Netlfix have just announced $17 billion in content spending in 2021; that’s a phenomenal annual outlay for a company which only seems to have one genuine four-quadrant show (Stranger Things) to show for it. Goodness knows where the rest of that money goes, but in terms of creating returnable, popular shows or franchises, there’s little evidence of Netflix gaining a permanent foothold beyond junky crime shows and sexy soaps for virus-trapped audiences. Stowaway is an acquisition from Sony, and typifies the flea-market, shop-worn feel of many of the streamer’s choices; despite a decent concept and a great cast, the punchline is somewhat muted, or rather more directly put, a massive steaming pile of disappointment.
I must have missed the memo that explained that all future space exploration would be vertical; as with Ad Astra, tall, towering gantries seem to be the main innovation over ancient 1950’s space rescue films. Marina Barnett (Toni Collette) leads a small crew on a two-year mission to Mars, with medical officer Zoe (Anna Kendrick) on her team. The real pay-load is acclaimed and respected researcher David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) who has got big plans for some algae he’s been cultivating, but things are thrown into chaos when an unexpected stow-away is found. Michael Adams (Sharneir Anderson) wasn’t on the manifest, and his presence poses a problem; there’s not enough oxygen for four people, and one of them will have to go unless the gang can put some kind of plan in place.
Older viewers may think back to the Kobayashi Maru test on Star Trek, or even the Titanic’s simple equation ‘too many people and not enough boats’; director Joe Penna’s previous film Arctic also provides a clue where we’re going. There’s no monsters and aliens here, just a predicament that recalls Robert Altman’s Marooned or even 2001, but minus the trippiness. Instead, the crew have to figure out how to save themselves, with lots of airlocks, ladders, tethers and other post-Gravity details to provide a constant stream of obstacles to overcome.
It always seems to be a massive surprise to space-capsule crew that they might actually have to suit up and go outside to fix something; in Stowaway, everything seems to be in a constant state of repair. Why or how the stowaway might have occurred is never explored, and that’s a bummer here; by seeking content that’s simple enough to work in different language and cultures, Netflix have opted for something so bland it doesn’t even qualify as vanilla. Despite a personable cast and some reasonably gripping sequences, Stowaway falls rather flat. 21 billion dollars must buy something more memorable that this proficient but deeply frustrating space-opera.