Worth A Look: 10.91%
Pretty Bad: 40.91%
Total Crap: 23.64%
11 reviews, 44 user ratings
by Andrew Howe
I am led to believe that creating a mid-budget motion picture is not something you do in your spare time. Thereï¿½s a script to revise, a crew to hire, locations to scout, egos to massage ï¿½ the list goes on, and that's before a single frame is shot in anger. All of this costs enough to keep your average third-world country running smoothly until the next revolution, and so a reasonable man might assume that the studios would exercise due skill and care in deciding which projects are worthy of their hard-earned cash.But studio executives are not, it seems, reasonable men, and whoever green-lighted this senseless waste of our limited lifespans is obviously long overdue for the kind of lunchtime firing session beloved of Jay Mohrï¿½s character in Jerry Maguire. The truly frightening part is that everyone from the accounts clerk to the janitor could have told the assembled power-brokers that the film had no chance of succeeding from the moment the script hit the boardroom table, and yet here I am again, preaching to the converted. ï¿½Vengeance is mineï¿½, sayeth the reviewer, and if I can save just one person from this pitiful excuse for entertainment then my place amongst the heavenly host is assured.
Red Planet details the exploits of the first manned mission to Mars, a fact we are alerted to by a portentous and interminable bout of exposition over the opening credits which informs us that (a) Earth has become virtually unliveable; (b) colonising Mars is our only chance of survival; and (c) we are in the presence of slovenly scriptwriters, since all of this information would have been better revealed by action, not words (David Lynchï¿½s apoplectic reaction to the television executives lumbering Dune with a similar dose of the voiceovers should have tipped them off). Said hacks are Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin, whose combined resumes would, in any other industry, have seen them run out of town on a rail (I would ask you to consider the likes of Hard Target and Lethal Weapon 4, but I donï¿½t want to ruin your appetite).
It is obvious that they have devoted precious little time to constructing a believable framework for their tale, and a great deal to seeing how many clichï¿½s and examples of poorly-researched pseudo-scientific claptrap they can pack into their paint-by-numbers narrative. For example, despite the film being set only 50 years in the future, our heroes have access to a variety of high-tech equipment, up to and including a military robot and a shipï¿½s computer possessed of an AI which is so advanced that it makes HAL 9000 look like an abacus. Now, Iï¿½m no scientist, but I would suggest that, at our current rate of technological advancement, it is exceedingly unlikely that we will be capable of producing such wonders within half a century (weï¿½ll mark that quote for the 2050 edition of ï¿½You Ainï¿½t No Nostradamus ï¿½ Predictions Which Make the Author Look Like a Moronï¿½). It may not sound like a capital crime, but itï¿½s indicative of the sloppy approach to scripting which is at the core of the filmï¿½s failure (especially when you consider that this problem could have been avoided by simply changing the year to 2150). After all, if youï¿½re going to take the time to write a major motion picture you would think that youï¿½d make an effort to ensure that everything is based on a logical extrapolation of the facts, but evidently that was too much trouble for the Lone Ranger and his faithful sidekick, and so we are presented with a succession of half-baked concepts which reek of the kind of amateurish mess you get when the creative team has been raised on a diet of pulp novels and Lost in Space.
I could detail the inevitable plot holes and coincidences, such as a highly sophisticated and evidently unshielded spacecraft being scuttled by a solar flare which just happens to float by at the exact moment the crew reaches their destination, but thereï¿½s little point in kicking a carcass. Much better to move on to the overall concept, which is where the film really comes apart at the seams.
Red Planet is a rescue flick, pure and simple. The mystical overtones of Mission to Mars are absent, and itï¿½s a testament to the filmï¿½s turgid plotting that you actually miss them. There is also very little action to speak of (which was one of the things which saved Pitch Black from a similar fate), meaning that the viewerï¿½s entire investment in the film hinges upon whether the marooned crew can escape the clutches of the inhospitable environment. Unfortunately, you donï¿½t give a damn, because the protagonists are drawn with the same crayons used by the purveyors of the current crop of PG-friendly releases (see Space Cowboys for a further case study). This is not a film for adults, because the characters exist solely to meet the scriptwritersï¿½ requirements for easily-digestible stereotypes (the tough chick, the hothead, the philosophical guru, and many others). As a result, the potential death of any given character is a reason for rejoicing, because itï¿½s one less mass of ambulatory cardboard to worry about, and what little tension the situation in question manages to arouse is quickly dissipated.
