The Astronaut's Wife (1999)


(director/writer: Rand Ravich; cinematographer: Allen Daviau; editors: Steve Mirkovich/Tim Alverson; cast: Johnny Depp (Spencer Armacost), Charlize Theron (Jillian Armacost), Joe Morton (Sherman Reese), Clea DuVall (Nan), Nick Cassavetes (Alex Streck), Blair Brown (Shelly McLaren), Tom Noonan (Jackson McLaren), Samantha Eggar (Doctor), Donna Murphy (Natalie Streck); Runtime: 109; New Line/Mad Chance; 1999)


“A too obvious derivative supernatural thriller…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A too obvious derivative supernatural thriller, most imitative of “Rosemary’s Baby” but without the same fresh intensity and without a credible script. What it had going for it, was a sleek look (the cinematography was simply out of this world) and is directed by Rand Ravich in his initial film with a workmanlike craftsmanship.

Spencer Armacost (Depp) and Jillian Armacost (Theron) are madly in love with each other. They live in Florida near the space center, where he is an astronaut commander at NASA and she is an elementary school teacher. On a routine orbital mission he and Captain Streck (Nick) are trapped in space outside the space shuttle and lose contact for two minutes, experiencing pitch black darkness, silence, an explosion, and something so strange that the men refuse to talk about it. It will turn out to be a noise that humans can’t hear, and that sound is a way for aliens to travel undetected from outer space by hiding in the transmission signal while traveling at the speed of light (like a thought).

In this arty mystery which doesn’t have too much mystery if you watched a few of these supernatural films before, Spencer and Streck come back different men from what they were before they experienced the two minutes of mystery. Streck will become sexually aggressive and act very strange and he will suddenly die from a stroke, while his wife (Clea) will become pregnant with twins and commit suicide. The gentle Spencer is also a different man as he has rough sex with his wife, while he also impregnates her with twins. He will quit his NASA job and move to New York City to become a top executive in charge of building a fighter plane. What is strange about this is that he hates NYC and loved his current job, telling his wife he will always be a pilot.

A crazed NASA official (Morton) risks his life to warn Jillian about the twins. He was terminated when he presented his theories to his NASA bosses that there was an alien in the space craft when the men experienced their two minute blackout and that the astronauts returning are not the same men. When he clears up the film’s mystery about three-quarters of the way into the film, the film loses its suspenseful impact.

The film ends on a banal note — having established no point of view and having nothing to say about space travel. It just becomes a matter of how Jillian will defend herself against her husband, someone who is really not her husband. The other question is will her baby be an alien, as she is not absolutely sure if she became pregnant before or after the doomed mission.