I have found myself thinking about what makes a bad film, and how those films manage to get made. In truth, a lack of talent seems the least likely of explanations. Considering the levels of vetting of each creative mind that exists in the journey to making a studio funded feature film, it seems nearly impossible a talentless hack could find their way into a legitimately sourced film. Filmmaking is analogous to the NBA, in the sense that the worst player in the “league” is exponentially better than your average enthusiast. How does an unquestionably bad film get made then? Market research? Greed? Laziness? While the answer of why is not easy to answer, it is easy to spot those bad films. And Stranded, the latest from writer/director Roger Christian(yes, Battlefield Earth Roger Christian), is a just plain bad movie.
It begins with catastrophe, literally. A group of astronauts, or scientists, or something (don’t worry about what/who they are, the movie doesn’t) who are living on the moon are awoken by spore-infected rocks plummeting into their space station. Nary a moment given to any character exposition or conversations, no time at the already bloated eighty-seven minute running time, just explosions and such.
What follows are plot points and visuals ripped from several prior movies with the added bonus of 100% expository dialogue and general awkwardness. It’s as if a group of prepubescents decided to spend their afternoon reenacting a bit of Alien, a bit of The Thing, with a tiny bit of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Every line is so on-the-nose and expository that one only hopes that the cast and crew showed up and improvised the entire film, each line an indicator to the others about the upcoming plot progression. If this script was prepared this way, it causes the return to the question above. How does this happen? How does this get made? Take this example of actual dialogue from Stranded:
“You have what appears to be a massively accelerated pregnancy.”
“Six months pregnant in twenty-four hours? Give me a break!”
And this was lifted from one of the less expository, more human moments of the film. And so, again, how does this happen? It seems unlikely that this movie was intended as a shockingly bad, straight to video release. It could even be argued that Stranded was meant to be this bad, as some sort of uber-parody entry of these types of films. If this is the case, though, it is perhaps an even bigger failure. With Christian Slater’s(oh yeah Christian Slater is in this) trademarked scowl and earnest line-reading it is clear he wasn’t made aware of the film’s inherent badness. He’s giving it all he’s got in the name of paying his mortgage. The same could be said about the entire cast, there is no question they’re all trying here. They’re just flailing in a sea of cinematic terribleness.
So does it all lay at the feet of Roger Christian? Is he responsible for the train-wreck that is Stranded? While he can’t be pardoned completely of the offenses on screen, it is hard to believe this thing is entirely one person’s fault. More likely, Stranded was probably the result of an algorithm of awful. A perfect storm of several small parts, producers, script readers, investors, etc., creating a hurricane of awkward.