People keep speculating whether there’s life on Earth’s crimson neighbor. A more immediate concern is the existence of decent, original plots. My understanding was that the studio moved the release date for this bomb to distance itself from Brian De Palma’s “Mission to Mars”. I guess I understand. I mean, how confused could the audience get with two shitty Mars movies?
In a few decades, our planet’s population has swelled to 12 billion people in the process of destroying the place with pollution and exhausting our resources. The proposed solution? Why move next door.
Our feature begins with the flight from Earth already in progress. We join a team on their way to spruce the place up before the new residents move in. The crew consists of Robby Gallagher (Val Kilmer), Dr. Quinn Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), Pilot Ted Santen (Benjamin Bratt), Chip Pettengill (Simon Baker), and Dr. Bud Chantillas (Terence Stamp). They are led by Commander Kate Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss).
Now some advance work had been done. Nukes were sent to the world’s poles to melt the icecaps. Algæ was then spread over areas of the surface to produce oxygen. A contained environment was sent, unmanned, to provide a space for the team to inhabit.
Strangely, things go wrong. When they near Mars, some kind of solar flare knocks the ship out of whack. Everyone heads to the planet surface in escape pods, except for the commander, who stays to fix the damage.
Planet-site offers little relief: Our heroes land to find all the algæ gone and their Martian mobile home in very small pieces. Weirder yet, the atmosphere is now completely breathable. This leaves the survivors of this mess with two dilemmas: find out what the hell happened on Mars, and find a way back to the ship while they’re still close enough to reach Earth with the fuel they have left.
Okay, what’s wrong with this picture? The big problem is that once you find out what occurred on Mars, your first response will be, “Is that it?” While the payoff to “Mission to Mars” is ridiculous, the one for “Red Planet” is plausible but extremely anticlimactic.
The next problem is the treatment of Carrie-Anne Moss. One of the stars I put in the rating was just for her (and for an extremely gratuitous but appreciated nude shot of her coming out of the shower). The first problem I had is her last name: BOWMAN. Is she supposed to be daughter of Keir Dullea’s character from “2001: A Space Odyssey”? Maybe it’s not such a good idea to remind audiences of a great movie when you’re making a bad one. Another big problem is that she doesn’t go down to Mars with the others. Sure, she gets a little screen time along the way, but when you only have one hot babe in any movie, you really shouldn’t leave her in the car.
Much of the remaining issues concern the group dynamics of those who did go to the ground. As can be expected from a studio flick, the philosophical and theological aspects are a bit heavy-handed. Worse than that is that members of a crew, that were presumably heavily trained and carefully selected, should get a little weasily when confronted with a serious problem. One character, I won’t say who, that is supposed to be military, turns into Dr. Smith from “Lost in Space” at nearly the first opportunity. I just can’t picture it ever playing out like this with a real-life NASA team.
Now, the final major flaw is evident from all of the trailers. They’ve got this robot dog they borrowed from the marines that, would you believe it, gets damaged on the rough landing and goes a little crazy. Sure, it isn’t as prominent as the ads would lead you to believe, but c’mon, weren’t killer robots kind of stale in the 1970’s? In the year 2000, a killer robot was the best you could come up with? I think I prefered the uniform blandness and mediocrity of “Mission to Mars” to the belabored hazards manufactured for this piece of dreck.
Overall, I’d have to say that in an attempt to create a big, meaningful action film, first time director Anthony Hoffman has only succeeded in making a film that matches the tone and silliness of that “Lost in Space” movie, but with fewer cute chicks. The end result would seem to be the end of any more Mars movies for a while. Perhaps by the time we can actually send a team of astronauts there, we’ll actually have found a story about the place that won’t put the audience to sleep.