More noise than signal

Red Planet

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Space year two thousand’s other dueling Mars movie, Red Planet starts with Carrie-Anne Moss’ Mission Commander Bowman narrating the setup for the movie in the first of many of its terrible attempts at exposition. Earth’s natural resources have been depleted, and so an effort was undertaken to terraform Mars by seeding it with oxygen producing algae. However the haven’t been observing the results they’d expected, so a manned mission is sent to work out what happened.

A group of specialists are assembled, however as just about the only time their professions are referred to is in Moss’ monologue, you’ll forgive me if I don’t relay them to you. The exception to this is mechanical systems engineer Gallagher (Val Kilmer), who’s duties also extend to shepherding their robotic explorer-bot, reprogrammed from an deadly attack drone. Can’t see that doing wrong at any point, no sir.

Another orbital mishap, this time a solar flare frying the ship’s circuits, sees Gallagher and the rest of the team abandon the mothership and make a sub-optimal landing on Mars, while Bowman tries desperately to repair the vessel. The crash claims the life of Terence Stamp’s Chantilas, depriving the crew of much needed cod-philosophical soundbites.

They head off in the rough direction of a habitation module sent in advance, only to find it destroyed, and the algae that should be covering the planet missing. It doesn’t seem like they’ll have enough oxygen to figure out these mysteries, but it turns out that the atmosphere is just about breathable. Which solves one problem, although another presents itself when Killbot3000 returns to its old programming and starts waging a guerrilla war against them.

The surviving crew of Gallager, Tom Sizemore’s Burchenal, Benjamin Bratt’s Santen, and Simon Baker’s Pettengil attempt to get back in contact with Bowman, and ultimately get off the surface, while avoiding their killer robo-pet and the inexplicable solution to their missing algae / destroyed habitat in the shape of some all devouring, oxygen secreting insect things that the film pulls directly from its ass.

At the very least, Red Planet doesn’t take itself as seriously as Mission to Mars did, which makes it more fun by a very marginal amount, and Kilmer, Sizemore and Moss at the very least show some charisma together. The other actors might as well not be there, through little fault of their own.

This script is, to be polite, dreadful, with chunks of dialogue that do not sound like something humans would be able to conceive of. Perhaps it was written by Martians, who I assume are more tolerant about just having torrents of expositional dialogue issue forth in lieu of any more organic way of introducing it.

Red Planet does present a few rather more sensible questions as opposed to Mission to Mars, or heaven forfend Robinson Crusoe on Mars regarding the fate of the terraforming effort, unfortunately there’s apparently no confidence that it would be enough to take the audience along for the ride hence the silly diversion with the murder-bot.

To be fair, that’s probably accurate, as “magic bug from literally nowhere” is a pretty poor answer, and frankly not all that much further along the hard sci-fi spectrum than the plants that grow pepperoni sausages.

It’s effects work was pretty decent as of sixteen years ago and I think hold up reasonably well, but so much of it is focused on that damned robot that it’s of little interest.

Often with the concurrently(ish) released, similar subject matter coincidences one is clearly better than the other – in this case it’s very much a no score draw with Mission to MarsRed Planet perhaps disappoints a little less, but only because it seemed much less promising than a De Palma film, and frankly both are rather dull and avoidable.