[box cover]

Red Planet

Can you believe this premise for a big-budget Hollywood movie? A group of astronauts are assembled in the mid-21st century for an exploratory journey to Mars, but somehow, along the way, everything goes terribly wrong. Yes, Red Planet, which arrived in American theaters just months after Brian De Palma's ill-conceived Mission to Mars, manages to squander a $75 million budget, a handsome cast, and plenty of juicy special effects on a script that offers not one original idea, concept, or plot twist. Indeed, while it's easy to be mildly diverted by the nearly two-hour affair, seasoned movie-watchers probably won't be able to identify one single part of the story that isn't expected, or at least entirely within the spacebound-disaster formula. And that's a shame — Val Kilmer, as mission engineer Gallagher, creates a likable, realistic leading man, a reluctant hero who would rather save his own ass than complete the botched mission (take that, Armageddon), Carrie-Anne Moss shows the same sort of likable spunk that make her such an important part of The Matrix, and even the durable Terence Stamp is along for the ride (although his character is ill-defined and largely a waste). But it's all CGI-paint by numbers. The nimble exploratory/military robot AMEE (pron. "Amy") is used for various plot points — itself a sort of hybrid between the "destroyer" droids of The Phantom Menace with one looming, menacing eye like 2001's HAL (and we get plenty "AMEE-eye-view" shots like HAL's as well). On the positive side, Red Planet is not nearly as goofy as Mission to Mars (it rarely talks down to its audience the way De Palma's atrociously simplified film did), the eye-candy factor is quite high on DVD with various cosmos-scapes and nifty spacecraft, and the emergency landing sequence on the Mars surface — with the landing module bouncing along the planet's rugged terrain, enclosed in massive air-filled crash bags — is an E-ticket hoot. In fact, were Red Planet to first appear on the Sci-Fi Channel and not in the cineplexes, it would be a notable television event. And had it arrived in theaters before Mission to Mars, and not after, it might have grossed more than $17.5 million in North America. It's hardly Battlefield Earth and deserved to do better, even if it didn't deserve to make allits money back. Warner's DVD edition offers a crisp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. A sci-fi film with a lackluster box-office should warrant plenty of extras on the disc, but they are not to be found here. Fourteen minutes of deleted scenes (without scene-selection) and textual notes are all that's on board this release. Snap-case.
—JJB



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