In the year 2020, Mars 1 becomes the first manned Mars landing. The crew discover a giant structure in the sand. But as they attempt to investigate they are obliterated by a sudden sandstorm. At mission control it is believed there may be one survivor and so a rescue effort is launched. But the rescue ship is annihilated in an accident following a micro-meteorite storm, although the crew survive and make a landing, finding the sole survivor who has spent a year living inside a greenhouse. From there they investigate the anomaly, a giant face-shaped structure, the decoding of which may reveal the secrets of the beginnings of life on Earth.
Directed by: Brian De Palma
. Starring: Gary Sinise
, Tim Robbins
, Don Cheadle
, Connie Nielsen
, Jerry O'Connell
, Peter Outerbridge
, Kavan Smith
, Jill Teed
, Elise Neal
, Kim Delaney
, Marilyn Norry
, Freda Perry
, Lynda Boyd
. Music by: Ennio Morricone
Once again we have an example of Hollywood recycling old ideas and tossing some 3D special effects on top. Mission to Mars definitely has nothing new, in fact if you take 2001 and The Abyss, throw in a lot of really phony human sentiment ala Armageddon, you have Mission to Mars. But those movies were just the obvious inspirations for the look of the film, the plot is lifted from an episode of the television program Star Trek: The Next Generation if you can believe it. I took the liberty of looking up the exact episode on a Star Trek fan website, its called "The Chase" but I'll say more on that later.
Is Hollywood so bereft of ideas that they have to steal from old television programs? Aren't there any book books to steal ideas from? Probably there are, but I think this proves once and for all that most writers in Hollywood are totally illiterate and therefore have to get their ideas from another source, one that requires almost no reading whatsoever.
The ludicrous plot is centered on the imaginary "Face on Mars" that people have been hallucinating about since the Viking probes of the mid 70's. This face recently was proven to be a simple mountain in the Cydonia region by the Mars surveyor satellite, but these facts seem to have totally escaped the notice of the movie's writers and producers.
The movie begins with a party for the astronauts who are about to make the first manned landing on Mars, and for 15 minutes we watch these people and their relationships in a very poor attempt at character development. This time could have been much better spent showing us the technical achievement of how they were going to get to Mars. In fact all reference to how they get there is omitted, they even went so far as to leave out the first step on Mars! Isn't this what the movie was supposed to be about? Imagine a documentary about the first manned mission to the Moon where the first step on the surface is not mentioned or shown, would that make any logical sense? Nope, and neither does this movie.
So it takes us from the party directly to the surface of Mars, leaving out all the interesting stuff in-between which incidentally might have actually made this an entertaining film. The one thing that might have made me care about these people is seeing the struggle of how hard it was to get to Mars. But by 'transporting' them there in 5 seconds of screen time they effectively eliminated any chance that we will ever care about what happens to them. So we're on Mars, now what? Well, how about a cheesy looking Mars monster that looks exactly like the Tornado from Twister, popping out of the huge Face and eating the helpless Mars-o-nauts, sounds too good to be true? Well trust me, it happens. Luckily one of them survives the attack long enough to get back to base camp, light a campfire, roast weenies and send a distress message, setting us up for the obligatory rescue portion of the film.
Tim Robbins who is a fine actor and normally stays well clear of super-cheezy plots like this, seems to have come to his senses about halfway through the film, possibly sensing that his long-term career was in jeopardy he wisely decides to commit space-a-cide just before reaching the planet. Good move Tim, lucky you weren't cast as the lead in this movie or you would have committed career-a-cide like Gary Sinise.
The rescue team reaches Mars, after some difficulty, where they do find the sole survivor of the first mission. He has been busy examining the Face and has come to the conclusion that it is sending out a signal that when processed by a computer, produces a graphical representation of human DNA. Furthermore it appears to be Human DNA, although how they determine the DNA to be 'human' based on a strictly visual examination is not made too clear. I guess when you have seen one human DNA strand you have seen them all. They are also able to deduce, again with eyes alone, that the beginning of the sequence is not there, and they somehow figure out a way to complete the sequence with a recording (?) and send it back to the face as a key for unlocking its message.
This next part is stolen directly from the previously mentioned Star Trek episode. In the movie the DNA for all life on Earth is suppose to have come from Mars, the previous occupants spread their seed all over the place when they deserted Mars. This is supposedly why we resemble the face on Mars. In the Star Trek episode, an ancient race of humanoid aliens spread their DNA over many worlds before splitting. This is supposed to explain why all the aliens in Star Trek are humanoid looking instead of critters with big claws and 3 heads. Sound familiar?
It just gets sillier...
They get into the Face, see a little graphical representation of the history of the solar system, witness the fate of the original Martians and then poof, a Martian shows up and cries, right on cue. Yes you heard me right, the alien cries. I guess since no one in the audience was anywhere near tears, except maybe tears of laughter, the computer generated characters are wheeled in to cry and let us know that its supposed to be a sad scene. I was waiting for a little sign to pop up on the screen saying, "Sad scene, please cry now". I don't whip out the word pathetic very often, but here its completely justified.
The film would not be complete without a bimbo, this time played with remarkable sincerity by Sliders veteran, Jerry O'Connell. I don't think Jerry had too much trouble with his role, playing it with great gusto in the scene where he notices that there are only three graves, suggesting that maybe the fourth astronaut is alive. He looks crushed when someone points out to him that it only means the last guy didn't bury himself. (Insert droll laughter here.) Yes it's hard to tell if Jerry ad-libbed that line or if it was written for him, I'm pulling for ad-lib. How could someone this dumb be an astronaut? All the other people in the movie are doing huge spatial and mathematical calculations in their head faster than a supercomputer, and Jerry's character would have trouble figuring out what direction to turn the lid of a pickle jar. Is he supposed to be there for comic relief? If so the audience is laughing at him, not with him.
How could this movie have been made better?
I have no idea. I guess if it were up to me I'd scrap the Trek plot, go read some serious science fiction by Greg Bear or Arthur C. Clarke and start again with a new story.
You can't make us care about them.
They spent a huge amount of time in the film on characterization, trying to get us to care about the people on the screen. It didn't work, and for a lot of reasons. See Armageddon for a great example of hollow, false human sentiment, then you won't have to bother sitting through it again in Mars. When it's done correctly, you care whether the characters live or die. When its done incorrectly as it is here, you do not care. It's that simple.
Dare I ask about the special effects?
If you've seen 2001, then you don't need to see this movie. The literally ripped off all their ship designs and space walk scenes from 2001. It's almost an homage to Stanley Kubrick, but a very, very bad one. I can't believe they made 2001 in the 1960's and here we are in the actual year 2000 and we still can top that movie. Its not about beating 2001 either, it should be about having a unique and realistic view of the future rather than just drawing on ideas from movies of the past.
The movie industry is in heaps of trouble; this movie is proof of it. We are entering a phase similar to what has happened in the comic book industry, comics are all written and draw by people who were weaned on comics and learned to draw by looking at them. As a result, you have a re-hash of a re-hash of a re-hash, and no new or original ideas can pop to the surface. Same thing with the film industry, instead of people who actually went out and lived a real life, you have movies being made now by movie fans. I'm sure the people who made Mission to Mars saw 2001 a thousand times, and it shows. But the people who made 2001 had real lives, they based that movie on their life experience, not their movie watching experience. Hollywood likes it this way too, they know what we like because they know what we rent and pay to see in theaters, as a result they can tailor current and future product to be similar to what they know we already like and consume.
I really have a bad feeling about the upcoming crop of summer movies.
Review by Lobo69 from the Internet Movie Database.