Dir: Luna. Spain. 2001. 101 mins.
The undisputed talking point of San Sebastian for all the wrong reasons, this $4.5m English-language space opera is a spectacular misfire on virtually every level. Its first press screening, in the New Directors section, unfolded in stunned silence punctured by incredulous laughter, but the film became a much debated curiosity once word had got out, with the cardboard space helmets distributed at its party a sought-after cult item. Mainstream commercial prospects are negligible, but the film, made by what the press notes describe as a "fabulous team brimming with pixies, gnomes and witches", could enjoy an extended afterlife as a minor camp classic, especially in ancillary outlets. However Dolores Pictures, a company set up specifically to make large-scale productions for the international market, is unlikely to see much of a short-term return on this particular investment.
The puzzle is why Luna (the pseudonym of actress Maria Lidon) should have been entrusted with not only directing but also starring in such an ambitious project after having made a single low-budget independent film, My Gun (1998-1999), which is still at the post-production stage; on the evidence of Stranded, she displays no great talent in either capacity. None the less Dolores, the production company, has already announced a new project for next summer: Guerrero, The Adventure, a historical epic about the conquistadores of the 16th century, with Luna again pencilled in to direct.
Stranded is the fate, in this film, of the first manned mission to Mars, which crash lands on the planet, leaving its captain dead and the five remaining crew members bickering about their survival strategy. Sagan, the geologist (Daniel Aser), comes up with a string of optimistic but impractical ideas. Baglioni, the technician (Vincent Gallo), is a brilliant loose cannon who pours scorn on all his suggestions.
Sanchez, the ship's young pilot (Lidon), takes command, but can come up with no better plan than to sit tight and wait to be rescued. Johnson, the doctor (Maria de Medeiros) is obsessed with giving the captain a proper Christian burial. Completing the team is the ship's astrobiologist, Rodriguo (Joachim de Almeida).
Eventually, after vast swathes of wordy discussion, it's decided that there are enough resources left for only two people and that Johnson and Baglioni should remain on the ship while the other three try their luck on the planet. "It looks just like a sunny winter's day on Earth!" they exclaim upon first setting foot on Mars, which does, in fact, look just like the Canary Island of Lanzarote - a familiar sci-fi location - shot through a red filter.
Indeed the film's main contribution of any merit is made by Ricardo Aronovich, the cinematographer whose previous, more distinguished credits include his Oscar-winning work on Costa-Gavras's Missing, and who succeeds in raising this endeavour slightly above the level of Plan Nine From Outer Space. Interiors were shot in Valencia and at the Panavision studios in Hollywood, using the set from Space Cowboys.
Meanwhile back at the ship, Gallo (who appears to have wandered in from another movie, probably one by Catherine Breillat) proposes a quick spot of sex with Madeiros before their oxygen runs out; she suggests that he masturbate instead until he dies of dehydration. The dialogue was described by British critic Derek Malcolm as making "Star Trek look like Ibsen".
None of the crew is remotely credible as an astronaut, not helped by such scenes as one in which they confess to "cheating on the questionnaire" in order to get on the mission, because they rather fancied a trip into outer space. The fact that several actors have obviously been dubbed is a further liability. The film's closing credits state that it is "dedicated to all those who believe in our families, the Virgin Mary and God."
Prod co: Niggeman Indie Film
Co-prods: Dolores Pictures, Guerrilla Films
Sp dist: Dolores
Int'l sales: Sogepaq, Dolores
Prod: Jose Magan
Scr: Juan Miguel Aguilera
Cinematography: Ricardo Arnovich
Prod des: Aguilera, Paco Roca, Margot Massina, Romana Redlova
Ed: Luis de la Madrid
Music: Javier Navarete
Main cast: Vincent Gallo, Maria de Medeiros, Joachim de Almeida, Maria Lidon, Danel Aser