Aspiring to be the biggest thing in sci-fi horror since Ridley Scott's 'Alien' — only the creature is humanoid, not a man in a rubber suit — 'Stranded' exhausts nearly every cliché and convention imaginable. In a desperate frenzy to be entertaining, the plot is set to cruise control with a familiar, generic formula about a space crew battling an alien monster. This is at the level of a Roger Corman knockoff — you can almost feel James Cameron's presence in the pennies-cheap stage design. More accurately, this is a knockoff of a Roger Corman knockoff.
Admittedly, there's something tawdrily enjoyable is sitting through this shoddy mess, like some sort of forbidden fruit I'm not supposed to take pleasure in. The low-rent picture is amusingly campy, as if the filmmakers know they're part of second-hand imitation of an imitation and at any minute, everyone's going to burst out in laughter. Crewmember Ava Cameron (Amy Matysio) is infected with a foreign contaminant in the most convenient way possible. And of course, she prefers not to tell anyone about it until suddenly she looks as if she's in the third trimester of pregnancy. If you can't already guess, Ava is the female version of John Hurt's Kane and literally gives birth to a creature that'll eventually wreak havoc, rapidly growing by shedding its skin and moving through ventilation shafts.
In a matter of a few hours, the monster is adult size and inexplicably takes on the appearance of chief engineer Bruce (Michael Therriault), which means someone sooner or later will confuse the alien for the real person. And why would it want to take the form of the wimpiest, most cowardly and psychologically fragile person of the entire lunar base. Bruce is practically the combination of Lambert, Parker and Brett all rolled into one. Is it because he's a man? That's rather sexist isn't it? Playing the role of Dallas and Ash's love child, minus the android twist, is medical officer Lance (Brendan Fehr), who doesn't necessarily want to capture the alien and study it, but he still comes off cold and methodical yet concerned and alarmed. Fehr is given the most dramatic scene of the whole movie, but the only real surprise is that the filmmakers even tried to pull off something so lame, unemotional and uninvolving.
Christian Slater, starring as the commanding officer Col. Brauchman who labors frustratingly over following regulations, is a poor man's Ellen Ripley. And like her, he is harshly scolded and rebuked by others for doing exactly what is expected of him during the middle of a crisis. The other two men fight him and try to make him feel guilty for placing Ava under quarantine. It's a ridiculously familiar sight where behaving rationally for the protection of all is thrown out the window in favor of making predictably stupid decisions which benefit the plot and lead to convenient excuses for suspense. But there's nary a moment where we fear or question the survival of the characters; instead, we wait anxiously for the moment they're finally put out of their misery and we arrive at the end credits.
Low-budget sci-fi horror is not easy, I would imagine, since limitations and restraints within the production would demand a very economic approach to the material. To the credit of director Roger Christian, famous for his stage design work on 'Star Wars: A New Hope' but notorious as the director for 'Battlefield Earth,' the movie is decently well-made for a story set on a lunar base. I rather like that Christian and his team went with practical special effects and miniatures over lazily-done CG animation. It gives 'Stranded' a quaint, old-fashioned feel, making it a bit more bearable to sit through. At the same time, however, the movie has a cheap look to it that feels a lot like an extended episode of 'Doctor Who.' I half expected Matt Smith to suddenly show up at one point and save this hapless crew, along with the film. But sadly, the Time Lord never made it on time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment brings 'Stranded' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc housed inside a blue, eco-elite keepcase with a shiny slipcover. Viewers can skip over several trailers before arriving at a main menu screen with full-motion clips and music.
Shot digitally on the Red Epic camera system, 'Stranded' lands on Blu-ray with a strong 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The video shows excellent, sharp details of the interior of the lunar base, allowing viewers to appreciate the amount of creative work that went into its design. Skin tones look a bit drained but they're consistent with revealing, lifelike textures. The creature is especially slimy, glutinous and overall grossly gag-inducing.
The cinematography is intentionally restrained and muted with low-key contrast, making the 2.35:1 image almost appear like black-and-white photography. The color palette is also understated but primaries are still rendered accurately, and black levels are true with good shadow detailing but can at times look noticeably faded. Some light banding in the darkest portions is also apparent but unobtrusive. Overall, the high-def presentation looks and feels like a made-for-television movie, very sterile with the unattractive soap-opera effect, but its passable.
The low-budget sci-fi horror flick shines best in the audio department, generating a decently pleasing atmosphere of dread and doom. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack delivers a broad and surprisingly active soundstage with movement across the screen that's convincing and pretty effective. With the musical score spreading into all three channels evenly, listeners can enjoy a good wall of sound that's consistent and nicely bleeds into the surrounds. Speaking of which, the rears provide a strong but subtle soundfield with discrete effects and satisfying directionality. The mid-range is clean and distinctly detailed while the low-end is shockingly punchy and appreciably reaches into the lower depths with mild force. With well-prioritized, intelligible dialogue in the center, this lossless mix does the movie a great deal of justice and makes it more bearable.
From notorious 'Battlefield Earth' director Roger Christian, 'Stranded' is a low-budget sci-fi horror that largely feels like a low-rent knockoff of a Roger Corman production but looks as if it was made for basic-cable television. Starring Christian Slater as a poor-man's Ellen Ripley, the movie is surprisingly bearable but ultimately too clichéd and formulaic to be taken serious. The Blu-ray arrives with good picture, better audio presentation,and forgettable supplements, making the overall package a decent rental for the curious.