One look at that theatrical one-sheet combined with that title: you know you’re getting a space comedy that owes its clever cues to John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974).
Sure, we could mention the quicky-came-and-quickly-forgotten Space Station 76 (2014), itself a retro-parody of ’70s science fiction television series that used Gerry Anderson’s UFO and Space: 1999 for all of its costume, set and model cues. As result of that Liv Tyler-starrer (in spite of her presence) resembling those British-made, Century 21 Television/ITC Entertainment imports-to-U.S. television, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of Space Station 76 . . . and it was a huge disappointment (Liv Tyler f-ups another movie, for me) ejected from my below-the-waistline, rear celluloid airlock. Remember how Spaceballs was hilarious with its on-the-sleeve humor, while the The Ice Pirates certainly looked better but was “meh” in a post-Star Wars world? Remember how Galaxina was nerf herder-scuffy and Spaced Out (aka Outer Touch) sucked dianoga tentacles?
Well, for me: Space Milkshake spins to the Spaceballs side of the vortex.
Yes, Space Milkshake fluxes my capacitors over the puerile, dead-in-space-before-it-even-hit-the-big-screen Leslie Nielsen-starring Alien parody Naked Space (1983), as well as his other space “comedy,” 2001: A Space Travesty (2000). Don’t even get me started on Eddie Murphy’s The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002) — a movie so painful that Sam or myself (or any B&S guest writer) wanted to cover that $120 million dollar turd for our “Box Office Failures” week of films (and it is noted as the #1 biggest of bombs). Amid those flurry of “space comedies,” however, I enjoyed — to the chagrin of many — Mike Hodges’s Morons from Outer Space, so what do I know?
Okay, back to Space Milkshake.
While not as deadpan in its its funny-dry humor as Dark Star and not as slapstick as a Mel Brooks galactic joint, Space Milkshake is more aware of its ancestors and goes for the “fan humor” of the genre. So, think Shaun of the Dead (2004) set on a space station in terms of humor. When it comes to the sets, reflect back to your days of watching Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf on public television (in the States). If you’re a fan of Blake’s 7 or the Tom Baker-era of Dr. Who, you’re in the sector of space you need to be.
Owning up to Dark Star: one of the off-screen characters referenced is named Professor Gary Pinback: after Sergeant Pinback from Dark Star. As with the Carpenter progenitor: the crew deals with the boredom of space and hygiene issues. They play board games. However, unlike Dark Star: there’s two females on board, so there’s a comical, sexual innuendo component. In the second half, as in Dark Star, the tedium breaks when the “monster” appears: Dark Star had a beach ball with claws. Here, we have a mutated-enlarged rubber duck on a rampage. In between, the crew deals with the fact that all life on Earth has ended — and there’s that pesky time flux that zips them between various dimensions and timelines.
As with the Nostromo before them (and Buck Henry’s of Get Smart! fame creating the garbage-hauling Quark starring Richard Benjamin in 1977): we have four blue collar astronauts employed on a Sanitation Station responsible for collecting space garbage from Earth orbit.
Jimmy (Robin Dunne) is the station’s newly-arrived, socially awkward computer technician. He’s welcomed by a dickish Captain Anton (Billy Boyd) who’s just broken up with his fellow crew member, the statuesque beauty queen Valentia (Amanda Tapping). The other female of the crew, the Ripleyesque Tilda, quickly becomes Jimmy’s love jones.
The ludicrous plot twists ensue as Anton and Valentia discover a glowing trinket from the salvage of an abandoned space shuttle. The “Time Cube,” accidentally activated, the station loses all contact with Earth as Tilda begins acting oddly — and discovered to be an android. Then a rubber duck — identical to the one given to Valentina by her ex-lover, Professor Gary Pinback — slams into ship. Brought on board by Valentina, it grows (and has George Takei’s voice). It is soon learned that Pinback, via the duck, is possessed by the galactic evil responsible for the “Time Cube” and is bent on universal conquest.
Yes. The above paragraph about mutant tub toys voiced by a Star Trek alumnus, time cubes, and androids is real. I did, in fact, write it.
It is reported this cost $300,000 to make — and this film looks great for a film made for less than a half million dollars; it certainly stands tall against its raison d’etre, Alien (1979), which cost $11 million and came to clear over $100 million during its initial box office. At its reported price, I see no reason why Space Milkshake didn’t — at the very least — break even on its production costs through cable buys and streaming rentals (it never saw a theatrical or hard media release). Again, it’s a fine film that looks great; however, make no mistake that the proceedings in Space Milkshake are still more Full Moon (the monster, seen above, takes me back to the alien mayhem in Bad Channels) than 20th Century Fox: but that’s not a bad thing, for Full Moon (and its previous incarnation as Empire Pictures) had their moments (Robot Jox).
The film had a trouble production that, according to Playback Magazine, began in the winter of 2011. The production was stymied — according to the Hollywood Reporter — by the provincial government of Saskatchewan, where the film was shot, closing out their refundable tax credits program: a tax credit that “funds” productions due to films contributing to the local economy through jobs and crew members frequenting area businesses.
Never intended for a theatrical release in its homeland, Space Milkshake premiered on the Canadian television channels The Movie Network (now known as Crave) in February 2013, then in March on Movie Central (defunct; 2016). Never picked up for U.S. cable distribution (Why, not Syfy? It had Amanda Tapping from Stargate, which you rerun.), Space Milkshake made the U.S. film festival rounds in 2013, in addition to the festival circuits in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. It began appearing on streaming platforms outside of Canada in 2015.
Armen Evrensel effectively wrangles all of the touchstone plot elements of the genre, along with cheap, but well-made sets and costumes (think 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars) and schlocky, but better than ’70s British sci-fi series special effects. The cast is a shaken to perfect chemistry ensemble fronted by the instantly recognizable and perpetually likeable Robin Dunne (TV-familiar “Will Zimmerman” from Sanctuary and a few Lifetime Christmas flicks), along with Billy Boyd (yes, “Pippin” from Lord of the Rings), Kristen Kreuk (“Lana Lang” from TV’s Superman spinoff, Smallville), and Amanda Tapping (the Stargate TV series-verse). Oh, please tell us you do not need us to tell you who George Takei is.
Writer and director Armen Evrensel made his feature film screenwriting debut with the Canadian-produced romantic-drama The Zero Sum (2009), an inventive, unique tale about a mugger (a great turn by Scottish actor Ewen Bremner; yes “Spud” from Trainspotting) who falls in love with one of his victims. While Space Milkshake served as his second feature screenplay and his directorial debut, Evrensel hasn’t made another film, since, and since moved into television in other disciplines. That’s a shame because his wacky take — across the same comedic stars explored in the earlier frames of Galaxy Quest (1999) — is infectiously nuttier than that Tim Allen annoyance. Space Milkshake should have been a harbinger for more feature projects.
You can enjoy Space Milkshake as a VOD on You Tube Movies or as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi. Amazon no longer offers it as a stream, but if you want to avoid the ads and prefer not to use You Tube, it is still available on Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu. Be wary of those DVD-r, as this has never been official issued to DVD. You can sample the trailer on You Tube.
Films like Space Milkshake and the short-lived U.S. television series Quark joke about “junk in space,” but the reality is that it’s a very real problem. B&S About Movies frequent reader and fellow WordPress’er Peter Adler breaks it down with his “Garbage In Space” post — which turns you on to the 360-degree tracking map, Stuff In Space. See? Fascinating stuff and not just junk films are to be had at B&S.
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About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies (links to a truncated teaser-listing of his reviews).