (out of 191 total MST3K episodes). Vogel calls the movie "quite dry" and "pretty boring" in its original or edited forms. "The behind-the-scenes history of how this movie ended up on MST3k is ultimately more interesting than the episode it received," Vogel wrote.
The MST3K version of Space Travelers was included as part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000, Volume XXXII DVD collection, released by Shout! Factory in March 24, 2015. The other episodes in the four-disc set include Hercules (episode #502), Radar Secret Service (episode #520), and San Francisco International (episode #614).