Red Planet
review by Gregory Avery, 10 November 2000

Red Planet turns out to be an all-out disaster, and I'm not just referring to the story's opening setting. It's 2056, and the Earth has become, surprise surprise, so poisoned and polluted that it is beyond saving (meaning Bush must've won the election), and plans are underway to start moving most of the population to Mars. Astronauts are sent to make the final arrangements, but someone must've forgotten to install a surge protector onboard the spacecraft, so that, at the first solar flare and burst of gamma rays, everything short circuits and the whole mission is thrown into chaos and disarray.

So is the movie, which is riddled with gaps in logic and plot from beginning to end. An out-of-control landing craft which should've wound up anywhere on Mars sets down on the right spot after all. Other calamities occur but are never explained. A modem salvaged from an old computer processor is used as a sort of wireless mobile phone. Mission control on Earth manages to fix massive engine damage in the craft orbiting Mars apparently by interplanetary shortwave. The landing crew nearly asphyxiate themselves when their oxygen tanks in their spacesuits run out, but before checking to see if the outside air is breathable. (It is supposed to have been made so already). A fifty-year-old Russian space probe is used as an escape craft, but how it is supposed to dock with the orbiting ship instead of plowing a hole right through is left for us to take on faith.

Then there's the astronauts' robot helpmate, which looks like a sinister, more articulated version of the robot dogs that are just now hitting the market. A machine supplied by the Marines, it still has combat programming loaded into it. Naturally, it ends up going berserk, and takes off after the crew members. Why would anyone want to take such a thing along on an immensely important, risky, and possibly dangerous mission, knowing that it could possibly malfunction and start taking offensive action against them? (The answer is simple: robots in movies are cool).

The film might have worked as a straightforward character drama -- Destination Moon with better special-effects -- but there are no characters, so there's no emotional involvement in what happens to them. The dynamic Carrie-Anne Moss is stuck in space for most of the picture, flipping switches and wringing her hands. (Her character's name is Bowman, and she's involved in an airlock sequence rather similar to the one Keir Dullea's Bowman experiences in 2001). Down below, most of the more interesting cast members are picked off early, while Val Kilmer squints and mutters his way into becoming a non-entity. There are two instances where he suddenly breaks into a song his "grandfather" taught him, the Rolling Stones' "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown." That's what the producers are going to experience after they see the box office returns on this thing.

Directed by:
Anthony Hoffman

Val Kilmer
Carrie-Anne Moss
Tom Sizemore
Benjamin Bratt
Simon Baker
Terence Stamp

Written by:
Chuck Pfarrer 
Jonathan Lemkin




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