There is not a better genre out there to apply the moniker of ‘lo-fi’ than to science fiction. Stemming from low fidelity, originally referring to music recorded on an extremely limited budget, it is gaining traction in the cinematic sense thanks to the ease of creating and distributing the work. A video camera will only set you back a few hundred dollars, if that, presuming you’re okay with grainy images. A decent mic is roughly the same and tripods go for as little as $20. Then, of course, there are a number of free (or very cheap) editing software choices out there, and, with the advent and popularity of YouTube and Vimeo getting a production seen can be easy; so long as making money isn’t a huge deal. Monetary success might come eventually, but there is no guarantee if you follow this model of filmmaking. Cory McAbee’s The American Astronaut is the premier example of this kind of sci-fi. While Sam The Spaceman doesn’t quite hit that same level of artistic creativity, it does come close.
Sam The Spaceman is about the titular young adult (Sam Sapirstein) as he wanders driftless, feeling trapped by the mundane existence expected of him. Ever since he can remember he has felt like a stranger to his surroundings as if he is meant to be somewhere else, all the time. Not to say that he hasn’t made any friends, as Alex (Alex Russet) and he are quite close. After misinterpreting the signals of his ex at a party one night, Sam leaves early. He walks the pedestrian bridge by an oddly shaped office building right when green lasers shoot out of it. As he gapes at the sight, something even more wondrous hovers into view. A spaceship! It appears to be following the green lights. Sam can hardly believe his eyes and wakes up in a daze. He tells his father Victor (Victor Sapirstein) and Alex about this event, and the next night the two friends investigate. They witness some odd things and decide to enlist an expert. This leads them to the head of the local U.F.O. Society, Gary (Derrick M. Clarke), who knows Alex a bit from school. Did they share a hallucination? Can the trio make contact? Will this incident wake Sam out from his constant haze?
“…walks the pedestrian bridge by an oddly shaped office building right when green lasers shoot out of it…”
The screenplay, by star Sam Sapirstein, is simple in its set up but that modesty proves charming. The way the movie sets up Sam’s (the character, not the actor) alienation from the world around him in just a few lines of dialogue is effective. Also impressive is the rich backstory given to Victor. When he divulges the reason that he cultivated a sense of awe and wonder in his son, there is genuine love and sentiment there. However, some of the humor is misplaced, and several gags go on too long. Sam and Alex find a tub of odd-looking green goop. It smells delicious, so they eat a few spoonfuls. This causes Alex to get sick and need to desperately use the restroom. Once finished, a glowing poo creature emerges and shoots little green projectiles at him. Then Alex walks downstairs and states that was the “…worst poopy I’ve ever had in my life.” Yes, he seriously uses the word poopy. No, he does not mention the odd creature, so it was a hallucination? Maybe. Was it senseless and awkward? Entirely.
Alex Russek’s direction is simple but competent. An early montage showcases Sam’s dreary life most effectively. When Sam first sees the light, there’s a cut to the building, then a close-up of his face, then a wide shot featuring both the human and strange lasers. It builds the strangeness of the event and the intrigue Sam feels quite well. Russek’s best quality is how he incorporates the special effects.
“The aliens, whether they’re real or imagined, look pretty original…”
The effects were created and designed by Russek and Sapirstein, so clearly these two were passionate about Sam The Spaceman. The aliens, whether they’re real or imagined, look pretty original, especially with the way they’re intentionally overlit. The spacecraft is orb shaped with cylinders going through the sides. It look handcrafted and move a bit jerky at times, but that is the charm. The homemade vibe adds to the quaint, pleasant nature that characterizes everything in the film.
Sam Sapirstein is likable and sells his character’s arc quite well. Russet tends to indulge in over the top antics which can be grating. But when he takes a step back and reacts in a more believable way, such as his final scene with Sam, he is more than capable. The elder Sapirstein, Victor, is a very engaging presence with great comedic timing. Clarke gives the most nuanced performance as the determined Gary. He reacts to their story favorably but views the friends as lackadaisical good-for-nothings. As the story continues, their friendship grows, and Clarke makes this seem natural.
Sam The Spaceman features a few scenes of humor that aren’t very funny, and some of the one-liners don’t work. But the performances are engaging, if odd, the plot is original, and the effects are delightful, creatively designed, and clearly made with love.
Sam The Spaceman (2016) Directed by Alex Russet. Written by Sam Sapirstein. Starring Alex Russet, Sam Sapirstein, Victor Sapirstein, Derrick M. Clarke, Norman Allen.
8 out of 10