In Netflix’s current run of middling-to-terrible original sci-fi movies, Orbiter 9 at least gets the prize for taking some of the biggest swings. At the 20-minute mark, the entire premise is thrown out the window and turned on its head. 40 minutes later, the nature of the lead character’s existence is completely redefined, and the somber ending somehow plays it both sinister and hopeful. Add in some clever futurisms, admirable production values for the minimal budget they must have had, and a compelling lead actress and you get an entirely watchable Spanish-language sci-fi romance.

That is as long as you don’t get tripped up about the romance part because Orbiter 9 eventually moves dangerously close to Passengers territory. There’s no Chris Pratt counterpart damning a Jennifer Lawrence counterpart and lying to her about it just because he was lonely, but there is…well, let’s just say there’s definitely a relationship begun under false pretenses.

The plot starts out like a gender-swapped Moon: a young woman, Helena (Clara Lago), lives alone in a space capsule and occasionally interacts with the kindly computer AI running everything. It’s a sad, lonely existence, but she makes the best of it, working out, watching old black & white movies, seeing to her hydroponic plants. As we learn from an old video she watches, her parents were originally meant to accompany her every step of the way on this mission to a faraway planet, but a technical glitch caused a shortage in the oxygen supply. In order for Helena to survive the lengthy mission they had to leave, but that was 3 years ago. As a result, she’s never actually met another human being other than her parents before.

Which is why she’s so nervous, anxious, and excited about an upcoming maintenance visit from an engineer. For science jargony reasons, this will be the first and last time anyone will stop by to make sure everything is working properly. Wouldn’t you know it, Alex (Álex González), the guy who makes the trip, is an irresistible brooder, and Helena falls for him.

There’s a definite YA romance feel to all of this. It’s as if someone mixed together Everything, Everything (the one about the girl with a rare genetic disease preventing her from ever going outside) and The Space Between Us (the one about the boy in the space station trying to have a romance with a girl down on Earth).

Then the twist happens and…

I’m not going to spoil it, at least not here [look to the bottom of the review for that]. I’ll simply say that where Orbiter 9 takes things surprised me, which fueled my interest for a while until I realized I wished it had just remained a gender-swapped Moon. Plus, once it became clear the film wasn’t going to address the somewhat problematic gender politics inherent to its premise my enthusiasm dropped considerably. The story would have actually been better served if the guy had been acting purely out of regret and ethical concern and not love. A charitable reading would argue he actually does and only falls in love after that. Even so, he could have come clean to her sooner, and the script could have definitely allowed her a little more outrage.

However, the world-building is remarkably effective, and the script sprinkles in one fascinating sci-fi idea after another on the periphery. For example, I absolutely loved the concept and visuals of an anonymous psychiatrist appearing to her patients as a holographic wolf! It’s enough to make Orbiter 9 a film set in a compelling universe I wanted to know more about even though the overall storyline left me feeling cold.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Similar to Netflix’s The Titan, Orbiter 9 wants quite simply to tell a story about love at the end of the world, and it twists and turns enough to hold your attention. However, for a film that begins on a girl, it is actually the guy who will ultimately decide how you feel about Orbiter 9. In one reading, his actions are problematic; in another reading, they’re remarkably romantic. I clearly leaned more toward the former than the latter. What about you?

RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS

  1. Did anyone else see this:

And think of this?

From A.I.

2. SPOILER Passengers and Orbiter 9 are both essentially movies about women falling in love with their jailor. In both films, a man falls in love with a woman by watching her from afar – Pratt literally watching Lawrence sleep, Alex watching security cam footage of Helena for 5 years – has sex with her under false pretenses – Pratt letting Lawrence believe her sleeping pod malfunctioned even though he’s the one who sabotaged it, Alex letting Helena believe she really is on a space station and he’s the only man she’ll ever meet – and is eventually forgiven by her once the truth comes to light.

There are, of course, differences. Pratt isolates Lawrence on a space station with him and damns her to die either alone or with him whereas Alex frees Helena from her isolation and shows her the world, albeit while also hiding her from the authorities. Moreover, Passengers is told right away from Pratt’s point of view and is entirely built around his tortured decision to free Lawrence out of loneliness whereas Orbiter 9 begins on Helena and never really treats Alex’s actions as being entirely in the wrong:

His choice to join the Orbiter program despite its ethical problems is framed in relatable “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one” reasoning, and his self-sacrifice at the end to join Helena in the program since she’s carrying his child paints him in heroic terms. I just wish Helena had a little more say in the narrative and a better sense that just because this is the first guy she’s ever met doesn’t mean she’s in love with him forever despite all of his lies.

What about you? Were you bothered by the romance? Still don’t get why I think it’s problematic? Or do you just want to book a session with that wolf psychiatrist? Let me know in the comments.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

18 Comments

  1. Not as good as The Titan? That’s a pass.

    Reply

    1. That is a pretty low bar, I admit.

      Reply

  2. Greg Patterson April 10, 2018 at 3:17 AM

    somebody explain the ending. What was her condition to go back in?

