APPROACHING THE UNKNOWN
It would be safe to say that without the huge success of Ridley Scotts The Martian (2015), we would not have Approaching the Unknown. Were not quite in the same league as The Asylum and its mockbusters here, nevertheless Approaching the Unknown feels like The Martian made on a low-budget. The two plots are essentially similar that of a lone astronaut trapped on Mars (or at least heading towards it here) and trying to survive with his science skills following a mission disaster. Approaching the Unknown cuts down on the scale of The Martian where The Martian had scenes taking place on Mars with cuts back to Mission Control and the rescue mission, almost the whole of the drama here takes place aboard the confined set of the ship. Indeed, almost all of the drama is played out by a single actor (Mark Strong), while the handful of other actors present only react with him as images on a video screen.
That aside, Approaching the Unknown is not an uninteresting film. The film doesnt have the budget to call on the major effects houses but does perfectly well with what it has the effects studios chosen certainly dont let the side down in this department. This is much more of a kitchen sink space mission film. Imagine if you like that The Martian had stayed with Matt Damon in his survival shelter and focused less on his attempts at survival and communication and more on his state of mental health, watching as his hopes slowly decayed. This is more a film about psychology and isolation than it is about engineering ingenuity.
Mark Elijah Rosenberg has researched his science and the film bristles with a sense of verisimilitude. The main problem of plausibility I have is a logistical one the idea that NASA would send two one-man missions to make the Mars Landing. Firstly, the idea of two rockets is ridiculously more wasteful of cost and resources. Secondly, sending one person on such a far-reaching mission without any back-up on board creates enormous stress and workload for the single astronaut all the Moon Landings, for instance, have been multi-person for the simple fact that there is back-up if one person is asleep or out of action. Of course, if it had been a two-person mission, the story Approaching the Unknown tells would have been a radically different one. This is a case where the film has let the story it wants to tell get in the way of credibility.
Mark Elijah Rosenberg subsequently went on to direct the six-part National Geographic speculative documentary series Approaching the Unknown (2017), positing ideas about the future and evolution of humanity and technology.