Approaching the Unknown (2016)

(Video on Demand, July 2016) At first glance, Approaching the Unknown has a kernel of potential. The trailer promises a somewhat introspective look at space exploration, alongside an astronaut travelling alone to Mars. There’s been a recent mini-boom in space-exploration films, and while no-one expected this low-budget production to match Interstellar, it could have found a place alongside Europa Report. But even after a few minutes, it becomes horribly clear that Approaching the Unknown is a big heap of nonsense choked in pseudo-profound meandering and then smothered in interminable pacing. I don’t often fall asleep during boring movies, but Approaching the Unknown got me, and it got me good: I actually had to go back and re-watch the second half, which made it even worse given how the film disintegrates even further in its second half. It’s a multifaceted failure, from nonsense science (I could give you a list of ten things from the movie that are actually dumber than the Transformers series) to meaningless musings to a direction job that kills any interest the film may have held. It’s just a terrible movie-watching experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone else. It even made me think less of Mark Strong for choosing the role, as well as Sanaa Lathan and Luke Wilson for showing up in supporting roles. I get that the film is meant as a meditative character piece about sanity, exploration and self-discovery, but as the old SF truism goes, if the literal level doesn’t work, the metaphorical level can’t either. I don’t particularly like to dismiss low-budget passion projects, but Approaching the Unknown is a damning debut for writer/director Mark Elijah Rosenberg and I hope he’ll be able to do better the next time around. (I’ll at least acknowledge that the film may be best suited to people who liked Under the Skin.)

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