Review: ‘Space: Above and Beyond’

It takes nearly two hours of tiresome setup to get there, but "Space: Above and Beyond" may be on to a winning formula -- a fighter-pilot drama set in space.

It takes nearly two hours of tiresome setup to get there, but “Space: Above and Beyond” may be on to a winning formula — a fighter-pilot drama set in space.

Filmed in Queensland, Australia, and at Warner Roadshow Movie World Studios by 20th Century Fox Television and Hard Eight Pictures Inc. in association with Village Roadshow Pictures. Executive producers, Glen Morgan, James Wong; co-executive producer, Stephen Zito; supervising producer, Tom Towler; producer, Michael Lake; co-producer, Herb Adelman; line producer, Howard Grigsby; director , David Nutter; writers-creators, Morgan, Wong; The characters are pretty flat and somewhat cliched, and the cast of unfamiliar faces breathes little life into the roles, but with lots of slam-bang hardware and effects (funded by a generous production budget, reportedly in the $ 1.5 million-$ 2 million range per episode), Fox’s target audience may cheerfully go along for the ride.

The two-hour pilot presents its share of hurdles, though. First viewers meet a colony on a distant planet and see them attacked and massacred, presumably by hostile aliens. Eventually there are the boot-camp experiences of the ultimate stars of “Above and Beyond,” and we’re still a couple more minor missions away from the space battle that highlights the show.

Such a lengthy setup would have made for a smoother ride had there been deeper, more original characters and a more credible future world to explore, but as it is, viewers may end up wishing “Above and Beyond” had skipped the scenic route and taken them directly to the climactic battle scenes.

Of course, viewers will ultimately have to care about the characters in the cockpits to really care about the space battles, so characterization is where the attention must remain.

The crew includes Nathan West (Morgan Weisser), who’s improbably separated from his true love and must get out to space if he’s to have any hope of a reunion; Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke), physically and psychologically scarred from an earlier war that left her orphaned; Vanessa Damphousse (Lanei Chapman), who’s trying to “find herself”; Paul Wang (Joel de La Fuente), who hates getting yelled at (which makes enlistment in the Marine Corps a rather questionable career move); and Cooper Hawkes (Rodney Rowland) a bad-boy member of this era’s most picked-upon minor-ity, the artificially produced, parent-less “in-vitroes.”

Rowland and Cloke handle their roles fairly well, but most of the cast flounders somewhat, with director David Nutter failing to elicit the kind of substance and emotional authenticity that would have helped viewers believe these attractive actors are experiencing some of the improbable events of the Glen Morgan-James Wong script (such as being sent on a leaderless wartime mission while still in training).

To the rescue come visual effects producer Tim McHugh and supervisor Glenn Campbell, who give “Above and Beyond’s” pivotal space scenes a sharp theatrical look. Planet-bound action is usually too choppy and confusing to help nearly as much.

Bernard Hides’ production design and Sally Grigsby’s costumes generally capture a credible mix of the familiar and the futuristic to help viewers accept and enjoy this “Top Gun”-in-space concept, though the 20th-century-looking touches could be toned down a bit. Shirley Walker’s music enhances the action at times but could use a few more flourishes. Other tech credits are generally solid.

Space: Above and Beyond

Production

Fox, Sun. Sept. 24, 7 p.m.

Crew

Camera, David Eggby; editor, Ron Spang; production designer, Bernard Hides; art director, Virginia Beinham; visual effects producer, Tim McHugh; visual effects supervisor, Glenn Campbell; sound, Paul Clark; music, Shirley Walker. 2 HOURS.

With

Cast: Morgan Weisser, Kristen Cloke, Rodney Rowland, Lanei Chapman, Joel de la Fuente, James Morrison, R. Lee Ermey, Bill Hunter, Colin Friels, Amanda Douge , Peter Kent, Theresa Wong, Anja Coleby, Darrin Klimek, Chris Kirby, Robert Coleby, Alan Dale, Michael Edward-Stevens.
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