SFX Issue 6

November 1995

TV Review

Space Above And Beyond

Production company: Ten-Thirteen for Fox
Producer: Michael Lake
Executive Producers: Glen Morgan, James Wong
Director: David Nutter
Starring: Morgan Weisser, Kristen Cloke, Rodney Rowland

Space: Above and Beyond is an unashamed cross between Top Gun (in space) and a gritty Vietnam war film – an unpromising recipe, but one that works remarkably well. Now that we’ve seen the broadcast version, with the effects 100% complete, it’s clear that Space has the potential to grow into a distinctive, quality show. But it’s not there. Not yet.

Set in the next century, at a time when humans (well, Americans) are colonising the stars, things come to a head when it becomes clear that someone – or something – is out there already. And they clearly don’t want to share.

The two-hour pilot episode of Space: Above and Beyond introduces the set-up: It’s 2063, and our hero, Nathan West (Morgan Weisser), and his girlfriend are about to board a colony ship on its way to a star system called Tellus. When, at the last moment, West is told to get off the ship to make room for “In Vitro” replacements – humans grown in tanks – he vows to catch up with Kyla, who has to stay on board. To that end he joins the US Marine Corps, space division, and here the show begins to get into its stride, becoming a space age mix of An Officer and Gentleman and Full Metal Jacket , dominated by Jacket -star R Lee Ermey as the archetypal drill sergeant WHO… TELLS... THE… RECRUITS… HOW… WORTHLESS… THEY… ARE in his own subtle way.

In the Corps, West meets co-stars Shane Vansen, a girl whose parents were killed in the AI wars, and Cooper Hawkes, an In Vitro under court orders to join the Marines. But it’s only when Kyla’s ship is destroyed by aliens on arrival at Tellus – drawing Earth into war with a completely unknown adversary – that things really start to liven up.

As with most pilot episodes, a lot of Space: Above and Beyond ’s first outing is taken up with introducing the cast and situation, which causes things to drag in the first half. Hoary old cliché’s raise their heads – the bar-room confrontation between our rookie heroes and some big-headed elite fighter wing; the “I’ve just found some 20th century music. I think they called it rock ’n’ roll” scene – but generally it’s well-played by the young cast, and remains watchable throughout.

One strange aspect of Space is just how much like the modern world this 2063 looks. Many scenes which don’t feature spaceships could be right out of the likes of Platoon , on the principle that the world really hasn’t changed that much since 1927, so why should it be that different 68 years into the future either? Well, perhaps. Sometimes this ploy works; other times it just looks like cheating. The astronauts on the Tellus colony ship seem to be wearing motorcycle crash helmets, for instance, but the spacesuits worn by the gung-ho Marines on the surface of Mars look like they could be real futuristic hardware, and are very effective.

Indeed, a good deal of the show is patchy like this – some of the first CGI spaceships are poorly rendered, for instance, while many of the later effects shots are extremely well-executed, particularly the action sequences. Let’s hope things get more consistent in future episodes.

Now that the set-up is established and we’re down to normal length shows, it seems fair to expect that the pace will be stepped up a bit, which would help things a lot. Indeed, Space: Above and Beyond has the potential to become a classic show. And watch out for the stunning Ramones-driven battles scene in an asteroid field off Jupiter – it’s one of the best space battles I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a few, believe me.