Caution! Danger: Viewing Mission to Mars may cause extreme space-sickness

Mission To Mars (Touchstone) PG 1 hr 53 min, Science fiction
Review by Ernest Lilley
Cast: Gary Sinise (Jim McConnell), Don Cheadle (Luc Goddard), Connie Nielsen (Teri Blake),  Jerry O'Connell (Phil Ohlmyer),  Kim Delaney (Maggie McConnell), Tim Robbins (Woody Blake)
Director: Brian De Palma

Tagline: For centuries, we've searched for the origin of life on Earth...We've been looking on the wrong planet.
- no...just the wrong theater - el

Mission to Mars stole so much (when it's done badly it's stealing, when it's done well it's a tribute) from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) that we asked our favorite astronaut and onboard computer tag team to investigate the reports of an alien artifact being discovered on Mars. Here's their transmission:

Dave: Hal...tell me Mission to Mars puts the science back in Science Fiction. Tell me it makes Space Believers out of the audience. Tell me it's fun to watch...
Hal: I'm sorry Dave. I can't do that.
Dave: My God...it's full of stars.
Hal: No Dave, I'm afraid it isn't. Gary Sinise plays a haggard maverick, but he's only got the haggard part down, while Jerry O'Connell plays an M&M popping nerd in a spacesuit, and Connie Nielsen shows that  though she doesn't have a clue about what astronauts do for a living...it is possible for grownups to be sexy.
Dave: You mean they have sex in space?
Hal: No, oddly enough, on a long duration mission with three guys and one attractive woman in a tee shirt, there is no sexual tension in the crew and nothing to raise a rating board's eyebrows.
Dave: This sounds really depressing.
Hal: You're telling me. They even gave the onboard computer a flat uncharismatic voice.
Dave: Hal...you have a flat uncharismatic voice.
Hal: Dave, normally I like working with humans, but don't push it.

M2M tries to merge an array of SF heritages (Buck Rogers to Willey Ley to Arthur Clarke) with our current take on the near future of space travel to come up with the first Hard SF movie of the 00s. It tries way too hard and winds up failing on pretty much all fronts. The only saving grace is that the special effects are very special. We were robbed of the most critical sequence, which I hope isn't lying on the cutting room floor, or editor's recycle bin, as the case may be: there is no landing sequence, no Mars atmospheric entry, no hatch popping, and definitely no first footstep on Mars. Really.

When the first Mars mission finds what looks like an outcropping of ice on top of a mountain peak, they tool off in their Mars Rover for a closer look. When they get there, they find enigmatic radio signals beaming at them...which they choose to ignore, instead beaming a high power radar into the mountain. It was the wrong move.

Soon the crew that was supposed to take over from the first is on it's way in a ship that looks like a low budget version of the 2001's Discovery, to rescue the possible lone survivor. Along the way, they manage to make almost nothing but wrong moves, except a few spins on the zero-gee-whiz dance floor.

Phil & Terri
Captain Woody (Hey, Buzz...I'm a space captain! Can you pass me another light beer?) gets the last dance with his wife Teri while the guys watch wistfully.

I've been watching the trailer for M2M in theaters with hope and anticipation. It had great shots of spacecraft, cool scenes of Mars, and a stirring soundtrack behind it. Someday, they may release that movie. It certainly wasn't the one I watched. In fact, I suggest you just watch the trailer (http://studio.go.com/m2m/premiere.html) then go watch 2001: A Space Odyssey, Apollo 13, and Contact for a much better time.

I really tried to like this film, but it was a wasted effort. Worse, they threw so many Mars/Space movie cliches at us that they've done damage to the genre by showing spaceflight as somehow both trivial and dangerous, and seriously talking down to the audience. Thirty two years ago, when the average person in the audience I saw the film with was being born, Kubrick and Clark had confidence enough in their audience not to pull their punches and as a result delivered a movie of tremendous impact. The only good news is that M2M shows how good 2001 still looks. Sadly Brian De Palma isn't Stanley Kubrick.

Usually I find myself wishing that movies which rely on special effects would have spent more on a good script. Though that's true here, the worst villain of the piece is the film's score. It manages to totally rob scenes of impact, distracting the audience (and not pleasantly) and killing any chance for the sense of wonder that this movie could have generated.

And while I'm at it, could NASA please do something about those powder blue interiors? I'd go nuts living for a year in a powder blue spaceship.

Here's the official site: http://studio.go.com/m2m/index.html

wpe1.jpg (61754 bytes)Unfortunately, like a lot of current big studio sites...it's got too much shockwave, games and gimmicks and not enough information. You can see the trailer...or watch the "crowds" outside the El Capitan theater in LA.

wpe2.jpg (61702 bytes)Ok, I take it back. I liked the science quiz  before the game. I even learned a thing or two about Mars .Then I managed to waste a fair amount of time on the docking and landing simulators...but I came to find out about the movie.

Better chance of finding the origins of life on Mars. - EL