Sci Fi TV Genre Gems: Forgotten magic and hidden treasures from the worlds of sci fi TV
What Is It? This television movie aired on FOX in the early 90’s and drew the inspiration for its story from Alfred Hitchcock’s short story and movie Lifeboat. The majority of the action takes place on a lifepod that escapes from a space liner returning to Earth from Venus after the ship is destroyed by sabotage. Eight people make it onboard the poorly equipped space lifeboat which suffers damage after the destruction of the liner and they must figure out how to survive on limited rations until a rescue ship discovers them. And they must also contend with a murderer onboard who is trying to pick off the others one by one in order to prolong the chances for survival with the limited air and provisions available.
Aired: June 28, 1993
Cast: Jessica Tuck, Ron Silver, CCH Pounder, Robert Loggia, Adam Storke, Stan Shaw, Ed Gale, Kelli Williams
Written By: Jay Roach, Pen Densham (teleplay), Alfred Hitchcock, Harry Sylvester (short story)
Why It Stands Out: This claustrophobic sci fi tale channels the Alfred Hitchcock original but also delivers its own unique character-driven tale that presents a gripping drama of people trying to hang on in the face of overwhelming odds.
The Skinny: For those who still hate FOX for the cancellations of shows like Firefly,The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Almost Human, you should know that there was a time back in the late 80’s / early 90’s when they pretty much carried the torch for genre programming on the broadcast networks. They delivered the cult-favorite show Alien Nation in 1989 (which was cancelled only due to that network’s early financial struggles) and a few years later gave us the sci fi/western The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and an upstart little show known as The X-Files. And in the same year that the latter two shows debuted, FOX produced a couple of sleeper sci fi TV movies in 12:01 (watch for a future post on that one) and Lifepod.
Lifepod was the better of these two films (though they were both quite enjoyable) and it’s definitely a gem that sci fi fans should seek out. It borrowed from the classic Hitchcock story, but it has less of the moral dilemmas of that one as it builds its story more around paranoia, distrust, and the desperate decisions that people make in dire circumstances. The handful of survivors who make it on to the one lifepod that escapes from the ill-fated space liner all question how each other managed to arrive there, and when the further sabotage of the pod begins, the distrust kicks into high gear. The movie manages to establish the many potential motives of the characters without feeling contrived as we discover that several onboard have been touched by hard-line Earthcore’s efforts to quash the rebellion that has been brewing on Venus. And several of the seemingly unlikely coincidences that we notice early in the film are worked into the overall story and addressed with satisfying explanations by the time it wraps up.
As a character-driven story, it relies heavily on its actors to keep its momentum moving forward, especially when the action is limited to a few confined spaces. But the entire cast is up to the task as several up-and-coming talents as well as a few B-listers give a hundred percent to the production. Viewers watching this today will likely ask “where did I see that person before?”, and many of the cast members have extensive genre credits, though mostly in guest or co-starring roles. Jessica Tuck provides the cast with a strong female lead, and genre fans may know her from her stints on shows like Grimm, True Blood, and FlashForward. CCH Pounder (Warehouse 13, Millennium) also boards the ship as does Adam Storke (Prey, The Stand), and Robert Loggia (Independence Day, Wild Palms, and a million other guest-starring roles).
The movie relies on old-school model special effects (which I personally love) which it does a good job with for the most part and wisely uses judiciously. This film has mostly fallen off the radar since it first aired back in 1993, which is a bit of injustice as it is delivers a quite good sci fi tale that stands the test of time. I recommend checking this out, whether you are seeing it for the first time of revisiting it, Lifepod is a sleeper of a sci fi gem that is definitely worth your time.
Should It Be Rebooted? No. This movie did exactly what it set out to do and did it quite well. Sure, some of the special effects may not quite stand up to current production values, but this one is not about the sfx. It’s about throwing together a group of people in a desperate situation and using that scenario to observer the human condition. It accomplished that and a reboot would have little to add.
Interesting Fact: There was a 1981 movie also titled Lifepod which starred Joe Penny and Kristine DeBell and which appeared to have a very similar premise. The description from the VHS release on Amazon reads as follows: “A group of intergalactic travelers is forced to evacuate a luxury space liner when a mad computer sabotages the ship”. The movie seems to have fallen completely off the radar as its VHS release has long been out of print and it never received a DVD issue.
Where Can You Watch It? The DVD release of this film is out of print, but you can still find it from Amazon Sellers. It is also available for streaming on IMDb Freedive, and ad-supporting streaming service hosted by the IMDb site.