I have to say, Ryan was right. This launch sequence very nearly plays out in real time.
Finally, the shuttles reach space and the guys all start taking off their helmets. Everyone's pretty awestruck at being out here, especially Oscar, who notes they're "just in the beginning part of space" and they haven't even "gotten to outer space yet!" Okay, Owen Wilson's "Dennis Hopper on Quaaludes" routine is really starting to wear thin. How much longer till he bites it?
One of the shuttle pilots spots the Russian space station and prepares for docking maneuvers. Down at Mission Control, Truman tells the boys that the space station's been up there for eleven years, and "most of us don't have cars that old!" I guess the pay's pretty good at NASA, huh?
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Now, the space station looks identical to Mir, and we're probably supposed to think it's Mir, but we'll soon see it do a couple of things that Mir never could. I'm sure the only reason they don't actually call it Mir in this movie is because someone would have probably gotten sued.
Truman tells the astronauts that one cosmonaut has been alone on the station for eighteen months, so "don't be surprised if he's a little... off." You'd think they'd be briefed on this kind of stuff before they all got out into space, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong.
"In the event that you forget what you do here, an occupational tag has been placed over your work console."
Cut to a window of the Russian space station as Cosmonaut Lev Andropov (played by Peter Stormare, who was Dieter in The Lost World and therefore yet another Repeat Offender) floats into view. Stormare is putting on the most stereotypical, drunken, vodka-swilling Russian accent you can possibly imagine. He slurs to Mission Control that he's ready to fire his thrusters, and they in turn report to the shuttles that the station is about to "initiate gravitational spin".
Sure enough, the station starts to spin in order to simulate gravity, which is one of those things I'm kinda maybe thinking Mir could never do. Of course, you can tell why the filmmakers did this, because simulating zero gravity would have made the following sequence incredibly expensive to shoot. So, I suppose we can give them some credit for not wasting more ungodly sums of money on this movie, but unfortunately, they screw up this artificial gravity plot device in a number of ways.
First of all, a spinning space station would only generate force outwards, that is, away from the center of the station. In this scene, however, gravity just goes in whatever direction is convenient for the plot. Secondly, and much more stupidly, the space station initiates this spin before the shuttles dock! Space docking is a highly complex and dangerous maneuver, and only suicidal astronauts would even attempt to do it while either craft was spinning.
Nonetheless, the station begins its spin and Lev instantly reports, "I can feel I'm having gravity!" The shuttles then take a good long time to dock, and this part of the film makes the space docking footage from Moonraker look like the assault on the Death Star. The two teams finally board the station, but they can't find Lev until he suddenly appears above them, hanging upside down from a hatchway and slurring as he welcomes them.
He drops down to the floor and we notice he's wearing a stereotypical fur hat along with a t-shirt that says CCCP. So, I'm assuming he's one of those Russians who are nostalgic for the brutal, oppressive regime of the Communists. I wonder who the other two are.
Francisco de Goya's Man In Window.
Lev is rather irritable, telling the astronauts that this isn't a "gas station", but rather a "sophisticated laboratory". He sternly says, "Do not be touching anything!" You know, for someone who's been in space alone for a year and a half, you'd think he'd be a little happier to have some company. I guess he got advance word about what total idiots these guys are.
The shuttles are about to fuel up, so Lev immediately picks AJ to "watch the fuel gauge". I take it back, I guess Lev didn't get advance word, otherwise he'd have heard about a certain incident involving an Armadillo.
Anyway, to watch the fuel gauge, AJ and Lev have go to a section of the station called the "fuel pod". Now, remember in Star Trek V when there was only one radio on the Enterprise that the crew had to climb up a really long ladder to get to? Well, the fuel pod is basically in the same stupid location here, only it's way down instead of way up.
AJ climbs down the ladder as the astronauts haul silvery pipes through the station. Bear's VO informs us that these are the "fuel lines". Thanks, Bear. They get to a juncture and Max calls out, "Freedom on the left, Independence on the right!" Which way to Sweet Oblivion?
Down in the fuel pod, Lev shows AJ the fuel gauge, prophetically noting that a reading of 200 would be "bad disaster for space station!" He repeatedly tells AJ to "call for Lev" at any sign of danger, and AJ asks, "What's Lev?" [!!] What? He didn't know the cosmonaut's name until just now? This means either nobody mentioned it to him, or AJ's such a complete doofus that he already forgot. And, really, with this movie, both scenarios are equally plausible.
Anyway, Lev introduces himself as a colonel in the Russian space agency. "In Russia, I'm very big man!" Well, I can buy bread without standing in line for six hours, so a lot of Russians would probably consider me a very big man, too.
Lev takes off as the fuel starts pumping and, immediately, there's a shot of a pipe leaking somewhere. What are the odds, huh?
AJ sees the fuel gauge reach 200 and tries to radio Lev, but his voice just comes out as static on the other end. And regardless, Lev and Harry and Rockhound are all oblivious. Instead of paying attention to whatever it is they're supposed to be doing, they're all really interested in a picture of Lev's uncle.
Down below, AJ starts yelling out for help. There's even a surveillance camera down in the fuel pod, and AJ yells directly into it while his teeth act terrified. But again, all the Lev's Uncle Talk has everyone completely engrossed. (In case you were curious, his uncle used to work at a factory that made nuclear warheads. Yeah, I know. Enthralling.)
Finally, AJ tries to pull a lever to shut down the fuel transfer, but ends up just ripping the lever off. Apparently, this lever controls the entire station, because all the lights start to blink on and off. This prompts Lev to finally look over at a monitor and see AJ mugging into the surveillance camera. In a panic, Lev hurries to the fuel pod.
Lev discovers there's a leak and yells at the astronauts to get back to their shuttles. He shouts down into the fuel pod, telling AJ to pull the lever. AJ holds it up and cries, "This is the lever!" And, for no particular reason, there's more overdone camera work on this line, as we zoom out on AJ and the camera spins and tracks up the ladder.
Eventually, a fire breaks out in the fuel pod, and to heighten the "suspense", it takes AJ forever to get back up the ladder. Of course, they could just shut off the artificial gravity, and that way AJ could easily float his way up. But since we're in Idiot World, that doesn't happen. Instead, sparks begin to fly and fires break out everywhere on the station. Some flames shoot up the ladder, right past AJ, and somehow he doesn't even get so much as scorched.
An exterior shot displays gasses venting from every seam in the station. I'd say, "Houston, we have several problems," but this movie will be making it's own lame Apollo 13 joke a little later.
Inside the station, flames are spreading across the walls. An astronaut tries to get Lev to one of the shuttles, but Lev jumps down to help AJ instead. The astronaut figures they're both doing the gene pool a favor by removing themselves from it, so he just books it out of there and slams a door shut behind him.
What follows are several instances of Harry and the guys trying to go back and save Lev and AJ, only to be held back by one of the real astronauts with cries of "It's either them or all of us!" or "He's gone! It's too late!" Or several variations thereof.
AJ and Lev are now trapped inside the fuel pod, so Lev opens up a convenient ceiling panel. This takes them up into an area of the ship that Lev says is "minus hundred!" He adds, "Hold breath, or lung freezes!" They both climb up, where there's plenty of fake icicles hanging from everything.
After pointlessly cutting to Harry and the gang for a while, it's back to AJ and Lev dropping down into some other part of the station. There's an explosion and a huge flaming door flies directly at them, so Lev actually takes a moment to grab a photograph of (I assume) his wife and kid. (What? Suddenly the uncle's not good enough for you?) The two of them then manage to barely get out of the way of the big flaming door in time.
Meanwhile, the shuttle pilots are frantically trying to un-dock with the station. Down at Mission Control, they can somehow see AJ and Lev as little radar blips [?] on a diagram of the station, and they inform us the two are 75 feet from the shuttle.
Just then, we cut to the Freedom as Chick looks up and sees a big hunk of the station headed right for them. The pilot is able to get the shuttle free and they blast away just in the nick of time. This means AJ and Lev have to head for Independence, and as soon as they reach the shuttle door, AJ makes a hilarious crybaby face right into the camera. Eventually, they jump in as Independence also takes off just in the nick of time.
And then, the whole station explodes.
