Cinema Review: Approaching the Unknown | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, March 31st, 2020  

Approaching the Unknown

Studio: Paramount Pictures & Vertical Entertainment
Directed by Mark Elijah Rosenberg

Jun 06, 2016 Web Exclusive
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Whatever space may be, it’s not currently the final frontier for cinema. We’re in the midst of a deluge of space exploration movies as everyone looks to escape the constraints of Earth’s atmosphere. Like last year’s phenomenally successful The Martian, the red planet looms large in Approaching the Unknown, but this competent, if not exactly gripping, drama is all about the journey.

There’s still plenty of opportunity to “science the shit” out of all manner of baffling technical components. Mark Strong plays Captain Stanaforth, the advance guard in a planned colonization of Mars. He’s to set up base on his own with his special water reactor, self-designed and tested in laboriously recollected desert flashbacks. A second ship containing Captain Maddox (Sanaa Lathan) follows behind to lay the ground for a full community.

Strong brings the perfect mix of grim contemplation and iron will to his character. He seems almost confused at the surprise his decision to embark on a one-way trip evokes in others. Ultimately, as is usually the case, it’s because he’s searching for something, and perhaps more importantly because he can. Make no mistake though, it’s a lonely business. Much of debut writer/director Mark Elijah Rosenberg’s film deals with the impending sense of isolation. Aside from Stanaforth only a small handful of people appear, mostly via the video link that connects him to Maddox, and his best friend back home in Mission Control, Louis ‘Skinny’ Skinner (Luke Wilson).

Except of course it isn’t really his home anymore. That’s the point Approaching the Unknown hammers at. Stanaforth enjoys a good terrestrial sunset but he’s fixated on what’s to come. This fixation causes problems. Rosenberg is too restless to commit fully to watching him mooch around his spaceship tinkering with gadgets, watering plants and exercising, so technical disasters are thrown in half-heartedly. They’re dealt with either too easily, or with disinterest, ruining attempts to inject a little drama.

New direction arrives late in the day as the full extent of Stanaforth’s obsession surfaces. From here it turns into a kaleidoscopic journey through a water color galaxy, bright swirling light enveloping the ship. It’s handled with technical proficiency but the artistic flair needed to carry these Space Odyssey shots isn’t quite there

That’s ultimately where we run up against the rocks. Stanaforth is seeking a moment of pure wonder Approaching the Unknown can’t deliver. When shooting for otherworldly transcendence, solid rather than spectacular is not enough.

Author rating: 5/10

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TomMartin
June 22nd 2018
2:09am

There are many movies which try to copy the reality. But the reality is more complex and interesting as well. A chemical plant, for example, will need a catalyst unloading system if it has a reactor to protect the entire working environment. Trying to maintain this system and to repair it whenever it is necessary is a daunting task, which should be performed only by specialists, with a lot of training and experience in the field.