Borrowing liberally from “2001,” “Moon” and what TV writers call “bottle episodes,” the science-fiction mystery “2036 Origin Unknown” is speculative fiction with a strong human presence. The story’s too elementary, but a strong lead performance and clever staging make “2036” something committed genre fans might appreciate.
“Battlestar Galactica” tough gal Katee Sackhoff stars as Mack Wilson, a scientist and adventurer trained in interplanetary travel. Years after watching her father die during the first manned flight to Mars, Mack takes the trip herself, to investigate a mysterious cube that’s materialized on the red planet. She’s watched closely by her earthbound overlords (represented by her sister Lena, played by Julie Cox) and her ship’s computer ARTi (voiced by Steven Cree).
“Origin Unknown” couldn’t be much more stripped-down. Director Hasraf Dulull (who also came up with the story, scripted by Gary Hall) started out as a special effects artist and has the chops to embellish a set-bound production with visually dazzling impressions of spacecraft and other worlds.
Mostly, though, this is a one-woman show, as Sackhoff verbally spars with ARTi about whether humanity still serves a purpose. None of this is as deep as it intends to be, nor will it strike science-fiction devotees as especially novel. But Sackhoff’s Mack is such a vivid, well-rounded character that “2036” still works. It’s like a stage play, crossed with one of the more philosophical old pulp magazine short stories.
‘2036 Origin Unknown’
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Playing: Starts June 8, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica