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|February 1, 2001||
Red Planet is a timepass film!
Red Planet crash-lands before lift-off but sci-fi fans may want to check it out for timepass anyway.
Blame HG Wells. The pioneering author of the classic science fiction novel War of the Worlds was the first to take the concept of 'Martians invading Earth' and turn it into a compelling fiction.
Flash forward a century or so. Invaders from Mars are passe. Good only for outdated Fifties movies. Or for Nineties' spoofs like Mars Attacks.
The new concept is not 'them' coming to Earth, it's us going to 'them'. Ever since NASA's space probes have begun sending back actual data on our giant red neighbour, science fiction writers have been going gaga over novels about us visiting Mars, colonizing it, destroying it, you name it.
There's a saying in Science Fiction that sci-fi movies are around ten to twenty years behind printed SF. That's pretty accurate. The biggest surge of fiction centering around Mars came out in the Eighties. The best of the bunch being the monumental epic Mars trilogy of novels by author Kim Stanley Robinson.
The trilogy covered the entire fictional history of an Earth mission to colonize Mars, and tells the story of how they change the very ecosystem of the planet to make it into an inhabitable, Earthlike setting. So Red Mars becomes Green Mars and finally Blue Mars.
But what does a series of novels about Mars have to do with a new blockbuster film named Red Planet?
Sadly, almost nothing.
In fact, none of the 'Mars' films that have been released recently -- Mission to Mars and Pitch Black being the other two -- have anything to do with science fiction. Like the old 'invasion disaster' movies of the Fifties, these new flicks use Mars as just an excuse to come up with fabulous special effects, cheap scares and thrills, and some clunky acting.
Which is sad. Because it was fun making up fantasy stories based on a planet we knew almost nothing about at that time. But now that we know so much about Mars, it's really corny to come up with concepts like these. But since when has intelligence ever been a big Hollywood asset?
Red Planet makes the same mistakes that earlier multistarrer 'disaster' movies like Sphere made--too many stars, too much talk, too little action. In fact, the category of 'disaster' applies much more to this film than the sci-fi label. Because that's what Red Planet really is, a film disaster.
Well, I'm being harsh here. There's some terrific sfx in Red Planet. Worth seeing on the big screen.
There's also some terrific acting talent up on display, most notably Carrie Ann-Moss. She kicked such super butt in The Matrix, that she instantly became the new Tough Babe Superstar, replacing Linda Hamilton of T2 fame from that coveted slot.
She's the best part of the movie and the fact that you get to see more of her assets than just her acting skills might make male viewers drool with anticipation.
There's also Tom Sizemore, an actor who's always a treat to watch onscreen. You might remember him from Saving Private Ryan where he plays the tobacco-chewing sergeant who holds Tom Hanks' unit together and never gives a damn about enemy fire. His wisecracks liven up the duller parts of the film.
Which is more than you can say about Val Kilmer, who manages to deliver yet another clunker performance. This is an actor who somehow manages to make even the most exciting characters seem unspeakably boring -- he did it to Jim Harrison in The Doors, Batman in Batman Forever, the superspy in The Saint...
But Kilmer isn't the most disappointing part of this big-budget spectacular.
It's the script and pacing of the film. If you've seen the late genius director Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, you'll know why that film is considered the hallmark of realism in science fiction films.
Red Planet's non-genius director Antony Hoffman is obviously aiming to imitate that same slow, measured style. Instead, he just ends up being boring and artificial.
Also, 2001's slow pacing was less important than the film's super-realism in detail. Kubrick's greatness of achievement lay in the fact that he got every aspect of that classic film absolutely right. It was as scientifically accurate as a NASA probe.
Red Planet, in contrast, makes a whole list of scientific errors.
From the solar flare that appears without warning (impossible, since even now with our existing technology we can predict and map solar flares with a fair amount of precision), the super-robot that conveniently turns mass killer after just one thump on the 'head', the mixed-up biology of the alien plant life and the ridiculous notion that oxygenating an entire planet is as easy as farting out a few tons of biogas!
Even the Arnold starrer, Total Recall, was more scientific!
But forget the science. Even the fiction fails in Red Planet.
The whole cast of famous faces seems to float aimlessly in orbit, waiting for the story to take off. Which it never really does. And even when the cast stops arguing and starts acting and you hope things are getting better, the script turns them into the predictable line-up of victims who get killed off by the cliche unseen monster.
If they wanted to be murdered in sequence, they could have done that right here on good old Earth! Why travel all the way to Mars just to get murdered?!
Ten years ago, Red Planet might have been worth a watch. Even today, if you're a diehard SF fan (as I am), you'll certainly find something to pass the time.
But today, after seeing so many other terrific sci-fi movies that are also terrific entertainment (the Aliens series, to mention just one example), you expect and deserve more from a big-budget big-star venture like this one.
Take my advice. See Red Planet just to pass time. But get hold of a copy of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy and experience some real science fiction.
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