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I have seen many reviews bashing Mission to Mars. I see why they've attacked the film but I think they missed that the excitement, action and deep humanity of this film far outweigh the forced quality of a few scenes. There is scene after scene in this movie that pulls the viewer's heart and mind nto some of the deepest veins of human emotion. More than once I felt myself drawn into the middle of intense depictions of love, terror or excitement. If a little subtlety were mixed into just a few scenes this movie would have stood out as one of the greatest and lasting human dramas in science fiction history. I heartily recommend this movie; it will transport you and involve you if you are just a little forgiving.
After a second viewing, I can say that I am still not sure what to make
of this film. Many will see this as something of a remake of 2001. And
yes, the film is visually almost plagiaristic of the Kubrick
masterpiece. The two biggest problems are a lack in originality and
thoughtfulness. From my rating, you can see that I did not despise this
film. It's visually nice, and the performances are all good. However, I
am not sure I can recommend it.
I'm a sci-fi fan, and a scientist, so I was initially intrigued by the notion of a big-name dramatic film-maker doing a sci fi epic, which appeared, at least initially, to be hardcore sci-fi. By hardcore sci-fi, I mean fiction based on scientific reality, not fantasy with a tiny bit of science thrown in for decoration. An example, also using Mars as a vehicle, is Ben Bova's novel "Mars" - which focuses on the very edge of plausibility, only occasionally overstepping the bounds of scientific possibility. Film has rarely achieved this - a few interesting exceptions are Alien (the original), Outland and Silent Running. Hardcore sci-fi, which, I argue, this film could and should have been, is careful about that boundary. And 3/4ths of the way through Mission to Mars, it's still a hardcore sci-fi flick. Then suddenly, it's something else. I will leave that something else for you to discover, and stay focused on what the director and screenwriter were trying to do here.
What we have here is not really a single plot, but a pastiche of plots that have been strung together into one long, mysterious and grandiose story line. The film starts out with a couple of scenes which might have been lost in Appollo 13 - providing a little bit of character development and letting us know that we are about to witness the first manned space flight to Mars. That flight ends pretty quickly, as virtually everything goes wrong. And as a rescue mission begins, the question then becomes, why is everything going wrong? Up to the point where the rescue mission enters Martian orbit, this central question is sustained and developed skillfully, but then , in my opinion, things start to go wrong with the film itself.
There are major problems with what could have been the best aspects of this film. The spaceships are remarkably flimsy and poorly designed, but they look great! The safety protocols for the mission, about which we hear so much, are either not followed or incredibly naive. The heroes are not particularly clever about heroism, and seem to forget, at times, what the actual possibilities are for mobility in space (why not use the tether three times - twice out to Woody and once to get back after you run out of fuel, Terry?). The guy who authored the safety protocols does not appear particularly concerned with safety, or even protocols. The evolutionary biologist on the crew is amazingly poorly informed about the Paleozoic period of earth history and the evolution of species. I could go on.
The film is broadly derivative of 2001 A Space Oddyssey, The Abyss, Star Gate, Event Horizon, Fifth Element, Contact, and a few dozen other somewhat entertaining but not particularly believable space / sci-fi adventures, but while it resembles, and in fact pays homage to these films (especially 2001), it never entertains quite as well. Why? Because these films do not pretend to be based on scientific ideas, but rather, aesthetics and humanism. While most of these films invite interpretation, Mission to Mars simply repeats ideas from previous films and doesn't even bother to recast them into an interesting new light. Mission to Mars is something that has been done many times before, and in more interesting, entertaining, and thought-provoking ways.
Technical proficiency, which is something this film exudes, is no substitute for a compelling story and interesting individual characters. Unfortunately, even in terms of technique, the film has some flaws. Some will disagree, but I found the soundtrack irritating, and the pace of the film very uneven to say the least. And the characters lives are so intertwined in the few character development sequences that only Sinise, Robbins and Bennings' characters develop rudimentary individualities.
