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In Space, No One Can Hear You Scram

Posted by GoreMaster Special Effects on August 1, 2009

Defying Gravity   
“In space, there’s simply no room for error,” barks a mid-21st-century astronaut stomping around his spaceship in ABC’s new sci-fi series, “Defying Gravity.” In television, of course, there is plenty of room for error; sometimes it seems like one big errormobile.

Unfortunately, “Defying Gravity” will have to be listed as one of its well-intentioned mistakes, another of the many peculiar oddities churned out by broadcast and cable every year, every week, every moment of our earthbound little lives. While “Defying Gravity” might be a good title for a sitcom set in outer space, the gravity being defied here is of a more sober, serious, scientific sort.

At least the series makes an attempt to correct the estimates of space breakthroughs projected in 1968 by Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke foresaw humans larking about the universe willy-nilly no later than the turn of the century. And there was that big spooky mission to “Jupiter . . . and beyond,” remember? Zero-gravity toilets had been invented but somehow communism had survived.Goremaster Makeup Effects Manual

It isn’t made terribly clear, at least not in the first episode, what kind of planet Earth has become by the time “Defying Gravity” occurs. In fact, it isn’t clear what time “Defying Gravity” does occur. As the series begins, we don’t know when it is, but soon there’s a caption on the screen that says “2042 — 10 Years Earlier — Mars.” Ten years earlier than what? Never mind, because by the next commercial break it’s “5 Years Earlier” than 10 Years Earlier. It begins to seem like a game. Or a twist on that backward episode of “Seinfeld” when the mission’s destination was merely India.

Space travel can’t be all that common by 2042 or even 2052, because the crew of the big ship spend a lot of time talking about it. “Space travel is a fool’s game,” someone says, twice, followed by a meditation on how much water is being toted around in your typical human body (we’re 60 percent water, a scientist says). “Being an astronaut is all about control,” one space ranger philosophizes.

“Man belongs in space,” another crew member pipes up. “We’re resilient; we can adapt,” says somebody else or maybe the same one. “I’ve never felt more alive or more human,” says an astronaut as the crew settles down for a long trip to Venus that is also apparently going to be a six-year “grand tour of the solar system.”

It’s all terribly confusing, but then quite a bit of sci-fi gets by on passing off the terribly confusing as profoundly mysterious.

The unfortunate truth of this mission is that you’re going to need a whole lot of patience to get through even the first hour of it. Things do seem to be happening: One crew member’s vasectomy is reversing on its own (“bit of a sticky wicket,” as the British used to say); two potential crew members must report for physicals when large amounts of “calcified plaque” turn up inside them; one astronaut has to improvise an EVA (that’s extra-vehicular activity, as those of us who remember the ’60s will know) to save the ship, and an astronaut says she got pregnant from a one-night stand, but just how long are the nights out there in Spaceville?

Some of the special effects are beautiful and seem lavish for television, but as the movies of the past couple decades have shown, jim-dandy special effects can take you only so far, and now that TV shows are as special-effected as commercials have been almost since TV began, audiences have every reason to be jaded about them. The story has to be strong, and “Defying Gravity’s” isn’t.

There are no monsters, at least on the premiere, and that’s disappointing. Then again, considering all the sex talk, there might be some of those “monsters from the id” that Professor Morbius talked about in “Forbidden Planet.” That was the big, wide, scary one from MGM that gave us Robby the Robot — way back in 1956. “Defying Gravity” takes us not back to the future so much as forward to the past, and it takes its old sweet time about it, too.


By Tom Shales – Washington Post



2 Responses to “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scram”

  1. Nancy said

    oh c’mon dont be so serious about all those science stuff, you are merely watching a soap drama thats all!why not just enjoy the rest of scenes..?

  2. Owen said

    It is obvious that you not only did not watch this show for more than 20 minutes, because your few observations are mostly incorrect and out of context, and you did not give it any time to develop. The first Star Trek show had more glaring science errors than these few nits you pick out, and look how it did!

    And were you dropped on your head as a child or just bad at math. If it says “2042 – 10 years earlier”, then it obviously means the current mission takes place in 2052. DUH! Seems like every drama on TV today does the flashback and time jumping to fill in back story, what is your problem? Relax and watch, you might enjoy it. Oh wait, it is taking too long to develop, so I will fast forward or switch channels. Sound familiar?

    I give this show credit for trying to explain how they solved some physics, like the gravity problems on the ship and the planets they will visit, and actually making some things more science accurate than say Star Trek, Babylon 5, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and other successful shows that ignored physics all together! I actually appreciated that.

    Granted that the likelihood a ship such as the one depicted will be built in the next 40 years is slim, who are you to decide it won’t? And again, kudos to this show for not making the science totally fiction. What they depicted could actually be built now, minus the clever gravity material that created gravity when they were not in the rotating part of the ship, but their discussion of a suit to help walk on Venus, the problems with the landers, the zero gravity problems encountered, etc, etc would have become evident if your short attention span mind had actually watched more than the first 20 minutes and got bored so fast.

    I find it sad that this show did not get a chance, mainly because people like you need instant gratification and have no patience at all. I suspect you found 2001 boring as well, which would just prove my point.

    if the story background bothered you and you just needed some quick space fix to make you happy, check out the program than inspired this. A British docudrama called Space_Odyssey:_Voyage_to_the_Planets. I am sure you will like it much better, they removed all that boring story stuff that you seem to have no patience for.

    Maybe you should just shoot your TV now.

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