Red Planet Movie Review

One approaches the release of Red Planet with a singular, desperate thought: There is no way... it is not possible... it is inconceivable... that Red Planet could be worse than Mission to Mars.

Indeed, Red Planet makes for a far better film than Mission to Mars. While that's not saying a whole lot (since Mission currently ranks as the worst movie I've seen all year) Red Planet is at least competently constructed and mildly engaging, so long as you put aside the sappy melodramatics. Of course, this isn't that easy to do.

A narrated prologue by Carrie-Anne Moss's Commander Kate Bowman clues us in to some of what's ahead through its drippy introductions of the setting and the cast. By 2025 we've apparently destroyed the earth, so we're getting ready to move to Mars thanks to a terraforming project that has oxygenated the atmosphere. Unfortunately, something seems amiss: the sensors have vanished, and the algae they put up there seems to have gone away. To find out what gives, our last best hope -- a human crew -- is sent to the planet to discover what went wrong. And, while 2025 is not an eco-friendly era, it is an equal-opportunity one, and the buxom Bowman is in charge.

Along for the ride are a rogues gallery of characters -- notably Val Kilmer (surprisingly tame here) as the ship's mechanic and Tom Sizemore (surprisingly lacking dialogue) as the chief scientific officer onboard. And then there's AMEE, a robotic CGI dog (very well-done, I must add) ostensibly with some kind of navigation job... despite its legacy of military programming that fundamentally makes it a deadly weapon. (A better recipe for trouble I can't imagine.)

The discovery mission is soon underway, but, well, do movie space missions ever turn out very well? Before you know it, we're in MacGyver-esque search-and-rescue mode after a fire hits the ship, and most of the crew is stranded on the surface with the now-crazed robot dog. At this point the film unfortunately degenerates into any number of recent space cinema entries -- take your pick from Lost in Space, Mission to Mars, Apollo 13, or Pitch Black (though some of these are better movies than others). All the while we are meant to wonder, what happened to the algae on Mars? (Now there's something that'll get a PG-13 audience on the edge of its seat!)

Once we've made it this far, the movie really starts to bog down. Red Planet's plot holes come at you at a dizzying pace, and they can be rather extreme. To wit: Why isn't the off-screen murder of one character simply heard over the other characters' headset radios? How does a homemade solar radio work in the dark? How do you get sparks in space from smashing metal? The answers to these questions and more are not forthcoming.

On top of this, the weird cosmo-metaphysics espoused by Terence Stamp's grandpa-like character ("the soul of the ship") don't make the movie any better. Instead, it comes across as an attempt to be like 2001: A Space Odyssey, somehow implying a greater force beyond mankind imploring us to care for the world we have. It comes as no small irony that Stamp's is the first character that is gotten rid of.

But putting the silly-talk aside, in its quest to show off its obviously-not-really-Martian landscapes, Red Planet unfortunately misses a big lesson that 2001 proved so very well: Getting there can be all the fun. Next time Hollywood decides to take a trip in space, let's hope they take it slow.

Ready, aim, choke.


Red Planet Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, 2000


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