tue 07/12/2021

Away, Netflix review - pioneering voyage to Mars descends into astrosoap | reviews, news & interviews

Away, Netflix review - pioneering voyage to Mars descends into astrosoap

Away, Netflix review - pioneering voyage to Mars descends into astrosoap

Ambitious multinational space mission is more melodrama than sci-fi

Across the universe: the crew of Atlas assemble

Could you cope with spending three years away from your family and loved ones while you went on the first crewed mission to Mars? This is the question that underpins Away, Netflix’s new space exploration drama.

Certainly it’s a daunting ask, but if you were a career astronaut surely it’s something you’d have faced up to long before, even if it was only at some point during the long and arduous training programme that would precede a mission like this. However, for mission commander Emma Green (Hilary Swank) and her four companions, life on board their ship Atlas is full of awkward surprises, since somebody seems to have been a bit frugal with the due diligence.

Even on the preliminary leg of the journey, as they head for a stopover on the Moon, the vessel is almost destroyed by an explosion, but nobody seems too bothered that this might jeopardise the mission. Then veteran Russian astronaut Popov (Mark Ivanir), by far the most  engaging character in a universe of blandness, decides that Emma panicked during the emergency, thus prompting him to lose faith in her leadership. Chinese astronaut Dr Lu Wang – the crew is a living billboard for diversity and inclusivity – agrees with Popov, but Indian crewman and medic Dr Ram Arya (Ray Panthaki) stands four-square behind skipper Emma. In-flight botanist Kwesi (Ato Essandoh), who always says a prayer in times of stress, pours oil on these volatile waters, but if there’s near-mutiny barely before they’ve started, you suspect there’s plenty of trouble ahead.

As indeed there is, though despite the cosmic window dressing, Away is really a soapy melodrama with a flimsy sci-fi underpinning, since the bulk of the running time is taken up with the characters’ back stories and the lives of the families back on earth. True, there are a few dramatic set-pieces as Atlas makes its trek across the Solar System. For instance, Emma undertakes a spectacularly irresponsible space walk to fix a malfunctioning solar panel, and has a minor nervous breakdown when she can’t reconcile motherhood with deep-space exile. Although all these guys would surely have been through round-the-clock medical screening, Popov starts going blind and Dr Ram is stricken by the Epstein-Barr virus. And when they try to repair the faulty water filtration system, the crew drill a hole through the hull by mistake. Through all this, the voyagers are able to enjoy phone calls and video chats with their earthly compatriots with no time lag whatsoever, a truly miraculous achievement.

Too often though, the narrative rotates doggedly between Emma’s husband Matt (a terrifyingly dull performance by Josh Charles) as he struggles against the brain disorder CCM while still trying to supervise the Atlas mission, the by-the-numbers teenage angst of their daughter Alexis (Talitha Eliana Bateman, pictured above with Charles), and the various personal trials and triumphs that have brought the Atlas crew to where they are today. Every now and again we get an unsubtle shove in the ribs from the inclusion of a classic rock track like Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" or the Grateful Dead's "Ship of Fools" (from their From the Mars Hotel album). "Space Oddity", more like it.

'Away' is really a soapy melodrama with a flimsy sci-fi underpinning


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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