Red Planet Review

The Film
No one, including me, could have been oblivious to the negative response this film garnered. Following on the heels of the appalling Mission to Mars, this film should have had it easy. It stars Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss, both of whom are fairly bankable names, so far so good. But hang on a minute, the script is written by Chuck Pfarrer. Chuck Pfarrer who has also written such classics as Virus, The Jackal, Barb Wire, Hard Target, Darkman and Navy Seals. Not exactly a glittering C.V. The film opened to terrible reviews all round. So I approached this film with trepidation.

The plot is fairly standard stuff. The people of Earth have polluted their environment to such an extent it will not support life for very much longer. So an attempt has been made to terraform Mars by sending unmanned probes to the red planet to plant algae, which will help generate oxygen. The problem is that the level of Oxygen on Mars is falling so NASA decides to send a team of experts to sort the problem out. This will be the first manned trip to Mars. Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Gallagher (Val Kilmer) are the main protagonists here. Dr Burchenal (Tom Sizemore) and Chantilas (Terence Stamp) are the only other characters that are even vaguely interesting, oh and there’s a cute robot type thing with a rather striking blue light for an eye (any bells ringing?). Six short months later they arrive in Mars orbit and then things go predictably haywire. To cut a dull story short Bowman ends up left behind on the main orbiter (bells ringing louder?) and the rest of the crew crash on the planet with the robot that is presumed destroyed. From then on things get silly with a malfunctioning robot, the Mars Rover, a Russian rock sample launcher and overgrown mosquitoes. Shakespeare it isn’t.

Now before anyone emails me with his or her protestations I realise that Red Planet is meant to be a mindless popcorn movie. I know it’s all about the effects and a hundred minutes of mindless entertainment. I enjoy these sorts of movies just as much as the next man. But I’m afraid this just misfires badly.

The main problem is the script; it is illogical and lacking in depth. The science behind it is so dodgy you can’t take any of it even vaguely seriously. For instance there is a large habitation complex on Mars. But yet no manned mission has even been there and the only probes mentioned were the ones simply dumping algae on the planet, so who built it? I realise plot holes are all part of the popcorn movie experience but we have to draw the line somewhere and quite honestly Red Planet lost sight of that line hours ago. The scriptwriter is obviously a fan of 2001 as the main crewmember left aboard is called Bowman and the psychotic robot has a single blue eye. If I were Kubrick I’d be spinning in my grave.

To add insult to injury the pacing of the film is all wrong. There is a cheesy voiceover at the beginning to bring you up to date and then we see the crew at certain points during the six-month journey to Mars. There wasn’t enough of this to give us an idea of the relationships between the characters. Instead we have to try and find our way with the characters during the first major action sequence. Another example of bad pacing is near the end where the crew has a time limit of 31 hours. This time limit is mentioned once and no real indication is given of how much time they have left, so there is no build up of tension at all.

The acting is not too bad, Moss carries the entire movie along with Tom Sizemore as the comic relief and Terence Stamp provides an excellent presence early on (although he has to deal with the worst dialogue of the lot). Val Kilmer sleepwalks through his part and I felt no empathy or animosity towards his character, a damning indictment.

Plus points? Well the special effects are very nice as are the sound effects. It looks and sounds the part. Some of the CG is very good and the weightless scenes are handled very well. The direction for the most part isn’t too bad. The director has an eye for a good shot and he may do well if he can shake off the stigma of doing this film.

Overall this film has a stinker of a script and no amount of hard work from the director, Moss or the CG blokes is going to save it. It is entertaining and it is by no means the worst film ever, but it is below average.

The Disc
Can the disc rescue the film? Well it’s an average presentation. The menus are perfunctory but easy to navigate. There are 31 chapter stops, reasonable given the 103-minute running time.

The picture is excellent. An anamorphic 2.35:1 print, which is as it was shown in the cinema. The colours are vibrant and the shadow detail is excellent. There was little or no print damage I could see and minimal grain throughout. Even when the scenes were dusty on Mars the picture seemed very sharp with little or no artefacting.

The 5.1 DD soundtrack is also top-notch. Great channel separation with the rears getting a serious workout and some bone shaking bass from the subwoofer. Despite all of this the dialogue was clear throughout and never drowned out by the effects. It should be noted that there is also a DD5.1 French language track on the disc. 5.1 is usually neglected on foreign language tracks so this was nice to see.

Extras-wise we have 13-minutes of deleted scenes. Yep, that’s right, can you imagine how bad the deleted scenes are given the quality of the main feature? Apart from that “extra” we have a cast & crew section. Not a biography section as you might expect, simply a one page list of the major cast and crew. An excellent extra if it wasn’t for the fact that you can watch the film credits.

Ok, maybe I went a little over the top. This film is not worse than Mission to Mars by any stretch. It is at the very least mildly entertaining, which is more than can be said for Mission to Mars. The disc has excellent sound and picture but is let down by lack lustre extras. So, nice disc from Warner’s, shame about the film.

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