Despite his reputation, I can not hold Brian De Palma up to standards which are different than those of other film-makers, and I can not condone creating a special vocabulary or a sophisticated argument to permit interpretation of his films as part of some over-arching theme which only he and a few of his fans understand. There is a fine line between flattering imitation and shameless copying, so I'd rather not get into an extrapolated meta-film discussion of this film's relationship to 2001. I don't think this film is worthy of such a sophisticated analysis.
There are some truly great moments in Mission to Mars. This should not be too surprising with the wonderful cast, big budget, and talented production team. What did surprise me about this film was the 2001-like 180 degree turn it took off of the map of scientific possibility 3/4ths of the way through the film, and I can't say that turn and its outcome really impressed me.
If you're a sci-fi fan, or somebody with a very casual interest in science, you should probably see this. But if you haven't seen 2001 first, by all means, wait until you have. And don't take this one too seriously when you do get around to it. This has much more to do with fiction than science fiction.
Visually, "Mission to Mars" is stunning. Nobody tells a story better with
pictures than De Palma. The scenic design and photography kept me riveted
to every frame. On the recommendation of a friend, I watched the movie in
widescreen on DVD using a high resolution monitor. The visuals are so
important that I cannot imagine watching a pick and scan version on a
conventional TV set. Too much would be lost that way.
The scene, early in the movie, where one of the Mars astronauts gets blown up made me levitate. Also, I though Tim Robbins' and Connie Nielsen's weightless dance in the spaceship on the way to Mars was lovely. The scene with the startling all white surroundings that the astronauts faced in the "faceship" (to coin a phrase) was also well done.
I thought the performances were uniformly excellent. That fact and the wonderful visuals overcame sometimes excruciatingly bad dialogue so that it did not really detract from my enjoyment of the film. That being said, though, I loved the exchange where it was observed by one character that the mere three per-cent difference between the genetic makeup of men and apes "gave us Einstein, Mozart" and a second character adds, "Jack the Ripper."
Some reviewers complained about the similarity of the film to "2001," but that is exactly what De Palma had in mind, I think. "Mission to Mars" pays homage to every sci-fi cartoon and movie ever made, from Buck Rogers to "Close Encounters," and does it well. Anyway, De Palma proved to me again that he really does march to his own drummer. I was hugely entertained and highly recommend this film -- but only if you watch it in widescreen on DVD or, better still, in a theater. Eight out of ten.
So many critics blasted Brian De Palma's "Mission To Mars", that I feel I
must have seen an entirely different film.
Perhaps people were expecting "Armageddon", or any other number of "space"
films. This is a film about people, not space. People who are great
friends on earth, who must face challenges to their friendships and their
humanity, while in space and on Mars. They could just as easily have been
in Kansas. Brian De Palma (the greatest living visual director), takes us
on a glorious journey, with his camera. The sets and special effects never
overshadow the actors, who blend in seamlessly, to create a visual treat for
the eyes. This is a tender and moving film about people and their
relationships. It's a beautiful film, told in a very slow, deliberate
manner. It pays homage to many other films, but it is its own entity;
unlike any other "space" movie you have ever seen. The film features
wonderful performances from its cast, an effective score by Ennio Morricone,
and peerless direction from Brian De Palma. The nature of its stunning
visuals demand that this film be seen in widescreen, ONLY. Highly
The first thing is that the dialog is idealized at the level of THE SOUND OF MUCUS. Does Brian think this is the way astronauts talk to each other? They are all saints descended from heaven devoid of all the qualities that make associating with people such a joy. Envy, jealousy, anger, hatred and resentment: none are present here. These people do not exist anywhere but in Brian DePalma's imagination. Gus Grissom's favorite expression was #$%$ the pooch. Does that sound like these people? The opening party scene is a natural emetic. One gooey, maudlin line after another; are these astronauts? Are we in Heaven? The next problem is aliens, putatively benign, who react to someone sending the wrong transmission by unleashing a ten story sand tornado that sucks the people up and rips them into pieces. Gee, do you think these aliens might not be so friendly after all? I love New Ager's deductions if it hears the wrong frequency it goes postal on the transmitters but they cling to their benign deduction. We saw this in THE MOTIONLESS PICTURE, it cannot tell scans from weapons, even though we primitives can, so it blows everything up. Hey, maybe we should entertain the hypothesis that they may be slightly inimical, what do you think?
