The first in a three-part adaptation of Ray Bradbury's classic novel.
It opens with a prologue set in July 1976; the Voyager space probe touches down on the Martian surface, but finds no life. The narration tells us that had the probe landed just a few miles away, things would have been different. The camera pulls back to reveal a city in the distance.
We then flash-forward to 1999, where Colonel John Wilder ( Rock Hudson ) is in charge of 'Zeus 1' - the first manned expedition to Mars. Aboard are astronauts York and Conover. A Martian woman named Ylla ( Maggie Wright ) has a premonitory dream about York, in which she falls in love with him. Her husband Mr.K ( James Faulkener ) is so jealous that when the astronauts land, he kills them.
Some years later, 'Zeus 2' lands on Mars. The three astronauts are stunned to find what appears to be a town complete with houses, church, and school. The inhabitants call the place 'Illinois'. Capain Arthur Black ( Nicholas Hammond ) finds his younger brother ( who is supposed to have died when he was 19 ) there, along with his parents and childhood sweetheart Marilyn Becker ( Linda Lou Allen ). But he has been tricked - the townspeople are Martians, and they have laid a trap for the spacemen. They poison them and bury their bodies.
Colonel Wilder himself heads 'Zeus 3'. Major Spender ( Bernie Casey ) finds the Martians dead, wiped out by chicken pox brought by the previous expeditions. He becomes obsessed by Martian culture to the point where it drives him insane. He kills three of Wilder's men, and Wilder kills him in return. As he holds the dying Spender in his arms, Wilder wonders what sort of future Man will have on Mars...
Bradbury is no admirer of this series, and while it undeniably has its faults, I rate it a satisfying and intelligent piece of work. Ted Moore's cinematography is stunning; the shots of the Martian landscape ( filmed in Malta and Lanzarote ) are at once both eerie and beautiful. The costumes and make-up ( especially for the Martians ) are impressive too, as is Stanley Myers' music, particularly the haunting pan-pipes opening theme.
The message here seems to be - no matter where Man goes in the universe, he will bring trouble.
Spender's mini-helicopter was flown by Wing-Commander Ken Wallis, who flew 'Little Nelly' in the 1967 Bond movie 'You Only Live Twice'.
Critics Hilary Kingsley and Clive James were quick to knock the special effects, and while it is true that the Voyager probe in the prologue looks like it was made from an Airfix kit, the script and performances ( particularly by Hammond and Casey ) are good enough to overcome this obstacle. Hudson however acts as though he's still on the set of 'Ice Station Zebra'.
Nicholas Hammond had previously appeared in another Charles Fries' production - the short-lived 'Spider-Man' in which he played 'Peter Parker'. Linda Lou Allen, cast as 'Marilyn Becker', was primarily known as a singer/comedian and one of the cast of the I.T.V. sketch show 'What's On Next?'.
One thing this made me do was read the original novel. And for that reason alone, I am thankful that it was made.
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