Mission to Mars
I have been a fan of Sci-Fi for about forty years now. Over those all too many decades I have seen many films based upon the exploration of space. Perhaps this has jaded my view of such films but I really thought Mission to Mars did not live up to its potential nor did it pay proper homage to its predecessors in this time honored genre. The basic story presents an interesting premise. The first manned mission to Mars meets with a mysterious catastrophe. A second mission is rushed to be launched to see what actually occurred and to rescue any survivors. Luke Graham (Don Chedle) heads the fatal mission. He watches in horror, as it seems the very planet Mars attacks and kills his crewmates. One the rescue mission is Phil (Jerry OConnor), Jim (Gary Sinise) and husband/wife astronauts Woody and Terri (Tim Robbins and Connie Nielsen). Among the under developed subplots is the fact that Jim is recently widowed and that he and his wife should have been on the mission together. The story would have gone a lot further had this story line been explored and contrasted to the married couple Woody and Terri. Instead, the story rushes past this perfect chance for character development and substitutes a lot of special effects. The ending is not much of a shock since we have seen this plot point several times over the years.
The actors in this cast are among the best in Hollywood today. Tim Robbins can really act. This is obvious in how much he can make with so little to work with. The same goes for Sinise and Chedle. They both show they have the talent that can overcome a deficient script. The really shinning point of the cast is Connie Nielsen. She is sexy, smart and in control. Still, she can exhibit an emotional side that adds to the believability of the character. Jerry OConnor slides (pun intended) through his part with ease but his role is almost contrived. I guess even reasonably big stars have bills to pay and need the work.
The director of this film is veteran Brian De Palma. Many have stated that he built his career taking scenes from Hitchcock and building a story around them. Here he takes on Stanley Kurbricks 2001. There is a scene where Terri walks into a circular area in the space ship and walks around until she is upside down. Mmm, does this remind anyone else of 2001? The same goes for the stark white room used in the ending. Come on Mr. De Palma, youve done Scarface, Carrie, The Untouchables and Snake Eyes, stick with original ideas, you have the talent for it, use it. De Palma does seem to enjoy playing with the camera, much as his idol Hitchcock did. In Mission to Mars the camera work is excellent, especially since many of the scenes used green screens. One thing that comes to mind is the musical score. There was overly melodramatic organ music in some scenes that belonged more in a 1930s melodrama than in a Sci-Fi opus. He tries to build suspense but since the story line shows many months between events it just doesnt work. He needed more expository scenes to help maintain the feeling of excitement and danger. As it is the film as long periods that it drags. De Palma can do action and do it well. Here he seems to have wanted to go in a different direction and gets lost.
The disc is up to contemporary standards. The audio is one of the best-balanced soundtracks around. There is one scene where the astronauts are looking at a view screen as the camera pans around the room. As the viewing angle changes the voice from the view screen travels from center speaker to the right, around the rear speakers in turn and back through the left front to the center again. This was fun but hardly worth the wait. The video is very clear and free of defects. The extras are pretty routine. An audio commentary, a documentary and some visual effects explanations. If you want a real Mars adventure stick to the 1950s classics and pass this one by.