(US); 1999; Rated R; 109 Minutes
Johnny Depp: Spencer Armacost
Charlize Theron: Jillian Armacost
Joe Morton: Sherman Reese
Clea DuVall: Nan
Donna Murphy: Natalie Streck
Produced by Jody Hedien, Mark Johnson, Donna Langley,
Andrew Lazar, Diana Pokorny and Brian Witten; Directed
and screenwritten by Rand Ravich
by DAVID KEYES
the biggest virtue that "The Astronaut's Wife" carries is
the fact that it breaks from an orthodox motion picture
mold--one in which the studios release their movies without
the privilege of critics, such as myself, getting advanced
screenings. Recent evidence of this typical act suggests
that filmmakers are at last resort with saving their products
from financial failure; products such as "The Avengers,"
the "Psycho" remake, and "Virus" are just to name a few,
and each one is made up of flaws so deep that not even their
creators could ignore them. Even though this has not always
been the case with motion pictures (in the 1960s, Hitchcock
preferred to release his movies without screenings for the
benefit of saving the surprises), today's cinematic events
released without those advanced privileges almost always
mean catastrophe. At this point, every movie that follows
in this manner will be associated with disaster.
Astronaut's Wife" is one of those 'anti-critics' productions,
a movie where we as film reviewers were forced to see it
opening weekend like all the other moviegoers. It's hard
to see why, though; the picture, while not always the most
clever piece of filmmaking, is still pretty topnotch in
most aspects. An inclusive part of the viewer is carried
into the setup by vivid occurrences, and instead of wasting
their energy on lifeless convictions, it pays them off in
moderate, often successful ways. There is, for instance,
a congenial performance by Charlize Theron, who was one
of those principle positive aspects in "The Devil's Advocate"
and "Mighty Joe Young." Here, she plays the wife of a successful
astronaut named Spencer (Johnny Depp), whose recent trip
into space takes a drastic turn when there's a sudden explosion,
and Houston loses contact with the ship for two minutes,
before it unexpectedly returns to Earth. Theron's character,
Jillian, leisurely becomes unsettled by her husband's voyage.
But until she winds up pregnant with twins, her ears are
deaf to the warning signs of others, who speak to her with
utter assurance--"he's not your husband anymore."
movie plays along with a "Species II"-style formula, in
which the focus is a character who may or may not be inhabited
by an unearthly entity. Spencer is a reputable man back
on his planet Earth, but his latest journey into the vast
outer space is greeted with concern more than enthusiasm,
especially after his partner, another notable shuttle-craft
superstar, has a massive stroke and dies. Spencer's attitude
and personality have not changed, at first, but his wife's
sudden pregnancy is only the beginning of a long list of
unusual developments that arrive after his return.
these events unfold is a satisfying experience, most notably
because the filmmakers aren't dependent on visual effects
to attain tense atmosphere. Their strength is in a well-paced
psychological development, as Jillian's pregnancy develops
and we begin wondering if they are normal human infants
or alien life forms. The answers, of course, are in Spencer,
but Johnny Depp, soon to be seen in Tim Burton's "Sleepy
Hollow," approaches his role in an effortless way. He only
shows expression in tense moments, while the rest of the
time remaining focused but emotionally distant. When characters
start comparing the "old" Spencer to the "new" Spencer,
emphasizing on little characteristics that divide them both,
we feel out of place. Depp comes off more as a weird, detached
human individual rather than a half man/half alien being.
And since the movie only concentrates on his character after
the space incident, we as the audience cannot compare his
new habits to his old habits as the characters often do.
were we expecting a miracle here? I don't think so. Judging
by the fact that no critics were permitted to advanced showings,
people were sure that the film was going to be complete
trash upon its arrival, which it is not. The production
fails in certain areas, but succeeds in most of the others.
Take this as hard evidence that movies without advanced
showings will not always be totally worthless.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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