First, to the two nitwits on here who posted single-star comments, I have to say four words: Stick with your tripe. Not every science fiction movie aspires to be STAR WARS, guys. OK? Not every movie involving space travel and astronauts will have Han Solo, huge lumbering highly detailed space ship model effects and Burger King french fry cartons plastered with the faces of your lovable Ewoks. Thanks for being spoiled brats when it comes to what entertainment you choose to watch, this movie was above your brainwaves, and it owned you.
I always wanted to be an astronaut. The opening 30 minutes or so of this film are a mesmerizing portrait of the workings inside of Apollo era spacecraft. Realistic looking sets, costumes, banal technical dialog and the anticipation of returning to Earth after a five year mission to Jupiter and back. We didn't have hyperdrive in 1972 or so when the science of this movie was being developed. Come to think of it we still don't have hyperdrive, warp nacelles, dilithium crystals or Hiesenberg Compensators. Faulting this movie for rooting itself in the science of it's age is like complaining about cowboys in a Western for riding horses instead of just getting a Humvee.
This film is daring, experimental, and alarmingly realistic. After seeing it I recall vividly where I first encountered the formula of astronauts returning home to an Earth devastated by a nuclear war: DEF-CON 4, a tasteless, tacky, exploitation hell of a Reagan era cold war paranoia movie that quite obviously plundered OPERATION GANYMED for it's source material. Where that film devolves into a geek show by the time we are shown nuclear survivors carving fresh slices of astronaut leg over an open fire, this movie maintains a grim, prosaic, nightmarish quality that is all the more potent for not going overboard.
Make no mistake this is a LOW, low budget film, dwarfed even by the amount of money wasted on DEF-CON 4 let alone the LucasSpielberg epics of it's time (1978) that only a fool would compare this too. The ending is shatteringly ambiguous, perhaps cut short on the 93 minute version I saw but all the more effective by not showing us how it all turned out. Five astronauts return from a five year mission to boldly go where no man has still yet to go, and find that humanity has unforgivably extinguished itself in a nuclear holocaust that is never really explained. Instead of being greeted by CNN, cheering masses and adoring Hollywood celebrities they find decay, fallout poisoning, madness, death, and worse. It's like DESERT COMMANDOS crossed with THE ROAD WARRIOR, with even the former movie's Horst Frank in another standout role as a mission commander who refuses to give in to hysteria even when his face starts to blister & peel with radiation burns. Nobody ever said science fiction HAS to be pretty or fun to work, here is a film that proves it.
So pardon my urge to wish to take a tire iron to the numbskulls who dare mock this movie, watching it hoping to see something else than what is here. The paucity of human kind is shown in our willingness to make fools of ourselves, squander that which we have and then childishly stamp our feet and demand something more. Here is a film that dares to disappoint the thick skulled morons who thought they were getting a happy fantasy of a boy riding a rocket when choosing it and ignoring what the story had to offer. For that alone it earns not just my respect or admiration, but outright awe. Try it on a double bill with the equally frightening, weird & ambiguous A BOY AND HIS DOG.
Review by Steve Nyland from the Internet Movie Database.