Travelling to space is all about the numbers: velocity, altitude, mass, thrust, the thousands of variables which can lift a vast metal object from the surface of the Earth to orbit safely and on a precise trajectory. A retired civil engineer who always wished to be an astronaut, Angus Stewart’s life is also governed by numbers, his blood pressure, the number of pills he must take each day, the debt incurred by his late wife which will likely require him to sell his home.
There is also another crucial number, his age, seventy-five years on the planet, ten years above the cut-off of the recently announced lottery run by billionaire entrepreneur Marcus Brown which will open one seat on his soon-to-be-launched spaceplane to a member of the public. Twelve will be selected by random lottery, the final winner to be chosen by the public following televised interviews, and thousands have already applied.
Angus is too old, his health too frail, but what does he have to lose? His mind is as sharp as it always was, and he is too independent to be tied to the retirement home his daughter and son-in-law have placed him in when having him in their spare room became too intrusive. So why does he hesitate?
Through his telescope each night Angus watches the approach of a comet, so luminous it is visible in the day, hanging over him in the sky and reminding him of his dream to touch the stars; is this a sign that Angus should abandon his certainty that the odds are vastly against him on every front and apply for the lottery, one small click but a giant leap for an old man?
The debut feature of writer/director Shelagh McLeod with its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Astronaut is less of a sophisticated drama focusing on the pressures and skills which must be balanced to become part of the select few who have travelled beyond the Earth than a feelgood entertainment aimed at a mature audience, only one step away from falling into the blandness of Molly and Jim’s immaculate home.
Heading the cast is Hollywood veteran Richard Dreyfuss, a favourite of audiences since early in his career when he featured in the back-to-back hits Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, surrounded by Land of the Dead‘s Krista Bridges as his daughter, The Man in the High Castle‘s Lyriq Bent as her husband and Heroes Reborn‘s Richie Lawrence as their son Barney, Angus’ partner-in-crime, their friendship the only spark in the film.
The aging process and the frustration of those who feel cast aside examined in science fiction in such films as Robot & Frank and Marjorie Prime, Astronaut finds itself strictly on the lighter side of the scale, the stakes never raised above that which the audience of the Hallmark Channel can take without suffering a seizure, the parallels with the obsessive drive of any genuine space technology billionaires gently airbrushed out.
Every scene about precisely what information it must impart and no more, the characters have no life or colour beyond the moment, neither Angus’ family, the stock crumblies of Sundown Valley Manor nor The Chronicles of Riddick‘s Colm Feore as tech giant Brown, the well-intentioned components of Astronaut carefully balanced but never quite fitting together to accelerate the vehicle to escape velocity.