Did they buy that rescue ship on sale? Do you know how many sensors are on the space shuttle for the sole purpose of saying: Attention, monkey boys, trouble with your hunk of junk. Peruse your hunk of junk breakdown warning lights. Here, way in the future, their space ship does not let them know that their fuel lines have more holes in them than swiss cheese? I think it might have intoned loudly: Monkey boys, do not activate engines your stupid fuel lines are leaking badly, just a guess on my part. It kinda seemed a bit unrealistic to me. Does Jim have a death wish? Why does he refuse about thirty warnings that the air is thinning? Is he late for a big bowling date? Jim, if you turn purple and die that hurts our mission you big dummy! Yes, Dr. Pepper saved the day and got a nice product placement all at the same time. If you were Woody and your ship had more holes in it than a colander would you tell the monkey boy computer, hey HAL we are going to hold up on that there orbital insertion to see if we can see through our ship first, OK silicon boy?
Now, if all your friends got wiped out by psycho aliens who unleash the twister from the WIZARD OF OZ on you if you send the wrong transmission, would you still want to meet them? Did the person who wrote this write PROMETHEUS? Non sequitur, they would get back in their ship and get the hell out of there. Obviously, people who react with mass murdering frenzy to errors in signal transmission might be slightly hostile. When we do meet them they are plenty stupid looking. They look like retarded, weepy giant Cellos all that was missing were the bows to play them with. Come on, the film sucks big time. RED PLANET was bad but it was not retarded like this. It also had realistic human dialog with the requisite number of jerks and idiots. I expected to see Julie Andrews come out with her guitar here, the dialog is right out of that insipid movie. Save yourself, it is just awful.
My Mission to Mars was a pleasant adventure. Departing from today's
incessant need to combine blood curling aliens with one's travels through
space, Mission to Mars provides an intelligent ultimatum. The film lies
somewhere in between 2001, The Abyss and Lost in Space, forcing us to
examine our roles as humans throughout the ages in this unexplored
territory. Sprinkle a touch of action, and a pinch of suspense, and you
have yourself a sci-fi film for the new millennium.
The film stars such veteran actors as Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, and Jerry O'Connell; an ensemble where only first-class acting is possible. So let us move onto the direction. It is Brian DePalma's foray into science fiction. And masterfully done to say the least. His shot composition is reminiscent of Scarface and The Untouchables, mixing filmmaking from the days of yore with today's MTV aesthetic. DePalma's talent for filming suspenseful action sequences is in full swing in this film. The spacewalk scene will be one that will not be forgotten for quite some time. Could possibly be one of the best spacewalk scenes in films to date. The hidden jewel for me was the unpredictability of the film. Each corner turned was a pleasant surprise. I can't remember that last time I saw a movie with this quality, especially coming out of the Hollywood mainstream.
The cinematography was astounding. Imagine Lawrence of Arabia lensed on Mars. Professor Jenkins from Scientific America was correct when he said that the images from the film were identical to those photographed from the actual planet. And that is not a small feat.
In this day and age of computer generated eye candy, it is very common to
see movies that are based solely on special effects and nothing else.
Movies like Wing Commander have great graphics, but the story line and
acting leave you back at the ticket booth.
Mission to Mars does not fit in this category. When I saw previews, the special effects looked great, but I could also tell that there was a plot to this movie. For once, I was right on the mark. Mission to Mars made you think about what was happening and what the consequences were going to be. The suspense takes a firm grip on one's eyelids and pulls them up to the ceiling.
What truly makes this movie stand above others of its ilk is the great acting of the characters. In sci-fi shoot 'em ups, the viewer develops a way of not caring for the characters, as they are uncreative and inflexible. Mission to Mars made me care about every single character; I was eagerly awaiting every twist and relished every event.
The climax (which I will not at all spoil) was hair raising and at the end extremely satisfying. Upon leaving the theater I quickly realised that I haven't seen a better movie all year.
