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Last Days on Mars, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Why is this film set on Mars, again?"
2 stars

Funny thing about "The Last Days on Mars": It goes to some impressive lengths to be a large-scale sci-fi movie, and the very size of it makes the whole thing less believable. That's unfortunate, as it could use a feeling of authenticity if it's not going to put as unique a twist on its horror story as you might expect for having it play out on Mars.

Things start to go down less than one Earth-standard day before the Aurora 2 mission is scheduled to hand their base off after six months on the red planet. Technical specialist Vincent Campbell (Liev Schreiber) is ready to go home, though he's not looking forward to the return trip, and not just because it means being stuck in a tiny space with Kim Aldrich (Olivia Williams) - after all, he'll also be in a small space with Rebecca Lane (Romola Garai). With nineteen hours left in the mission, scientist Marko Petrovic (Goran Kostic) makes a discovery that merits an extra trip out to one of the research sites, and there would be no movie if what happened there didn't leave commander Charles Brunel (Elias Koteas) in a tight spot.

There are a whole mess of problems with The Last Days on Mars, but one of the biggest is that no matter how many airlocks the crew passes through or times a scene is played out in spacesuits, it never really feels like Mars. The location shooting in Jordan looks great, and though the colorists have made the ground reasonably red and the sky less blue, it doesn't quite do enough to make it feel like an alien world. Worse, the design of the bases and rovers feel wrong, huge and all smooth white curves, not the sort of thing one would expect on early missions where every gram and cubic centimeter on the transport is precious. And when someone throws a rubber ball across the room, it behaves exactly how the viewer expects, not like an object in an environment where the gravity is roughly 37.6% of Earth's.

That may seem like mere space-enthusiast nitpicking or the sort of genre snobbery that holds a movie's resources against it, it just indicates that for all the polish Robinson and company put on this movie, there is nothing in it the audience hasn't seen before. The paranoia, the crew locked up together long enough to form positive and negative relationships, the nasty post-mortem effects, it's all standard-issue, and the moments where things display a little spark (like Rebecca and Kim basically yelling "let's do science!" when confronted with something potentially lethal) are quickly walked back to familiar territory. A flashback-heavy side story tends to flare up randomly and is acknowledged as both kind of silly within the picture.

The solid roster of B-listers handles things pretty well, although it might have been interesting to see what different focuses might have produced. For example, we've seen Liev Schreiber's handsome but sick-of-Mars Vincent and Romola Garai's pretty, upbeat but not silly about it Rebecca before, but the rivalry between Goran Kostin's Petrovic and Olivia Williams's Kim has more potential, especially if Petrovic isn't just attracted to medic Laruen Dalby (Yusra Warsama). Elias Koteas can do the commander who looks authoritative but is actually weak in his sleep; imagine if his potential removal had the potential to make everything fall apart.

You don't have to imagine, of course; we've seen this sort of Thing before a few times, in Earthbound environments that didn't waste any time or effort. Instead, "The Last Days on Mars" is just another example of how nice filmmakers can make today's B-movies (mostly released as video-on-demand fodder, usually higher up in the alphabet) look and sound Let's hope that the next time Ruairi Robinson gets a chance to make some sci-fi - and given his credit as "Amateur Roboticist", he's probably interested - he's got some more creative material to work with.

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originally posted: 12/17/13 09:43:04
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  06-Dec-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Mar-2014


  DVD: 04-Mar-2014

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