Justin’s rating: Hey kids, let’s play “spot the commercial break!”
Justin’s review: Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, my hunger for movies drove me to become somewhat of a VHS tape fanatic. I lived for nothing more than to pick up a three-pack of blank tapes and then go to town recording any shows or movies on TV that I wanted to collect. The Fox channel had a lot of these, especially for a scifi geek like me. One of the many, many stories that I recorded was this one, a made-for-TV bit of space mystery based Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 film Lifeboat.
It’s Christmas Eve, 2169, and a passenger liner with over 2,000 people has some sort of critical accident that sends its passengers and crew into the escape pods. In the only one that makes it out, eight people (and a baby in suspended animation) take refuge in this tiny bit of life support floating into the void. After the initial exciting 10 minutes, the movie settles down to focus on both survival and the mystery of what blew up the ship in the first place.
In the lifepod are the ship’s pilot (CCH Pounder), a cyborg mechanic, a news reporter, a blind man (Ron Silver, who also directs), a grieving mother, a government employee, a scrappy colonist, and a violent prisoner. They quickly discover that they’re all alone without a promise of a rescue — and what’s worse is that their food supplies have been intentionally contaminated. Scratch that, what’s really worse is the fact that people are being killed off, one by one. There’s a traitor on the pod, one who might kill everyone to hide a greater crime. And what’s more, they all come to the realization that everyone has a motive to blow up the liner.
Lifepod is exactly the kind of smaller story that is ideal for a made-for-TV movie. It’s not big and flashy enough for the big screen, but that extra budget helped to elevate this above a TV episode. You can see that in the set of the titular lifepod, which features multiple rooms and a nice grungy industrial aesthetic that would be at home in the Nostromo. The extra space and cast gives us enough moving parts to keep things interesting as the situation spirals into paranoia and desperation. I also liked how the dialogue builds out this universe, where an uncaring EarthCorps stomps all over its colonies and looks for new avenues for war.
I haven’t seen this since the ’90s, but I must say that it holds up really well. As long as you’re not looking for a special effects buffet, Lifepod delivers a tidy little story that utilizes the isolation of deep space, the threat of a failing craft, and the suspicious personalities to great effect. Not only do we not know who will survive to the end, but we don’t know who’s the killer. That makes for quite a tense setup.
Ultimately, the choice to draw upon Hitchcock’s older tale was a good one, and this deserves to be remembered.
- Glad you qualified “a beautiful infinite airless ocean” with “space,” otherwise I wouldn’t know what you are talking about.
- CCH pounder as the ship captain!
- I always liked the cruise ship’s mini-railroad
- And the unseen baby bought it. That’s dark.