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Space Station 76 (2014) Review

Welcome to the world of tomorrow…yesterday! If you’re hoping for a laugh-a-minute retro sci-fi comedy romp then “Space Station 76” is likely to disappoint. While it is an affectionate pastiche of 1970’s vision of the future, the retro sci-fi trappings and space station setting are largely ancillary to the film’s real focus: the universal trials and tribulations of everyday domestic dramas.

Debut director Jack Plotnick has assembled a fine cast including Matt Bomer, Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler and Jerry O’Connell to play out his drama of a group of flawed, self-absorbed and disillusioned people coping with infidelity, depression, alienation and drug abuse. Although the subject matter is weighty and downbeat, he keeps the tone blackly comedic to ensure it doesn’t descend into maudlin melodrama. The script, developed through a series of improv sessions with the cast, is a study in subtext and the brittle veneer of social conventions which keeps everyday life from bubbling over into chaos.

While the space station setting has little direct relevance to the character-driven story, it’s “Space: 1999”-inspired styling provides a strangely satisfying juxtaposition with the domesticity of the drama at hand. The arrival of Liv Tyler’s earnest new co-pilot is the catalyst for the crew of the station to be disrupted from their superficial, safely habitual orbits and spin out into more honest interactions with their friends and crewmates and is nicely correlated to the passage of a rogue comet into the asteroid field Space Station 76 is stationed near.

A well-made, compact character drama with a flavour of the uncomfortable humour that made “The Office” so captivating, this could easily work well on stage. On-screen, though, it benefits from some excellent effects work which, although digital, takes pains to look like the high-quality model work of ‘70’s sci-fi cinema. With elements of “Dark Star”, “Silent Running” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (there’s even a cameo from Keir Dullea) this is a gritty California valleys soap opera transplanted to outer space taking all of the narcissistic malaise of the 1970s with it. It might not be what you’re expecting but it’s still a poignant and sometimes absorbing experience.