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New Century of Cinema
DOWSE Guide to the
by Tony Lee editor of
107 minutes (12) widescreen 2.35:1
Director: Antony Hoffman
review by Tony Lee
Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss are the human stars of this moderately successful, if
fairly predictable science fiction drama, set fifty years from now. They're part of an
international team on a mission to land the first people on Mars. Their team includes
Tom Sizemore and veteran Terence Stamp, and an autonomous robot called Amme. Of
course, there's a near disaster, and some of the crew are killed. There's also a quite
intriguing mystery to be solved along the way. But what makes Red Planet work is
the filmmakers' keen attention to detail in spite of the slightly hokey plot in which a
murder occurs amidst the moral conventions of Hollywood action movies. Is there life on
Mars? Will the astronaut heroes get home to Earth?
One of the most popular themes of hard-SF novels in recent years has
centred on the problems and hazards encountered by expeditions to Mars, and efforts to
colonise the red planet by terraforming it. Books like Ben Bova's 'Mars', and the Mars
trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson have, along with NASA's televised real-life unmanned
Sojourner landing, focused attention and imagination on our neighbouring world. It's a
shame that Robinson's ambitious work wasn't adapted itself, instead of simply having a
few of its many tropes plundered and reduced to soundbite references for this much less
inspiring production's opening narration.
On the plus side, the visuals of Red Planet are magnificent,
with astonishingly convincing landscapes supplying a fitting backdrop to the exploits -
survival, courage, determination - of your typical bunch of US-movie questing pioneers.
The robot is great, the creatures (well, surely you didn't think there wouldn't be any?)
are cleverly worked into the storyline without being obtrusive or too far-fetched, and
the inevitable romance between the leads avoids the sort of mawkish scenes that could
have spoilt the whole thing.
If you liked Peter Hyams' 2010, and Ridley Scott's original
Alien, this satisfyingly intelligent genre thriller should appeal.
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