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Lifepod
(1993)

Director: Ron Silver  
Cast:
Robert Loggia, Stan Shaw, Ron Silver


I think that even with people who have managed to achieve greatness in their respective fields, everyone still has some kinds of secret desires in the back of their minds, and as a result often imagine themselves having what they would consider to be their ideal life. That would certainly include me. While I have achieved greatness by starting this movie review web site, there's still a part of me that feels a little unsatisfied by my life. I have mentioned several times before in reviews what kind of life I would like to have that would satisfy my mind, and that would to be a cowboy in the American west in the latter part of the 19th century. If you were to ask me why that is, I could give you a number of different reasons, but I think that the biggest reason would be that I would be on the edge of a frontier. America was a growing country, but there would be all that untapped wilderness waiting to be explored and discovered for the first time. When I think about it some more, it's that basic desire to find new and untouched things more than it is to simply be a cowboy. I think if I was transported to the past further than the golden age of the cowboy, I could find a lot of opportunities to satisfy my thirst for discovery. If I lived five hundred years ago, I could join an expedition from Europe to the New World. If I was in a later era, I could always join an expedition to various places in Asia, such as China or Japan. However, when I remember what I learned in history class when I was in high school, expeditions like those always seemed to result in big interferences with the native population. I'd hate to be the one who brought in a new disease or some other deadly interference.

But I know what reality is, and I know there is no chance that I could ever be transported back in time. Besides, I wouldn't want to give up all the neat stuff from this present era, such as movies and the Internet. So maybe the idea I should entertain in my life is to how I could discover the unknown either in this present age, or sometime in the future. What is left in the world to explore? Well, I do know that while there may be no place on land left to explore, when it comes to the sea there is a lot yet to be explored. We have only scratched the surface when it comes to knowing what's below the waves. Another option is space, to leave this planet and explore the vastness surrounding it, whether it may be a part of our solar system to another galaxy. When I think about, it seems at first to be just what I'm looking for. Can you imagine what kinds of lifeforms must be out there? There has to be some kind of life outside of our planet, and finding and studying it for long periods would definitely satisfy the hunger for knowledge and new things within me. But when I think about it some more, the idea of space travel becomes less appealing. Space is big, for one thing, and even if scientists figure out a way to travel faster than the speed of light, space travel would likely be long and very boring. There's also the fact of the lack of gravity in space. Without gravity, human bone structure becomes weaker over time, so long travel might cripple my body. Plus, there are all the dangers of traveling in space. There are things such as solar radiation, which means you have to be sure you are totally shielded, or you'll quickly be fried to a crisp.

In fact, there are a lot more dangers with space traveling than just solar radiation. Even a tiny meteor could destroy your spacecraft, and there are plenty of them flying around the universe. Say your spacecraft was destroyed - what would you do?  I would hope that there would Lifepodbe some sort of backup. Frankly, with all those space accidents over the past few decades, I would not travel in space without some sort of backup, which does not seem to exist on present-day spacecraft. That's one reason why I was attracted to Lifepod, which deals with people who are "spaceshipwrecked". I wanted to see how it would deal with people stranded in space far from a safe harbor - could people really survive that situation? Another reason was that the movie was a sci-fi remake of the Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat, which I had seen and admired in the past. I was curious how they would modernize the basic story. Actually, it's more like "futurize" the story, since Lifepod takes place in the year 2169. The spaceship Terronia is traveling with 2000 passengers between Venus and Earth when suddenly everything goes to hell when the ship starts to destruct. It eventually blows up, but not before several passengers get into a lifepod and eject from the ship. The survivors in this lifepod are a varied bunch. There is Banks (Loggia, Independence Day), an Earth director (whatever that's supposed to be.) There's Kane (Adam Storke, Highway To Hell), a prisoner who was being transferred. There is a blind man (Silver, Timecop), as well as a little person (Ed Gale, Howard The Duck) and a female reporter, among others. All of the survivors make a pact to work together in an attempt to be rescued. But it doesn't take long for a creepy theory to arise among the survivors that their ship may have exploded because of sabotage and not from an accident. And not long after that theory comes up, it becomes clear among the survivors that the saboteur may be among them and is trying to finish them off before help arrives - if ever.

