[box cover]

Mission to Mars

Lost in space? Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars is up the Milky Way without a paddle. In the year 2020, internal combustion engines have been replaced with electronic vehicles, and mankind is beginning to explore the solar system, including our red neighbor Mars. But one of the first Mars colonists, NASA astronaut Luke Graham (Don Cheadle), finds himself stranded on the planet with all of his colleagues dead when a mysterious subterranean force assaults his small expedition. Which means fellow NASA-nauts Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise) and Woody Blake (Tim Robbins) will have to lead a gutsy rescue mission to the red planet in the hopes of finding Luke alive. But hey, premises are easy — astronauts go into space, everything goes to hell, 'nauts must have the 'nads to pull out a winner. As Mission to Mars proves, it's dialogue that's hard, which (along with some silly plotting towards the end) will ultimately dump this film on the celluloid heap of big-budget space adventures that could have been entertaining if only.... And what a big if. Helmed by Brian De Palma, with a reliable cast of quality actors and special effects that (with some exceptions) are state-of-the-art, Mars was the first big pre-Memorial Day flick of 2000, looking to capture adventure-hungry crowds at the end of Oscar season. But every moment in the film — every line, every arched eyebrow, every foreboding glance — has the unmistakable smack of something we've seen before. The interplanetary ships and space stations with rotating gravity chambers are shameless 2001 knock-offs (as is the final scene); the astronauts' attempts to regain control of a stricken vessel are obviously lifted from Apollo 13 (which featured, er, Gary Sinise), and half of the dialogue has been hauled out of the recycling bin at the Writer's Guild. Robbins, who is horribly miscast, gets to deliver such clunkers as "We're not leaving until we find out" and "Come on people, let's work the problem" with grim finality, and this is a movie that has the line "Let's get the hell out of here" said not once, but twice. Bad dialogue even invades non-speaking performers, like computers, which all have big readouts that deliver information like "POINT OF NO RETURN" (rather than, say, a fuel gauge that's reading a little low). As was the case in Mission: Impossible, De Palma sublimates a lot of his skills to the greater good (so to speak) of the overall product, which means his only calling cards are a few long tracking shots, while the equally venerable Ennio Morricone's score is a bizarre amalgam of vague orchestral pabulum and creepy organ music best suited for a silent film. And the payoff? Imagine a group of astronauts discovering the origins of life in the solar system — at the EPCOT Center, complete with planetarium and narrative voice-over. With a movie this bad, you'd better put some extras on the DVD if you want to recover some of the budget, and Buena Vista has done just that, with a commentary by the special-effects crew, a 21-minute behind-the-scenes doc, analysis of the effects during three sequences, two comparisons between original animatic constructs and final scenes, six concept-art galleries, a trailer, and DVD-ROM features. Good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), DD 5.1. Keep-case.
—JJB



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