Monday, May 05, 2014
The Passenger: A Space: 1999 Fan Film
As a long-time admirer of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s 1970s epic, Space: 1999, I was intrigued when I heard that a new fan film based on the series -- called The Passenger -- had been produced by some very dedicated and intrepid filmmakers.
I wondered what the film’s approach would be and how on Earth (or the moon…) the series’ expansive sets and mystery-based narratives could be effectively recreated, especially on an extremely low budget.
Well, I had the pleasure of watching a review copy of the fan film last week, and I suppose what surprised and thrilled me most about the new thirty-five minute film is that filmmakers David Connellan and Doug MacAulay so dramatically captured the spirit or essence of the series in its original (Year One) format.
By this I mean that the film’s creators don’t worry so much about pacing as they do the emotional content and the impact of their screenplay’s “big” ideas.
Now, there are plenty of critics and viewers who have found this very approach wanting in the nearly forty years since Space: 1999’s premiere.
This aesthetic has been called, among other things, “ponderous.”
But if you ask me, “ponderous” is sort of the heart of Space: 1999’s story-telling brand.
The series is all about the notion that man goes out into space largely unprepared for the experience, and must reckon in that domain not with aliens who want to be his brothers, but with mind-blowing mysteries about existence, life and death, and man’s destiny in the universe.
Frankly, I know of no other sci-fi series that so directly and consistently tackles this subject. This is one key reason I admire the series so resolutely.
In short, Space: 1999 has always asked the big questions about mankind and his nature. Are we just finite little beings unable to grasp the big picture? Or do our actions and connections to one another reflect something significant...on even a cosmic scale?
The Passenger focuses intently on this arena of metaphysics, and plays as all the more intriguing and worthwhile for that very cerebral focus.
Specifically, The Passenger involves one of Alpha's pilots, Jack Crawford (David Connellan), who -- in the aftermath of the breakaway event that hurls the moon out of Earth’s orbit -- faces a life or death epiphany in his Eagle space craft, even as his pregnant wife, Sue (Sarah Jean-Begin), eagerly awaits his return to Moonbase Alpha.
As he faces his own imminent demise, Crawford undertakes a strange and heart-breaking journey into the future, to see what becomes of the family he leaves behind.
Or perhaps the odyssey is all in his mind…the last musings of a dying man.
Pulling in (but not abusing…) characters, concepts and designs from beloved series episodes such as “Alpha Child,” “Collision Course” and “Another Time, Another Place,” The Passenger successfully recreates the unusual alchemy of many Space:1999 episodes...and this could not have been an easy task because the exact ingredients in that formula are variable; hit and miss.
But like many episodes of Year One, The Passenger commences in a kind of blaze of technical jargon about Eagle flights, trajectories, and so forth, and then -- once it has you in its orbit -- the short film begins to spin further and further out, focusing on the phantasms of that dying pilot.
These phantasms take Crawford to the edge of space, back to Alpha, and beyond.
The idea, ultimately, is that Jack travels along with the Alphans on their journey as a kind of seldom-seen but often "felt" ghost…and in a way, that’s the perfect description of a human “memory” isn’t it?
Our memories travel with us, and sometimes feel so real...but they are just, in the end, ghosts on the periphery.
But the point here is that there are so many episodes of Space: 1999 that work exactly like this.
Various entries begin as a “concrete” story of people working in a hazardous environment, and then something happens which opens up EVERYTHING, and suddenly viewers are contemplating questions of fate, synchronicity, the meaning of life, and, yes, the existence of a “cosmic intelligence” (or what others might call “God.”)
This is precisely the atmosphere and tone that The Passenger achieves, and the film works as a drama because of the emotional truth that Jack countenances. He trades one future -- of connection with his son and wife -- for another.
In that other future, he is dead and gone, physically, but his impact continues nonetheless. His family -- his very heart and soul -- reaches out into chapters of future history as yet unwritten.
I have often wondered if this is what the human death experience could be: a tour of the future in which you are physically absent from your loved ones, but in which your choices -- and your progeny -- go on.
When we die, and our lives flash before our eyes, does the future flash before them as well?
The Passenger nails this formula, and in the process captures the eerie, often melancholy vibe of Space: 1999's first year. The film goes from being a story about a pilot struggling for a survival to the story of a pilot seeing (or imagining) his very place in the order of things.
I should stress again, I suppose, that this is a fan film, and that means that it had no budget to speak of. The co-directors had to recreate the whole high-tech world of Space:1999 from scratch. They do a creditable job with effects sets and costumes, but in some moments -- such as the vistas of an alien world -- they surpass even that description.
Finally, I would say in regards to The Passenger that the quality of the special effects becomes less important, in the final analysis, than the connection that the filmmaker's forge with their primary characters.
The emotional impact of Jack's metaphysical journey ultimately makes the success or failure of certain special effects shots secondary considerations.
Based on this short fan film -- one created with fidelity, passion, and intellectual curiosity -- I would like to see the makers of The Passenger adapt this style of storytelling to an original project next.
Until they undertake that task, fans of Space: 1999 will want to check out this fan effort because it demonstrates both resourcefulness and a deep understanding of the cerebral underpinnings of the cult-TV series.