There are a few interesting behind the scenes fact to tell about Lifepod, not just that the script was a remake of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. One of the screenwriters of the movie was M. Jay Roach (who previously had worked on the awful Zoo Radio), several years before finally hitting it big directing the Austin Powers movies. He didn't direct this movie - that task was instead handed to one Lifepod's actors, Ron Silver, in his directorial debut. (And as it turned out, this movie was the only fiction feature film he ever directed in his lifetime.) Those aspects of the movie certainly got me curious enough to decide to watch and review it, though there was one thing that warned me that the finished product may not be good. That fact was that one of the production companies behind Lifepod was RHI Entertainment, a maker of cable television movies. While I haven't seen every movie from RHI Entertainment, what I have seen from them (such as Sharpshooter, Mask Of The Ninja, and Depth Charge) has been pretty dire. So hopefully you can understand why my hopes weren't up. But to my surprise, unlike other RHI movies, I found some things in Lifepod that I thought were positive. I was happy to see a movie where a character of short height was not treated any differently because of his height, either by the other characters or the director. There is no humor or mocking at all towards this short person, which I found refreshing. Another thing I enjoyed was the feeling of the environment the characters found themselves in. In too many movies and TV shows, space travel is shown to be a walk in the park. But here, room to walk around is limited, and the feeling of the cramped space is also cold, mechanical, and dirty. Somehow, that's how I feel real space travel would be like, especially if the space travellers found themselves in a lifepod.

I like to think that it was Ron Silver's decision to cast someone of limited height and treat him normally, as well as why the movie has the uncomfortable environment that it has. If it turned out to be true, it would indicate that Silver had true potential as a director. Though my use of the word "potential" probably gave you a clue that I didn't think the movie as a whole measured up. To be fair, there are some lesser parts of the movie that don't seem to be the fault of Silver, coming from the fact that Lifepod was a low budget enterprise made for the small screen. The special effects are erratic, for one thing. While some of the space effects still look okay in this day and age, there are just as many that look quite dated in this advanced CGI age. Another possible budget problem comes from how the movie frequently looks even when there aren't any special effects in a scene. The unusual cinematography often gives things a weird look to them, kind of what you would witness in a low budget British television production made in the early '80s. Also, the sometimes poorly recorded audio makes it hard to understand what the characters are saying at times. (By the way, I saw this movie on DVD, so I was seeing and hearing it in the best presentation possible.) Silver can probably not be blamed for things like that, but that's not to say that his direction is without fault. There are several moments in the movie involving chaos - the spacecraft destructing, the removal of an injured person's leg (in an homage to the original Hitchcock film), hand to hand fights - that are all hard to follow when they are happening, and sometimes don't even give you a clue as to what just happened after a scene of chaos ends.

But the biggest reason why Lifepod doesn't work as a whole has nothing to do with how the movie looks, sounds, or feels. The movie ultimately fails because of how it treats its characters. Part of it is due to how director Silver treats these characters, but there are also plenty of times when he seems to have been confined by the screenplay. When the characters first get onto the lifepod, it actually takes some time before we get to see everyone that managed to get on board. And while the lifepod is shown to clearly be a relatively small area, Silver somehow manages to have certain characters disappear for long periods of time before re-emerging out of nowhere. (This amazing ability to stay hidden, by the way, seems to be the only explanation as to how the saboteur is able to keep sabotaging, by the way.) None of these characters are suitably fleshed out, by the way. Loggia, the biggest actor in the cast, and the character who you think would take the role of leader of the survivors, actually has very little to do or say in the movie. At least his character gets to say his name - we don't even learn the names of some of the other survivors. When the movie eventually reveals the identity of the saboteur, it comes as no surprise - it is painfully obvious who the saboteur is from the first time we see the person. It also comes as no surprise that there will be at least one survivor, since the movie sporadically uses the spoiler device of narration of one of the characters looking back on her experience. Strangely, at one point of the movie, her narration turns from being in the past tense into the present tense, as if she were suddenly making an audio diary. At least her character is doing something here - more often than not, Lifepod is devoted to the characters doing mundane things instead of activities that would show them constantly struggling to survive and make us care about them. The idea of a remake set in space is a promising one, but the material just isn't here. If I were on this project, I would have quickly jumped ship.

(Posted April 5, 2014)

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See also: A Savage Hunger, Murder On Flight 502, Troma's War

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