Three American astronauts (played by Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman, and James Franciscus) are returning to Earth after serving on an experimental space station when the engine to their spacecraft fails. Now stuck in orbit around the Earth, they only have two days before they run out of oxygen. While flight commander Crenna tries to keep everyone calm and make sure that all the proper procedures are followed, Gene Hackman yells at NASA and demands to be rescued.
Down on Earth, the head of NASA (Gregory Peck) says that there’s nothing that can be done. There’s no way to get a rescue mission set up quickly enough to save the lives of the astronauts. Both the President and David Janssen disagree with him. Janssen demands to be sent into space immediately, regardless of the dangers, so that he can bring America’s astronauts home.
Marooned is a painfully slow movie that went into production at the height of the space race and which was released just a few weeks before the first successful moon mission. Because it was made at a time when there were still many who claimed that NASA was a waste of money, the movie goes out of its way to explain that, even though the astronauts are probably going to die in space, NASA is in no way to blame. Richard Crenna absolves NASA of blame after being told that a rescue mission isn’t feasible. Gregory Peck holds a press conference, where he gives a lengthy speech about why space exploration is still important. The movie is very detailed in showing that NASA is staffed by personality-free professionals, which might have boosted confidence in NASA but which also leads to a dull story. You’ll notice that I haven’t referred to anyone in this film by the names of their characters. That’s because their names don’t matter because, other than Gene Hackman and David Janssen, none of them is really distinguished by any sort of identifiable personality. Hackman chews the scenery while Janssen plays another surly character who seems like he has a permanent hangover. I wouldn’t trust Janssen to pilot a spaceship.
Marooned won an Oscar for its Special Effects, which were probably impressive back in 1969 but which are dull by modern standards. Winning that Oscar meant that Marooned would eventually earn the distinction of being the only Oscar winner to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. On MST 3K, it aired under the title Space Travelers, which is a perfectly generic name for a perfectly generic film.