Last Days on Mars
Outer space is arguably the oldest themes for story telling in the history of mankind. From the moment our primitive ancestors gazed up at the night sky he began to weave tales of creatures floating among the points of lights controlled by mythical deities that control out destinies. This persisted throughout time with examples persisting to today. The fifties and sixties was the era when the baby boomers grew up forming tastes and preferences that will form our lives. Space manifested strongly in that period between the myriad of space themed adventures with humans expanding the sphere of earth to the far reaches of the cosmos. Closer to reality the two greatest superpowers on earth diverted ample resources from the quest of efficient means of mutual annihilation to race to land a man on the moon inaugurating a new age in the scientific understanding of space. Although in recent times nations otherwise antagonistic towards each other have made a public display of cooperation in order to unselfishly expand the frontiers of knowledge the sense of cut throat competition space exploration was founded upon remains inexorable woven into the fabric of every mission launched away from our blue marble. The science fiction thriller, ‘The Last Days of Mars’ reverts us back to the overriding need to be first, when the names recorded in the history books surpasses the historical and scientific merit of the finding. Most remember Neil Armstrong but fail to recall how the photographs and rock samples the crew of Apollo 11 brought back redefined our understanding of the universe and why earth could harbor life. ‘The Last Days on Mars’ reminds us that the largest potential flaw in any manned mission of exploration is the manifestation of our intrinsic human nature.
Long after man personally visited our closest celestial neighbor, the moon, we came to depend on robotic probes to further our exploration of the universe. This provided immeasurable knowledge but it did nothing to satisfy our inborn need to see first-hand new vistas and to stand on a spot no other human has ever stood before. This need to be personally involved was finally manifested with the first successful manned mission to explore Mars referred to as Tantalus Base. The initial crew was to serve six months at which point the crew would be relieved by their replacements. They will then use the awaiting Aurora lander to return them to Earth. As the film begins the men and women of Tantalus are 19 hours from the scheduled departure. Even with subsequent crews the actual time on the surface of Mars is limited and extremely expensive so the crews work as long as possible. It was during one on these final forays for this crew that one of the mission specialists, scientist Marko Petrovic (Goran Kostić) uncovers promising samples. If is very educated assessment is correct they may have found the most important discovery in history, the Holy Grail of science, proof of extraterrestrial life.
Mission protocol requires the exploration be abandoned leaving further investigation to the reliving crew, it apparently was not sufficient for their names to be recorded as the first human beings on Mars., Petrovic desired to be remembered in the annals of history as the man that proved life was not unique to Earth. The significance of this discovery will change every aspect of humanity from science to religion. He was the one that found the sample and he was not about to hand his place in history over to someone that came after him. In order to give him enough time to substantiate his discovery he contrives a reason to make one last trip to the site. Another crewman, Richard Harrington (Tom Cullen) drives Petrovic back to the coordinates. Retrieving the soli sample with the biological evidence Petrovic begins to return to the rover when suddenly he plunges into a fissure. Mission crew commander, Charles Brunel (Elias Koteas), takes Lauren Dalby (Yusra Warsama), to explore the pit and retrieve Petrovic‘s body. While waiting at the pit for the crewmen to return with the necessary equipment Dalby disappears without a trace. Captain Brunel and Vincent Campbell (Liev Schrieber) arrive at the site and start to explore it they confirm that some form of life growing in the pit. When the return to their base the missing Dalby and reappeared but are no longer fully human. They have undergone a form of rapid cellular mutation as a consequence to their exposure to the Martian organism.
The movies we recall from those Saturday afternoon matinees always depicted astronauts as the intrepid explorers, with the exception of a potential villain the men that probed the hostile environment of outer space, devoid of the petty foibles that afflict our species. The one thing that stands out with this flick is how it portrays regular examples of humanity as the explorers. From a technical point of view the story is fairly predictable, the plot points derivative and reminiscent of any one of a plethora of crime thrillers. Instead of a valuable item that instigates the unscrupulous activity it was a sign of life on a world distant to our own cozy home. The fortune that typically provides the motivation for this selfish activity is replaced by the equally potent motivator of fame; historical recognition. In a way this is to be expected. The astronaut was initially a rare breed, men molded from the right stuff. Now an increasing number of ‘regular’ people are soaring above the limits of the atmosphere including a variety of crew members with commercialized private flights even now in a nascent stage.
In the standard crime thriller the crux of the story revolves around aspects of our base nature rather than holding this new cadre of explorers to a standard beyond any most of us can adhere to. This is a variation of science fiction that is just beginning to manifest outer space as a venue for the mundane exploitation of greed, desire and personal aggrandizement. At one point in this movie a crew member is left to die, not as an expression of noble sacrifice but because of their irritating personality. You can’t get much closer to the worse qualities our kind has the propensity to exhibit. In the final analysis the film has a strong premise within the screenplay by Clive Dawson based on a short story by prolific Sci-Fi author, Sydney J. Bounds. The director, Ruairi Robinson, is breaking into feature length films after several short films predominantly in the fantasy genre. the visual style he employs here is interesting, showing potential that is certain to continue developing.