CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
As Doulgas Adams once wrote, Space is big. Mars may be just about close enough to see, but we're still nowhere near actually setting foot on the place. A Mars colony would be a soulless, confining place on a hostile, lifeless, airless world that offers us very little in the way of tangible resources and is, to our puny species, still too unimaginably distant to make the missions viable. And unless there's a substantial exodus of people, ideally the size of a small town, the loneliness and sense of isolation would be unbearable.
It's pleasantly surprising to find a movie that makes an effort to convey that loneliness: even if it doesn't pull it off it's having a go at suggesting just how removed a manned mission to Mars would be from the rest of the species. Stranded is a fairly low-budget Spanish movie (shot in English), in which a crew of just five (including Joaquim De Almeida and Maria De Medeiros) crashland on the Martian surface and can't take off again. Worse: a rescue mission wouldn't reach them for over two years and the available water, air and food wouldn't sustain all five of them. Vincent Gallo does the maths and concludes that no more than two of them could survive long enough, so the remaining three take their cue from Captain Oates and walk off towards the ravine....But what will they find?
There's little emphasis on special effects - the opening shots of the orbiter have the feel of BBC news simulations of space events, and Mars is actually Lanzarote viewed through an orange filter - preferring to concentrate on the human drama as they try to cope with the prospect of dying pointlessly more than thirty million miles from Earth, and the early scenes of the crew coming to terms with their predicament I thought were pretty gripping. It has to be said, though, that the developments in the third act (specifically what's at the bottom of the ravine) are monumentally implausible.
Stranded actually dates from 2001, which places it around the same time as Brian De Palma's messy but interesting Mission To Mars and the Val Kilmer movie Red Planet, but for some unknown reason it appears to have dropped through the cracks, despite winning three top prizes at the 2002 Fantafestival. It doesn't appear to have even made it as a major rental title: the first I heard of it was in a 4-in-1 box set in Cash Converters. And that's frankly a shame because while it's certainly no masterpiece, it's not bad at all and does convey something of that unimaginable isolation. Directed by Maria Lidon, who also plays the mission commander, but for some reason she's credited herself as "Luna" (which isn't even the right planet).