To make matters worse, almost nothing of interest happens for the filmï¿½s entire 105 minute duration. The initial scenes feature something which is evidently meant to be character bonding, but the slipshod, sanitised dialogue makes you glad youï¿½re not stuck on that crate with them. Once the crew hits the surface we are treated to endless shots of our heroes tromping over the barren landscape of Australiaï¿½s Coober Pedy, interspersed with moments of low-level violence (paradoxically, the only thing the scriptwriters got right is the fact that Mars is a rather uninteresting place, and livening it up is one inaccuracy I would have gladly tolerated). It is inexplicable that such a boring, hackneyed plot got past everyone who had anything to do with the film, and it will come as no surprise to learn that it dovetails into a drawn-out, predictable climax, including another voiceover which is, if anything, even cheesier than the first.
Unfortunately, the film sees fit to waste a number of talented actors on its ride to oblivion. Val Kilmer does little to raise himself in my estimation, and Carrie-Anne Moss proves that her memorable performance in The Matrix may well have been a fluke (in any event, there was so much going on in that film that the quality of the acting was a moot point). However, that still leaves Tom Sizemore, Terence Stamp and Simon Baker, all of whom are more than capable of turning the right role into something to praise. The fact that Red Planet prevented these actors from expending their talents on more deserving efforts is yet another reason to be fretful, and reminds us that its cost cannot be measured in dollar terms alone (I might add that Graham Revellï¿½s score is also quite acceptable, and should have been saved for a film which wouldnï¿½t see it drowned out by the audienceï¿½s wailing).
The final nail in the filmï¿½s lead-lined coffin are the effects, which, despite some nice touches (a mechanical dog is well-realised, and some of the equipment is artfully designed), come across as rather pedestrian. Theyï¿½re not poorly-crafted, but everything has a plastic appearance which is at odds with the gritty feel preferred by most of todayï¿½s science-fiction efforts (unless youï¿½re crafting a Lucasian spectacle, but then thereï¿½s precious little of that either).
So is it a complete failure? Well, thereï¿½s a great scene where the astronauts run low on air (itï¿½s enough to make your own throat sympathetically constrict), an acceptable fight sequence shortly afterwards, and an arresting line in exploding fauna. Oh, and Kilmer gets to deliver a couple of nice lines towards the end. Thatï¿½s it, folks, and a few minutes which rise above the everyday are not enough to put a film on anybodyï¿½s short-list.
Which brings us back to my original assertion that nobody who hasnï¿½t spent time in an asylum could have believed that this film was ever going to amount to anything. Thereï¿½s no action, no characterisation, no tension, and no brain, and that, my friends, is a recipe for a roasting.
Make like the citizens of the dark ages, and avoid it like the plague. I may not be Moses, but this is one commandment youï¿½d be well advised to heed.
* * *
Postscript ï¿½ Why I had to laugh
*** Warning ï¿½ major spoilers are contained within. You couldnï¿½t possibly want to see the film if youï¿½ve made it this far, but fair warning is hereby provided. ***
Now that the blood-letting is over, Iï¿½d like to mention a couple of things which, against the odds, tickled the olï¿½ funny bone.
Scene the first: Our heroes are running out of air, and thoughts of impending doom have made them rather philosophical. Simon Baker goes out of his way to have a little tï¿½te-ï¿½-tï¿½te with the resident egotistical pretty-boy, the gist of which is that he forgives the man his in-your-face ways. Our hero replies that Simon can stick his forgiveness in a pipe and smoke it, at which point you might expect this mild-mannered, likeable character (who is, I might add, a civilian, not a grizzled military-type) to shrug his shoulders and retire to his death-bed. However, for reasons of there being (a) too many characters for the scriptwriters to concern themselves with; and (b) a pressing plot-driven need for him to go whacko later in the piece, he doesnï¿½t do this. Instead, he pushes his mate off a cliff, which is such a gloriously outlandish piece of insanity that I can almost forgive the scriptwriters for thinking Iï¿½d let it pass without comment.
Scene the second: Terence Stamp gets left behind by his buddies on account of a ruptured spleen, the idea being that heï¿½ll run out of air and die. Some hours later, our heroes discover that the air is actually breathable. However, nobody stops to consider that this means old man Stamp is probably still alive, and that instead of dying quickly from a lack of oxygen heï¿½s going to become the greatest contortionist since Houdini as he expires from internal bleeding, which they could have potentially prevented if they hadnï¿½t been otherwise occupied building a gigantic bonfire to celebrate the 4th of July.As Longshanks said in Braveheart, ï¿½You must learn to see the good in every situationï¿½. Iï¿½m trying, ma. Iï¿½m really trying.
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originally posted: 12/06/00 23:47:59