Adam West playing a Starfleet Captain? Yes, it happened, and in a surprisingly good ultra-low-budget movie called, for no reason that makes any sense to me, 'Warp Speed'. I've got a history with this film, largely because of the circumstances in which I first saw it – stuck in a remote part of Wales on my own with a three-day hurricane raging outside, and only two channels available on the television. One of which showed this movie no less than five times a day. Maybe it was Stockholm Syndrome, but when I got home, I actually sought out a copy for myself.
Let's get the bad out of the way first. This film was made for slightly less than I could find rummaging around the back of my couch. Adam West is the 'Special Guest Star', and I suspect ate up most of the budget. The effects are non-existent, the sets look cheap. Despite the fact that they make a big deal of the 'First Voyage to Saturn', they go on about this being a 'Starfleet Ship', I suspect because a lot of the production crew were Star Trek fans. Don't go into this expecting 2001, or Solaris. Having said that, there is a lot to commend about this production.
Too often, when a filmmaker is confronted with a minimal budget, they press ahead anyway with a plot that they simply can't put on the screen for the money they have, resulting in an embarrassing mess. This production has seen its limitations and instead chooses to do as much as they can with what they have – so while there are no effects to speak of, they don't need any for the tale. The sets look basic, but work reasonably well, and that there are few of them actually makes the setting look cramped and confined – and the director wasn't afraid to turn the lights down, which always helps!
I'm going to be spoiling the hell out of this movie, so if you just want a basic recommendation to seek it out and watch it, stop reading now.
The first spaceship to Saturn, under the command of Adam West, has an accident a half-year out from Earth, resulting in a mission abort. Worse, the ship can't sustain the whole crew, and one by one they are forced to commit suicide/murder to reduce their numbers, until ultimately there are only two left – and one of them must die. The movie actually takes place when the deserted ship gets back to Earth, and follows a psychic investigator trying to work out what happened by, essentially, talking to the ghosts of the crew.
It shouldn't work, but it does, and you can see the investigator getting sucked in deeper and deeper, as you explore a surprisingly complicated story that follows the psychological unravelling of the crew, their addiction to a poker game with life and death as the stakes, their misuse of what amounts to a VR holodeck, and their response to the disaster – which boils down to the crew drawing cards to die, willingly or unwillingly. The characters, mostly, are surprisingly nuanced at times, and it's actually a great shame that this film didn't have a bigger budget; I think it would have been used well.
The acting is mostly half-decent, though the leading man (not Adam West) is rather one-note at times, the rest of the cast do a good job with a good script. The VR machine is used to highlight the crew's psyche rather well, the 'psychic investigator' is a novel way to tell the story, allowing the dull moments to be skipped, and there is a real sense of underlying horror and paranoia in the background. Adam West's Captain has a quite realistic breakdown – actually, he does darn good work in this one, and I think it's a shame that this little movie isn't better known.
Fundamentally, this film is an excellent demonstration that it is possible to do something good on a minimal budget, with the key being a solid story and a good script – neither of those things cost anything other than inspiration and perspiration, and with them in place, you're going to do well regardless of the money you have. Recommended.