Laura Clifford Robin Clifford
Well, mankind finally did it. It's 2057 and planet Earth is on the brink of ecological extinction. There is one choice and one choice only for survival - colonize Mars. The Mars Terraforming Project laid the groundwork to prepare the red planet for its human inhabitants. Now, a manned space mission is sent to begin the colony, but disaster soon strikes, stranding the landing party on the inhospitable planet and leaving mission commander, Kate Bowman, alone on their failing spaceship. It's a race against time as Bowman must save her ship and crew in the science fiction actioner, "Red Planet."
"Red Planet" is by the numbers and derivative, but it is well done by the numbers and derivative. It tries to do a lot of things with several plot lines happening concurrently. It's a survival flick a la the 1964 sci-fi movie "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" as the marooned crew discovers that there is air on the planet, extending their endangered lives. The introduction of a sinister robot, called AMEE, portends problems that are reminiscent of both "Alien" and "Terminator." There is even a passing nod to the classic "War of the Worlds" thrown into the mix, as well as "2001."
This is a typical Hollywood action/disaster film that moves along at a brisk, energetic pace under the control of first-time helmer Antony Hoffman. The director has a good team behind the camera, so there is quality built in to the sets, costumes (although all the uniforms have the players names emblazoned in several places in large letters as if the crew of six suffers from a learning disorder that prohibits their remembering each other's names) and flashy special F/X. Veteran lenser Peter Suschitzky gives the film the benefit of his years of craft experience. Owen Paterson helps things look otherworldly with art direction that makes the red planet an inhospitable place indeed. Costuming, by Kym Barrett, has a suitable pseudo military air about it, though Carrie-Anne Moss's threads consist mainly of skin tight t-shirts without a bra - not that I'm complaining, mind you.
The small but well-versed cast breathes some life into their mostly two-dimensional characters, though there is little in the way of character development. Carrie-Anne Moss has proven she has the physical ability to be an action hero, but, to date, has not had the chance to show any acting chops. If she can get more meaty roles, she may prove herself to be the new Sigourney Weaver. It's too soon to tell, though, with her current track record. She plays the stalwart, smart Captain Bowman well enough but doesn't get beyond the essentials of the character. Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore get to do the macho guy thing and get to deliver the funny, smart-ass lines that provide the film's comic relief.
The rest of the cast is little more than background characters. Terrence Stamp plays a scientist turned philosopher, but is killed off early on, getting little to do except to tell the others "you can do it!" Benjamin Bratt is given even less to do and his demise makes little sense in the context of the story. Simon Baker plays a quasi-sinister character, but the motivations and actions of the guy make little sense except to introduce a "bad guy" to the story. Special mention is needed to praise the robot character AMEE. While she doesn't speak, she is a major character in the monster movie part of the tale and consists of some cool F/X.
Some of the details of the Red Planet are not handled quite as well as others. In one part, there are clouds in the sky - on a planet supposedly devoid of an atmosphere. This is one glaring inconsistency. In another, when the stranded, would be colonists locate their emergency habitat, they find it utterly destroyed. The comment is made that even the worst storm on Earth could not harm the refuge, but no reason is given why their almost home was wrecked. You also have to take the sci-fi mumbo jumbo explanations given with a grain of salt.
Comparison will be made with the other Mars flick that hit the screens earlier this year, "Mission to Mars." Where the latter film approached the awful category, "Red Planet" plays more like a space western that tells its tale of survival in a hostile land. There is no deep philosophy to muddy the action waters, here. Instead, we have an old-fashion story that uses up-to-date F/X and computer-generated technology to keep us entertained for a couple of hours. Even if it ain't rocket science, it did that for me and I give it a B-.
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