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Red Planet

Human Rating: 5 / 5 Alien Rating: Complete Mind Control

We're eatin' dinner on Mars!

Red PlanetWhen we picture Mars in sci-fi movies, the planet is often the birthplace of nasty green aliens bound upon overtaking the Earth. The War of the Worlds (1953) and Mars Attacks! (1996) are two classic examples of that fun cliché. Red Planet chose to do just the opposite: Humans are going to invade Mars, and they're going to face all odds to do it.

The setting for the film is the mid-21st century, when Earth's pollution and human overpopulation are threatening almost inevitably the very survival of mankind. Looking for a backup home world, the nations of Earth built together a daring plan to rekindle the Martian environment for human use by nuking the planet's poles and seeding the surface with oxygen-making algae. When, after years of successful remotely operated terraforming, the algae start to disappear, a crew of pioneering astronauts is sent to investigate.

Red PlanetFirst off, this is a great flick! Whether you love Mars or not, the adrenaline junkie and the adventurous alike will both be pleased by this second Mars movie of 2000. Starring The Matrix (1999)' Carrie-ann Moss and the polyvalent Val Kilmer, Red Planet features stunning visuals as well as a twisted plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Well paced, the story is presented like a tale, with some nice although corny flashbacks explaining the crew's relationships.

It is hard to write a review on Red Planet without giving the good bits away. That is why this review is aimed at giving the reader a general impression of the movie and discussing some related topics... but here is a small scoop nonetheless. Skip the next paragraph if you like.

Things do not go all peachy on Mars. To paraphrase Jar Jar Binks, "People are gonna die". Ok, that's no secret, many people die in sci-fi thrillers. What is interesting is the fact that you have no clue just who will be next, when or even how. Think of Red Planet as Pitch Black (2000) and Alien (1979) brought together for your own personal enjoyment. Agatha Christie would be proud.

Red PlanetPerhaps the sheer number of problems and difficulties facing the crew will raise a few eyebrows. Just bear in mind Murphy's famous maxim "If anything can go wrong, it will." To be fair, yes Red Planet has some flaws. While you still get the feeling of grandeur associated with witnessing the first manned trip to Mars, that Apollo 13 (1995) pride and bravery sensation is somewhat lacking. Also, those who have a cell phone know that weak radio signals do not carry across the continent very well, much less across interplanetary space. Aside from such glitches, the picture generally holds well together.

It is unfortunate that the movie critics have been very harsh with Red Planet. "Unbelievable", "plot too thin", "crack-pot science", "worst than Mission to Mars (2000)" were read almost everywhere. These same critics always seem to find every small nitpick and bring the whole picture down in the mud because of these. Not wanting to bruise any egos, but I bet more that 95% of these critics have a poor understanding of sciences and struggle to sound like resident experts simply to hide their sheer ignorance. A Bachelor of Arts will only get you so far.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Blade Runner (1982) and Dark City (1998) were all booed by film critics at first. When the fans looked at them saying, "Hey, we liked these movies, they were great!" many reviewers suddenly had revelations and started glorifying these motion pictures. Just something to keep in mind...

Red PlanetThe writer of this article feels saddened by such destructive movie reviewers. Not only because they trashed a good movie (not a perfect one, a good one), but because that trashed movie is about Mars. I admit, I am biased: I am an advocate of the Mars Society. Interest in the Red Planet grew since the Pathfinder mission in 1997 and the discovery of possible Martian fossils has revived in nations everywhere the lost passion for human exploration of our neighboring planet. While this public interest attracted the filming of a few Mars movies presented this year and next, a fantasy-lemon like Mission to Mars (2000) and a wrongfully-bashed Red Planet risk cooling the general attention near absolute zero. Not a very promising political environment to propose bold yet essential plans to invest in permanent, self-sufficient Martian habitats. Think of Red Planet's premise; reminisce Armageddon (1998) or Deep Impact (1998). Now who are you going to blame for destroying public interest in having a backup plan when the Earth is endangered and mankind faces extinction?

I like to keep my baseball bat close at hand.

So what is Red Planet really? It's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) meets Predator (1987); it's Armageddon (1998) with a dash of Alien (1979); it's Pitch Black (2000) in an Apollo 13 (1995) spacesuit. Melting pot of sci-fi successes? Yes, but this spicy mixing tastes good and the staging is fresh. Should anyone go see it? What are you waiting for; get your ass to Mars!

Review by René-Marc Simard.

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