It is the farthest continuously manned outpost of humanity, the International Space Station, launched in November 1998 and orbiting around four hundred kilometres above the surface of the Earth, a pressurised environment in perpetual free fall around the planet where scientists can conduct specialist research requiring prolonged microgravity when not performing duties maintaining the systems of the habitat, occasionally finding time to just gaze out the windows in awe at the world below.

Greeted aboard by the existing personnel, NASA’s Gordon Barrett and Russian cosmonauts Weronika Vetrov and brothers Nicholai and Alexey Pulov, new arrival Christian Campbell has previous experience aboard the I.S.S. but it is the first trip up for Doctor Kira Foster, acclimatising herself to the multilingual environment of endeavour and cooperation, living on top of each other in three dimensions, but the high spirits at high altitudes are not to last.

Alone in the cupola she witnesses what she first presumes is a volcanic eruption in central America, but when it is rapidly followed by others it is apparent the flashes are detonations of nuclear warheads; with communications lost, either disrupted by electromagnetic pulses or by sabotage, the last messages received from ground control, one for the astronauts, one for the cosmonauts, commands each to take control of the I.S.S. by any means.

Science fiction having received significant boosts this century from tales balancing adventure and intellect, Gravity and Interstellar two of the most prominent cinematic examples with For All Mankind and Foundation charting epic new frontiers on television, I.S.S. will not be joining them, slickly directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite who has recreated the interiors and contrived that her cast move through them so as to convince they are genuinely floating in space in situations which couldn’t be more ridiculous if that was the goal.

The unarmed International Space Station entirely dependent on ground support to function, it is not a strategic outpost save in abstract terms of symbolic value which is unlikely to be a high priority when the world below is burning, and while the ensemble struggle valiantly forward, Ariana DeBose, Chris Messina and John Gallagher Jr as the astronauts and Masha Mashkova, Costa Ronin and Pilou Asbæk as the cosmonauts, the whole floats in a vacuum of credulity, a dumb action move of lowest common denominator multiplex ambition.

Peter Hyams having portrayed a similar scenario of superpower tension in his adaptation of Arthur C Clarke’s 2010, here there is no attempt to create any background: “we don’t discuss politics,” Doctor Foster is told prior to the unanticipated Armageddon, yet despite the presence of half a dozen trained scientists who are also experienced military personnel no attempt is made to analyse or understand what is happening and why and plan a strategy, the two crews instead immediately dividing and switching to squabbling and plotting.

The agony of millions dead or dying in nuclear fire reduced to the grief of one woman over the loss of her secret space lover on an EVA mission, Nick Shafir’s script fails to scale the human emotion against what is happening or conceive likely scenarios, with whispered conversations in padded sleeping cells offering little safeguard against eavesdropping, the idea of hiding in what is essentially a confined closed system impractical and an untested trial dose of a potential treatment for radiation sickness hardly a bargaining chip.

In a different vision, I.S.S. might have depicted a group of selfless experts in their diverse fields who put aside simplistic jingoistic concerns and questionable unverified orders to band together as professionals from their isolated and likely ultimately doomed outpost, using their unique overview to coordinate relief and assistance in an unprecedented disaster, leading the way in science and international cooperation even at the cost of their lives; instead, the disaster revealed is the shambles of the movie itself.

I.S.S. is currently on general release



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