I give every recommendation I know to go see this movie. And, by the way, look out for some foreshadowing. It's in there.
I thought this movie was GREAT! People are forgetting the fact that they
are seeing a MOVIE! And this movie Rocks (The mind). This movie is for the
hardcore Sci-Fi fans, like myself. Yep, I like seeing space, space
stations, planets, aliens and stuff other people might find boring.
I thought is was facinating that the base camp on Mars was so close to the "Mars Face". Of all the places that NASA has sent probes (in real life) they seem to be going to the wrong areas. It's like someone from another planet sending probes to the North or South pole on Earth and expecting to find life or signs of life there. I'm not implying that there really is something up there on Mars but just thinking from the scientific side of reality of what if?
I read and heard all the negative reviews on this movie and I had to set them aside and see it for myself, and I'm glad I did. My girlfriend was upset that I didn't take her to see it and I'm kinda sad that I didn't. Maybe next time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In my experience, there is no filmmaker like De Palma. As with Kubrick and Greenaway, you have to know what to expect going into a theater, because they do not concern themselves with storytelling in the ordinary sense. De Palma doesn't make films about life, and is unconcerned with the drama one normally finds there.
He makes films about films, and since the target is an abstraction in the first place, the dramatic focus is flat, the acting obvious, the stories predictable -- all by design. By definition, we've already been wherever he goes. The value of the experience is in how he takes something that is ordinary and examines it in new ways. Its the 1890s Paris painting scene, where the eye is everything.
We've seen him do Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Antonioni, and more. Here he tackles Kubrick, and the results are astounding.
Kubrick does an end-on entrance of a spaceship with majestic passing; De Palma does too, and then enters a window to show Robbins and wife in an elaborate view, dancing the camera around them with Robbin's face reflected just incidentally. Kubrick has a clever shot of a man walking around the gravity ring; De Palma elaborates on this a hundred-fold with comings and goings and ups and ins and reversals until we are dizzy. 2001's spaceships were the stuff of pulp covers, but here we have even accurate rivet patterns, everything scrupulously close to NASA specs. 2001 has a cheap Kaleidoscope passage and some clean room visions when the makers are encountered. M2M's `makers' are encountered in an ever-cleaner, ever more abstract room.
Incidentally, in the only clever element of the script, those makers show images of how they `seeded' Earth, with an ambiguity between the making of the image and the act itself.
One doesn't go to a film like this expecting a traditional Lucas-like ride. This is intelligent, self-referential stuff targeting not the mind but the eye. I suppose a question is whether it can also be entertaining for kids. I suspect not. Kubrick himself never tried. The fault is with the marketeers who try and sell these films in the same way as simple thrill rides. Shame on them. Regrets to all the ticketbuyers expecting Spielbergisms.
If you are an IMDB visitor and reading this, chances are you are serious about film. If so, I recommend that you see 2001, then this in one evening. Forget about story, acting, drama, and focus on where these gents take your eye. The thrill is that you become God -- what higher fantasy do you wish?
No laser beams. No alien attackers coming to consume Earth. No Will
Smith and no Charlize Theron in sexy outfit. Not frightened yet? Read
I saw this movie in a cinema with my girlfriend - a Physics teacher. What we both liked was how it followed laws of physics - it was perhaps the first sci-fi we saw which showed properly how space works and what vacuum is all about.
I read in one review that the scene where they raise the USA flag is pathetic, when they should be running into the base to look for survivors; I disagree: Since they arrived nearly a year AFTER the incident, rushing doesn't make any sense.
I liked the "puzzle" part of the movie, as well as the final moments when the truth is revealed. Some laughed at that point, but I liked it a lot.
Remember how Space Odyssey plays with the idea that the intelligent life on Earth might be a product of "targetted imprinting"? Well, M2M suggests yet another possibility, and I find that extremely appealing.
The cast seemed brave to me: No top-class stars, no pretty faces, but instead good actors that are believable (after all, Garry Sinise played in Apollo 13 and Jerry O'Connell played a similar role in "The Sphere").
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