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October 7, 2014

DVDFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


With Space Station 76 director Jack Plotnick, in his first feature length piece, attempts to create a film that doubles as both a spoof of a cheesy 1970s sci-fi film, as well as a social drama of many of the issues faced by suburban American society at that time. It is a challenging mix to attempt, and whilst Plotnick succeeds in some of his explorations, Space Station 76 falls rather flat in other areas.

On a technical level Plotnick does well, creating a very authentic-feeling take on a retro sci-fi film, filled with white corridors, sliding doors and talking robots. In many ways the film looks just as good as any big cinema releases within the same genre. This is equally true when it comes to the sound department where synth music takes centre stage to help complete the illusion that we are watching ‘the future of the past’.

Unfortunately, whilst technically impressive, the setting of a futuristic space station often feels a little surplus to requirements. In melding a social drama of 1970s America with a science-fiction spoof Plotnick attempts to use this setting as a microcosm of the suburbs of that era. As such the film deals with issues such as alcoholism, sexual repression, racism, adultery, over-medication, and so forth. All of this takes place in a space where, due to their proximity to one another, characters have to keep a public profile of cordiality and control despite personal relationships often being very strained and even artificial.

It is here where the film thrives, as we realise more and more that each character is dealing with their own deep-rooted problems but, due to the expectations of 1970s society, keep such issues entirely introverted. Plotnick, along with a well rounded cast, create a host of very relatable characters who reflect ourselves and our society. Whilst the issues that are being dealt with in this film were more prevalent forty years ago, many have permeated through to the modern day.

Yet, whilst a successful microcosm of 1970s sub-urban America is created in the relationships that we see, we often find ourselves wondering why this could not simply have been set in 1970s suburban America on Earth. This takes us to the second entity that Space Station 76 hopes to be, which is a spoof of a retro sci-fi film. However, given the often dark underlying issues and character relationships, any real humour struggles to break through. Often attempts at humour are simply looked for via the setting of being on a futuristic space station, such as through an emotionally devoid robot psychiatrist. This leads to the setting itself feeling like something of an unnecessary novelty.


Not only this, but when one begins to think about the set-up a little more, the setting itself causes some unnecessary complications. It is never exactly made clear what the space station is for and what job the crew are supposed to be undertaking. Not necessarily a vital piece of information with regards to story development, but a point which makes the setting itself feel all the more forced.

There is a great number of crew in this enormous space station who only appear in a couple of scenes as background characters. Granted all films have a number of extras, but given the low budget and otherwise very small central cast these additional characters do come across as noticeably unnecessary. Given that this is the future, the space station could be largely automated, or the film could simply have been set on a smaller installation.

Moreover, being in space leaves the conclusion of the film feeling somewhat hollow. When all the characters finally come out of their shells and confront their issues, both internally and with others, the event that follows, though allowing them time for introspection, is rather coincidental, both in its occurrence and timing. Once again this links entirely to the fact that the film is set in space, giving the sense that this is not only a gimmick, but also a rather lazy plot device to wrap everything up nicely.

Ultimately Plotnick shows a great deal of promise as a director in his technical prowess, character development and tackling of tough social issues. Unfortunately though Space Station 76 suffers from a rather contrived set-up which serves to undo a lot of the hard work put in by the cast and crew. Had Space Station 76 been a film that focused solely on social and personal issues of 1970s sub-urban America it would have been a great feature length directorial debut. As it turns out though, it attempts to double as retro sci-fi spoof and in that department it lacks any real comedic value or focus.

Space Station 76 is out on DVD on October 6th

Jon Heywood