It's a long way from Steinbeck to Hitchcock to tonight's science-fiction TV movie "Lifepod" (at 8 on Fox Channel 11). Too long.
To retrace the steps: In 1944 Alfred Hitchcock made the WWII drama "Lifeboat," based on a Steinbeck story. In 1993 actor Ron Silver makes his directorial debut with the futuristic "Lifepod," which gives Hitchcock and one of the original feature's co-writers a "suggested by" story credit, though it's clearly enough of an outright remake that it should probably carry a "based upon" nod. Not that Hitch would necessarily clamor to claim it either way.
The original "Lifeboat" was an ingenious achievement in that it started immediately after the collapse of an ocean liner and was set from start to finish entirely aboard the small title vessel, which "restricts the camera to the smallest acting space ever filmed commercially," according to Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto.
The escape craft in "Lifepod" is a much larger, multiroom affair, which eliminates the need for the technical fluency of the original. But many of the characters holding out for rescue drifting in the vast unknown of space are essentially the same as the bobbing survivors in the '40s version: a glamorous female journalist, an agonized mother carrying her dead child, a fellow whose injured leg is beset by gangrene, and a treacherous saboteur out to kill everyone on board.
Silver does a decent enough job in creating a parched, claustrophobic atmosphere where the survivors discuss drinking their own urine and even precious tears are recycled. But the performers (who include Robert Loggia, CCH Pounder and Silver himself) have the most predictable dialogue to read.
And without the paranoid wartime setting, the villain's motives remain unclear, which is to say nothing of his (or her) unbelievable tactics.
Jump aboard if you must, thriller buffs, but if you expect suspense or real surprises, better bring your own rations.