So, let's see here. The station was in space for eleven years, and all it took was one visit by total imbeciles to completely destroy it. I'm assuming this is all part of the film's insufferable "Amateurs in Space" theme, and in that regard it makes about as much sense as anything else in the movie. But in general, audiences don't like their protagonists to act like total and absolute screw-ups. (But then again, audiences also shelled out tons of money to watch this crap, so what do I know?)
French Stewart auditions for the role of AJ.
Anyway, the Independence pilot reports to Mission Control that they got their entire crew off, plus Lev, but only 90% of their fuel. Lev bitterly says, "That's why I told you... touch nothing! But you're bunch of cowboys!" Well, he does have a point.
Both shuttles fly off, and it bears mentioning that in this movie, the shuttles idiotically fly like fighter jets [!]. I'm sorry, but you cannot bank around curves in space.
So this is Mir, huh? I guess they just don't make milk crates and discarded paper towel tubes like they used to.
We then return to Earth for another random shot of a satellite dish, and another orange-tinted shot of the Iwo Jima memorial [?] at sunrise. (Did we really need to see that memorial again, Mr. Bay?)
In the background, we hear a newsman reporting on the mission, and then we cut to a TV and see the reporter is an anchor for CBS 2 in Los Angeles. I could look up his name, but it hardly seems important, and anyway, his only job is to inform us that the shuttles are now about to slingshot around the moon.
But before that, there's another glimpse of the big asteroid floating in space. This is the first time I get to describe it in this recap, and I have to say, it looks nothing like a real asteroid. It's all rocky and jagged, whereas real asteroids tend to have smoother surfaces. Also, it's got all this weird mist and vapor trailing behind it, and the vapor is streaked with red, blue and green. It sort of reminds me of people with those dyed multi-colored dreadlocks. It's a Rasta asteroid! Rastaroid! I hereby decree that from now on, everyone must refer to it as Rastaroid!
Sorry. Power Trip Moment.
Anyway, we get another shot of the green countdown clock at Mission Control, which shows just 17 hours left. Truman stares at video screens of the guys all clowning around, and tells them they've got a "big day" ahead of them.
Eventually, the shuttles get to the far side of the moon, causing NASA to lose radio contact. Lucky bastards. How do I get the pleasure of not having to hear or see these idiots?
Once the transmission is lost, Truman says to his men that it's "nine and a half Gs for eleven minutes. I'd start praying about right now." I'd start praying too, but the existence of this movie proves that there is no god. Anyway, on this line we see Grace turn around and wander off with a worried look on her face. Everybody drink!
On the shuttle, AJ says that "this is the part where we're supposed to just hold on real tight, and, uh, hope we don't die!" I'll be doing the same thing. Only, in my case, replace "don't" with "do" and you'll be right on the money. The shuttles rocket over the moon, accompanied by more lame banter about how allegedly dangerous this all is.
Then the shuttles actually do barrel rolls [!] as Houston anxiously waits. The shuttle pilot yells to the men that this is what they trained for, and they'll just have to "Suck it up!" Well, Lev didn't train for this, but I suppose he'll just have to suck it up, too. The engines ignite, which is inter-cut with pointless footage of Grace sitting in a conference room and fondling her engagement ring.
As they pass over the moon, the astronauts experience four Gs, then six Gs. Grace continues to fondle her engagement ring. All the guys scream and yell that they're all going to die. Again, I know they aren't trained astronauts, but would it hurt to be a little more professional? They hit ten Gs, and everyone starts groaning in pain. After a minute of this, the shaking finally stops and the G-force assault ends. Unfortunately, this movie's assault on our senses is only beginning.
Anyway, the shuttles get back into radio contact with Houston and everyone there is relieved. Watts reports a "visual of the target". The shuttles streak across the moon with Rastaroid in the background, and we see the surface of the moon getting pelted with debris. You'd think this debris would present a serious hazard to the mission, but as we'll soon see, it comes as a total surprise to everyone involved.
All the guys act awestruck when they see Rastaroid. As they close in, Harry says, "You see that?" You mean, that giant rock quickly filling every porthole? Yes, I think I might have noticed it.
The pilot says, "Everybody hang on. This could get a little rough." Could? A little? Look, if the cinematic equivalent of getting a root canal with a jackhammer that I just witnessed wasn't "rough", then I don't really want to know what is. So happily, I'm passing the torch on to the next recapper!