    Reply

    1. For one thing, she couldn’t survive on the outside. The years in the printer pod had changed her cellular makeup and made her especially vulnerable to the sun. For another thing, she was pregnant. That’s the only reason Alex and Helena survive. The orders from the boss were to eliminate them, but the revelation of Helena’s pregnancy gives the head scientist something he always wanted: the chance to research how a pregnancy and birth would fare in the pod. Plus, since Helena is a clone this might also be the first time a cloned person has given birth. It’s all too much for the scientist to pass up. The final scene of the film is him greeting Helena and Alex’s daughter as she leaves the pod for the first time.

      Reply

      1. But…she seems to look back and a shadow fills part of the screen and there is a countdown. I thought that the doors don’t open until there is a confirmed death in the pod. Given the timeframes they threw out in the film, did the ships to the new worl launch and they were setting the ten pod inhabitants free?

      2. That’s a very good point. I just thought that as a condition for re-entering the pod they would have somehow ensured their child’s release, and the scientists would have allowed it because they would have finally been able to study someone in the pod from birth to young adulthood. But the countdown you mentioned does muck that up a bit. My reading of the ending was not so much the pod inhabitants were all being set free on the event of the ships all launching to the new world and more that there was some special deal hammered out between the doctor and our main characters. However, enough time would have passed for them to conceivably be ready to launch the ships.

  3. I think Helena’s condition is that the daughter be allowed to leave the pod instead of dying in ignorance like had nearly happened to her.
    Would the romance be as troublesome if the genders were reversed?

    Reply

    1. “I think Helena’s condition is that the daughter be allowed to leave the pod instead of dying in ignorance like had nearly happened to her.”

      That makes sense. The ending certainly suggests a carefully planned exit from the pod instead of some kind of escape. So, both sides were clearly building up to that moment, and it makes sense that Helena would have wanted her child’s safety and freedom from a lifetime of ignorant imprisonment guaranteed. The question becomes, though, will the scientists have figured out a way for the girl to survive outside the pod. Because Helena ultimately couldn’t do that. Maybe while the girl is growing up they’ll have figured it out.

      “Would the romance be as troublesome if the genders were reversed?”

      If it was a girl falling in love with a guy by watching him from afar from 5 years, then seducing him under false pretenses, and continuing to lie to him about the nature of his existence even after supposedly coming clean it would still be an icky situation.

      Reply

      1. “Would the romance be as troublesome if the genders were reversed?”

        If it was a girl falling in love with a guy by watching him from afar from 5 years, then seducing him under false pretenses, and continuing to lie to him about the nature of his existence even after supposedly coming clean it would still be an icky situation.”

        I don’t remember the part where he was specifically watching her for 5 years (in the manner that you are suggesting). I think he was monitoring all of the people in the pods for the 5-year duration of his employment. During a routine check-up he was seduced by Helena (remember how he was sleeping and she came in and straddled him?) which led to him developing feelings for her and having a crisis of conscience about the morality of the project. He struggles with this and eventually frees her, telling her the truth instantly upon re-entering her pod. Sure he maybe waited a few days to reveal the hidden room and his role in the project but that was more out of guilt and embarrassment.

  4. At the end, whom did their daughter look back at? Alex? Someone came out of the simulator behind her.

    Reply

    1. My guess would be she was looking back at both Helena and Alex, and that for whatever reason they chose to do old age make-up on the scientist greeting the girl but not on either Helena or Alex for a reaction shot.

      Reply

  5. She says in the movie that her parents had only been dead for 3 years. In their recording they said that she wouldn’t let them leave, obviously not talking to a baby. They also said their dying would buy her 3-5 years more good air, not 20.

    It seems like every review and description I’ve read of this movie talks about her being alone her whole life. How did all of you miss the fact that she’s only been alone for three years?

    Reply

    1. I just remembered that the ship had no robotic component either. How could it possibly have cared for an infant?

      Reply

      1. My assumption is that they must have gone in at some point to install new tech or provide supplies to help them. The set-up we saw earlier in the Oribter pod definitely wouldn’t have been prepared to see them through a pregnancy.

    2. “She says in the movie that her parents had only been dead for 3 years. In their recording they said that she wouldn’t let them leave, obviously not talking to a baby. They also said their dying would buy her 3-5 years more good air, not 20.”

      You’re right. I missed that. The review has been updated to fix the mistake. Thanks for pointing it out. Frankly, after having that error pointed out to me the movie makes a lot more sense now. She couldn’t have been in there since she was just a baby completely on her own, obviously. I wonder if this means the kids in the other 9 pods are were also raised under similar circumstances.

      Reply

  6. He seduced her? Rapey? Your generation is bats%$& crazy.

    Reply

    1. Never said “seduced her.” However, I will re-iterate something I did say: “I just wish Helena had a little more say in the narrative and a sense that just because this is the first guy she’s ever met doesn’t mean she’s in love with him forever despite all of his lies.”

      Reply

  7. Actually you specifically said it in your summary of the romance:

    “If it was a girl falling in love with a guy by watching him from afar from 5 years, then seducing him under false pretenses, and continuing to lie to him about the nature of his existence even after supposedly coming clean it would still be an icky situation.”

    This movie takes place over a few days. Perhaps a sequel in which they aren’t being chased by armed thugs might be able to explore how their relationship develops and whether their love is “forever”. If you stop trying to find fault with the men and evidence of misogyny you might see the real plot and point of the movie.

    Reply

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