THE MERCURY PROJECT
ROCKETS RED GLARE
The Mercury Project feels like someone had borrowed a substantial part of the plot from the then recent October Sky (1998) about amateur rocketry and thrown it in with a good few dashes of the same years Clint Eastwood film Space Cowboys (2000) about aging NASA astronauts from the heyday of the Space Program going back into orbit for one last mission indeed, Robert Wagners aging Mercury astronaut here could easily have been a fifth member of the Project Daedalus troupe from Space Cowboys. (The Mercury Project was released only three weeks after Space Cowboys, no doubt intending to capitalise on some of the films publicity). The plot has also thrown a few sprinkles of 1980s teen films like The Manhattan Project (1986) and Spacecamp (1986) into the mix as well. There are also a surprising number of similarities between The Mercury Project and the subsequent The Astronaut Farmer (2006).
That said, The Mercury Project has a premise that is extremely hard, if not impossible, to swallow. One was prepared to at least extend to the film the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept the basic idea of a classroom of teenagers restoring a working version of a Mercury rocket. Although this comes with rather laughable and clunky lines like where Ryan Merriman and Robert Wagner size up the farm: Well build a gantry over there. And put Mission Control in the shed. For me, The Mercury Project collapsed at the point that the plot requires first that NASA suddenly require the commandeering of the rocket as the only spaceworthy vehicle in order to save the space shuttle mission; then that (in a plot element borrowed from Space Cowboys) Robert Wagners aging astronaut be the only one able to fly the mission; and the even more improbable twist that Wagner bows out at the last minute and hands the flying of the mission over to teenager Ryan Merriman and that NASA sit back and allow an unskilled teenage kid to fly the rocket into orbit.
The rest of The Mercury Project is bland. It takes all its believe-in-the-dream and the flag-saluting nobility of the endeavour of the Space Mission far too seriously. Quite clearly, director/writer Christopher Bremble has made The Mercury Project with a great awe and reverence for NASA and the US Space Mission several former astronauts and current mission controllers make appearances as themselves throughout. The special effects are competently cut-rate and one should at least commend Bremble for paying a reasonable degree of attention to scientific accuracy during the scenes of the shuttle and rocket in orbit.
All of director Christopher Brembles films so far have shown an interest in matters NASA and Space Mission related but have all been ruined by cheap and impoverished budgets. Bremble has also written the script for Fallout (1998) about the hijacking of a space station for use as a missile platform and subsequently directed Deep Rescue (2005) wherein a space shuttle crashes and sinks to the ocean floor with its crew aboard.