Movie Review of Mission to Mars

Disney/Touchstone Pictures 

With Gary Sinise, Connie Nielsen, Don Cheadle, Tim Robbins; PG


Mission to Mars”, directed by Brian de Palma, supposes that the first manned mission to Mars met with a catastrophe.  The original commander Luke Graham (Don Cheadle) was injured in a catastrophe involving a domelike mountain and beacon that I might consider like my own “Tower of Ned” in one of my own screenplays.  Luke is injured.  The rescue mission is led by Jim McConnell (Gary Sinese), recently made a widower.   Luke is still hanging on, rather like the professor in “Forbidden Planet”, and together they face the dilemma of entering the structure.  Eventually they do, meeting a “feminine” alien who explains that we are all Martians, that Earth’s like actually came from Mars.  This is very unlikely.  Earth is in the middle of the “Goldilox Zone, Mars is on the fringe.  Mars lost its magnetic field billions of years ago and therefore most of its atmosphere.


(Note by editor, Bill Boushka on Red Planet.)

I have to provide some comparison to Warner Brothers’ offering, Red Planet, with Val Kilmer. Well, the arthropod robot Amy is not exactly Robby the Robot—she does provide a pretty good example of artificial intelligence (a Spielberg film for next year) gone wrong, maybe because of unsafe, deprecated Java methods and thread deaths. And the story is not exactly based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest (as was the 1956 MGM Forbidden Planet). Well, folks, there was also the 1952 propaganda film, Red Planet Mars. (Got it?) Well, Red Planet purports to be based more or less on “real science” (or “real life”) rather than alien mythology. Presumably, Democrat Al Gore is right and the earth gets so bad with global warming and pollution that we have to find another home, so the terraforming idea is predicable. Easier said than done. And camping out, even when there’s O-2 in the atmosphere, is easier said than done, too, even by Boy Scouts (even after they drop their silly policies). As for the explanation, well, every New Yorker knows what you do with boric acid in a walkup apartment. Seriously, this film looks great—the wide screen (it looks like the old CinemaScope) of the Martian canyon landscapes look real (though shot in Australia and Jordan) – including the pinkish sky.  Not sure how you could have a big ice storm on Mars without an accumulation left to plow.  


The living quarters on the spaceship are too close for Democrat ex-Senator Sam Nunn, all right (even for opposite genders living together in military-like settings) but, whatever the PG-13 heterosexuality, there’s very little flesh until Val Kilmer’s chest gets CPR and he is brought back to life by the inevitable fiancé.


Also – we wait for the big post-Clinton announcement about the Face on Mars. 


There is also John Carpenter’s 1998 film Ghosts of Mars from Sony Screen Gems. The story is silly, about Martian spores getting reactivated and taking over the bodies of humans and possessing them. Or maybe that makes sense, like “Invasion of the Body Snatches” or even the identity swapping in David Lynch’s Lost Highway.  But the best thing in this film is the interesting mining and passenger train. Great visuals, but one wonders how you would build a thousand-mile long railroad even on a terraformed Mars. Some good visuals of the enclosed city, too, but the problem here is that the details of what this new world really is like get too sketchy in a film like this. (I’d like to see Olympus Mons.) The whole civilization becomes like one big model railroad. Maybe this extraterrestrial train ride is a great idea for a Disney theme park attraction or even a Las Vegas resort.  


Forbidden Planet (1954, MGM, dir. Fred Wilcox, story Irving Block, Allen Adler) was a cult science fiction classic in Eastmoncolor and original CinemaScope. Around 2200 space explorers visit an earthlike desert planet Altair-4 around a sunlike star 17 light years away. Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) live in a Frank-Lloyd Wright like house in a California like desert that looks georgeous in muted fall-like colors (lots of pinks and blues). He has warned them not to land. Most of their coworkers were torn apart by some kind of force, and the lost civilization the Krell had destroyed itself 2000 centuries ago trying to transcend its physical existence (“instrumentalities”). (This anticipates the self-destruction of Krypton for the Superman legend and Smallville). They left an underground network of modern catacombs, and a library of writings that would resemble Google, displayed in 50s technology. There are other modern concepts, such as holograms. Morbius has invented the altruistic Robby the Robot. Their electronic music, however funky, makes one think of the “music of the spheres” of sci-fi literature. When the killings restart, the monster seems to be invisible. It is creation by thought from the Id, the subconscious, compulsiveness, a willingness to give up human emotion for part-objects. It is a kind of nuclear langlolier. Some commentators consider this story an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It is indeed a clever morality play.   


The Angry Red Planet (1960. American International, dir. Ib Melchior, story Sidney Pink) has a space ship returning from Mars with two survivors, one with a growth on his arm. He tells the story of their visit under hypnosis.  Thought to be desert, Mars seems to be an exotic place when they land. It takes a while for the dangers to build up, but eventually there is a Cyclops, a mysterious city, carnivorous plants, and various monsters. This was a popular choice on the Saturday Night “Chiller.”


Mars Attacks! (1996, Warner Bros., dir. Tim Burton, 106 min, PG-13) is a delicious satire about an alien invasion, first offering peace but then bent on destroying our self-serving civilized immorality, and the people who try to make a profit from it, almost John Sayles style. Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnon, Annette Benning, Glenn Rose, Michael J Fox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Natalie Portman, Danny Devito, Pam Grier, Rod Steiger and Tom Jones all star. There is a climactic scene where the green bug-eyed aliens attack Congress and gun the members down openly.


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