The Mercury Project (2000)

Rating:

aka Rocket’s Red Glare

USA. 2000.

Crew

Director/Screenplay – Christopher Bremble, Story – Christopher Bremble & John Palmer, Producer – Mike Elliott, Photography – Christopher Duddy, Music – Lior Rosner, Music Supervisors – Ron Kenan & Barry Kolsky, Visual Effects – Noiz, Visual Effects Supervisor – Eric Jennings, Special Effects Supervisor – Richard Stutsman, Production Design – Dins Danielsen, Special Set Design – Wonderworks. Production Company – Saban International N.V./Capital Arts Entertainment/Avondale/Wonderworks Entertainment

Cast

Ryan Merriman (Todd Baker), Robert Wagner (Colonel Gus Baker), Danielle Fishel (Sarah Miller), Marilu Henner (Meg Baker), John Finn (Wyatt Claybourne), Matt Winston (Mr Lake), Cory Prendergast (Jason Jones), Brandon Tyler (Vic Henry), Fred Coffin (Mitch Greer), Bill Timoney (Colonel Peter Baker)


Plot

Todd Baker is the son of NASA astronaut Colonel Peter Baker and grows up with a love of amateur rocketry. It is announced that Colonel Baker is to go up on the Endeavour space shuttle mission. Before this can happen, he is killed when one of his and Todd’s model rockets blows up. Afterwards, Todd’s mother moves to California to live with Todd’s grandfather, the former Mercury astronaut Gus Baker, who now runs a NASA museum. Todd starts to withdraw at school. Gus is then offered an old Redwood (one of the rockets that launched the Mercury missions) at discount rates. Todd and schoolmate Sarah Miller come up with the idea of doing a class science project about the restoration of the Redwood to working condition. They start rebuilding the Redwood, naming it Mercury 10, and are later joined by the rest of the science class. However, NASA intervenes and closes the project down as being too dangerous. The Endeavour is then hit by a meteorite shower and trapped in orbit. NASA come back to Todd and Gus, wanting to launch the Mercury 10 because it is the only spaceworthy vehicle available to reach the Endeavour in time.


The Mercury Project is a film from Saban International, a production company that specialises in children’s entertainment. Among numerous other works, Saban have been responsible for a host of animated tv series based on various Marvel Comics; a number of dubbed tv series based on imported Japanese shows, most famous of these being Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993-6) and Digimon: Digital Monsters (1999-2003); as well as various live-action Casper the Friendly Ghost, Addams Family and Richie Rich tv movies.

The Mercury Project feels like someone had borrowed a substantial part of the plot from the then recent October Sky (1998) about amateur rocketry and thrown it in with a good few dashes of the same year’s Clint Eastwood film Space Cowboys (2000) about aging NASA astronauts from the heyday of the Space Program going back into orbit for one last mission – indeed, Robert Wagner’s aging Mercury astronaut here could easily have been a fifth member of the Project Daedalus troupe from Space Cowboys. (The Mercury Project was released only three weeks after Space Cowboys, no doubt intending to capitalise on some of the film’s publicity). The plot has also thrown a few sprinkles of 1980s teen films like The Manhattan Project (1986) and Spacecamp (1986) into the mix as well. There are also a surprising number of similarities between The Mercury Project and the subsequent The Astronaut Farmer (2006).

That said, The Mercury Project has a premise that is extremely hard, if not impossible, to swallow. One was prepared to at least extend to the film the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept the basic idea of a classroom of teenagers restoring a working version of a Mercury rocket. Although this comes with rather laughable and clunky lines like where Ryan Merriman and Robert Wagner size up the farm: “We’ll build a gantry over there. And put Mission Control in the shed.” For me, The Mercury Project collapsed at the point that the plot requires first that NASA suddenly require the commandeering of the rocket as the only spaceworthy vehicle in order to save the space shuttle mission; then that (in a plot element borrowed from Space Cowboys) Robert Wagner’s aging astronaut be the only one able to fly the mission; and the even more improbable twist that Wagner bows out at the last minute and hands the flying of the mission over to teenager Ryan Merriman and that NASA sit back and allow an unskilled teenage kid to fly the rocket into orbit.

The rest of The Mercury Project is bland. It takes all its’ believe-in-the-dream and the flag-saluting nobility of the endeavour of the Space Mission far too seriously. Quite clearly, director/writer Christopher Bremble has made The Mercury Project with a great awe and reverence for NASA and the US Space Mission – several former astronauts and current mission controllers make appearances as themselves throughout. The special effects are competently cut-rate and one should at least commend Bremble for paying a reasonable degree of attention to scientific accuracy during the scenes of the shuttle and rocket in orbit.

All of director Christopher Bremble’s films so far have shown an interest in matters NASA and Space Mission related but have all been ruined by cheap and impoverished budgets. Bremble has also written the script for Fallout (1998) about the hijacking of a space station for use as a missile platform and subsequently directed Deep Rescue (2005) wherein a space shuttle crashes and sinks to the ocean floor with its crew aboard.


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