Half a year into his solo mission on the edge of the solar system, an astronaut concerned with the state of his life back on Earth is helped by an ancient creature he discovers in the bowels of his ship.

Chuck says:

It’s never a good sign when a film sits on the shelf for over three years.  Such is the case with Johan Renck’s “Spaceman,” a well-intentioned, plodding sci-fi tale that aspires to mentioned in the same breath as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Interstellar,” but falls well short of the mark. Having been given a lukewarm reception at various film festivals, apparently due to its conclusion, Netflix was unsure as to how to progress with this adaptation of the novel by Jaroslav Kalgfar. Coupled with scheduling conflicts involving its two stars, Adam Sandler and Carey Mulligan, as well as the twin 2023 strikes that plagued Hollywood, “Spaceman’s” road to the big screen has been riddled with one unfortunate delay after another. Netflix should have taken this as a sign.

It’s been four years since an odd pink cloud has appeared in the Earth’s night sky. Unsure as to what it contains, the Czech Space Agency has sent a single cosmonaut, Jakub Prochazka (Sandler) to investigate. Alone for nearly 200 days, he’s 500 million miles from home. He depends on the daily interstellar video calls from his wife, Lenka (Mulligan) and when a day goes by without hearing from her, he grows suspicious. Sensing Prochazka’s mind is in a fragile state, mission director Tuma (Isabella Rossellini) has intercepted the call, refusing to forward it as the pregnant and distraught Lenka has decided to leave her husband, a piece of news that will likely prove devastating.

While not hearing from his wife preys on his mind, Prochazka has other things to contend with, namely a spider-like alien creature he dubs Hanus (voice by Paul Dano) which has somehow gotten on board his ship. Though somewhat malevolent in appearance, the creature proves to be a benevolent companion, asking questions about the titular character’s past, listening to his concerns, and even offering advice to the Earthman. There’s more than a bit of pop psychology at play.

Renck’s intent is to mirror the journey to the mysterious cloud with a trip through Prochazka’s past. As he travels into deep space, we are given glimpses of key events from his past, most dealing with his fractured relationship with Lenka. Memories of their first meeting are combined with those recalling horrendous fights, as well as scenes of great tragedy. Hanus suggests the cloud contains matter from the beginning of the universe and all things.

These moments are presented though a fish-eye lens, often accented by overly bright, saturated colors. These attempts to suggest the cloud is prompting these memories is awkward and heavy handed, coming off as distracting rather than edifying.  These disruptive moments only add to the viewer’s frustration as Renck’s languid pacing keeps us at arm’s distance throughout. If the extended takes he uses throughout were an attempt to give the story an air of solemnity, the approach couldn’t have backfired more, tedium the result.

I think we’ve gotten to the point in Sadler’s career where we can dispense with exclaiming surprise over the fact, he can handle a dramatic role. Keep in mind most of his scenes involved his acting alone, more than likely talking to a tennis ball on a stick, his alien co-star inserted in post-production. It’s not an award-winning production, but one that likely bolstered his confidence. Of course, Mulligan is wonderful, as she always is; nothing more needs to be said.

As for Renck, unfortunately his reach falls short of his ambition. Stripped down and told briskly, “Spaceman” may have had the impact the filmmaker was aiming for.  As it is, the film just floats about aimlessly, like an untethered cosmonaut.

2 Stars


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