The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on March 9th, 2000.
Here are some updated thoughts: I make a bit of a stink about how great the special effects are in Mission to Mars. Make no mistake, they are 17 years dated . . . and they show. Compare these effects to the ones in The Martian or Gravity and you’ll understand that my words from the past ring a bit hollow. Two Mars movies came out in 2000. This one and Red Planet. Unfortunately neither of them were very well written, produced, or received by the public. The entire plot of Mission to Mars smacks of Ancient Aliens and giant faces on the planes of Cydonia . . . all of which are complete bunk, but might provide a modicum of entertainment for some.
This review contains minor spoilers.
Call me a sci-fi fanatic if you will, but almost any movie based on traveling to other planets usually catches my attention. I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first saw the preview for Mission to Mars. The first preview I watched made the film look a bit hokey and honestly didn’t show off some of the better aspects of the film. But since it dealt with going to Mars . . . I was for the most part hooked.
Since I had seen several different previews in the theaters and at home on television, I could guess much of the general plot of the movie already. Rather than ruin the surprise however, I decided to forgo looking up the details of the plot on the web and wait until I watched the actual film. When I got to the pre-screening it was packed like I expected and it was interesting to hear what some people were already conjecturing about the plot and quality of the movie. With the recent influx of sci-fi movies over the past decade, Hollywood has alienated a lot of people to the point where they expect movies of this genre to be terrible. I can’t say I can blame them. Many people in line for the film had pretty low expectations to say the least.
The film starts off with a farewell party to the crew of the first manned Mars mission in a gathering of family, friends and the crew of the next (second) planned mission to Mars. You learn that the second Mars mission is planned to take over after the first team has spent an entire year on the Martian surface. The first team’s leader is Luc Goddard (Don Cheadle), and his job is to see things run smoothly and to pilot the spacecraft from Earth to the end of the mission. The commander of the second Mars mission, Tim Blake (Tim Robbins), is also present at the party to wish the first mission well and to say goodbye before their two year journey. The other main character in the film is Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise), who was bumped from being the first mission captain when his wife took ill and was forced to delay training. The combination of these three actors worked well together which was evident in the first 15 minutes of the film. I’m a bit disappointed that the plot didn’t keep them together longer, as the plot was setup so that all three were kept apart for the majority of the filmed sequences.
As the plot progresses in the first half of the movie, the first Mars landing takes place and the first crew sets up a base camp on Mars for their first year on the planet’s surface. Within what is taken to be a few weeks, the Mars crew discovers something that resembles an ice formation under a mountain and decides to do a more detailed investigation. When they arrive on site they start to do a radar scan of the hill to get a closer look at what’s inside. The scan triggers something inside the mountain that creates a sandstorm of huge proportions and suddenly Earth loses contact with the Mars base and nobody has any clue of what has occurred. At this point in the film the atmosphere is very tense and it certainly feels like something important is about to happen. In order to figure this out, Jim, Phil, Maggie and Woody are sent on a “rescue mission” to find out what actually happened and to see if anyone is still alive. This is as much of the plot I will reveal, as I don’t wish to ruin the movie for you, but I will say the plot does have some nice twists in the second half that should keep you mildly entertained.
Mission to Mars (2000)
In 2020, a crew of astronauts has been prepared for a two-year international mission in Mars. The team of four astronauts land on Mars but a mysterious storm kills three of them and only Luke survives. A rescue team with Woody in command and Jim, Terri and Phil heads to the red planet and discovers that only Luke has survived. Their further investigation shows that the storm that killed the three other astronauts was artificial and created to protect a Face that lies on Mars. What might be the intriguing Face?
Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O’Connell, Kim Delaney, Tim Robbins
Genre: Science Fiction
Media: Film, 113 minutes
Budget: $100 million
Box Office: $111 million, worldwide
Year: March 10, 2000
One of the greatest things about this whole film was the special effects and sets. Everything seems to have been well thought out and the CGI effects are simply flawless. The sandstorms on Mars look about as real as you can imagine, and the spaceship models and effects have a very authentic look and feel to them. All the terrain is very convincing and the sets really draw you into the film. I will admit I did see some basic ship designs elements borrowed from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but this film is trying to base itself in reality so I can’t yell foul too loudly. I think my favorite CGI scene in the whole film was the solar system flyby towards the end of the film. The graphics were impressive and you’re given a good view of how far special effects have progressed in the sci-fi genre. One thing I did find kind of humorous about the film afterward was the blatant advertising done for M&M’s. After losing out when Reese’s Pieces showed up in ET, M&M’s definitely didn’t want to miss out this time around. The candy is further connected to the movie because the parent company is Mars, Inc. Unfortunately Mars, Inc. did not attach their candy to a blockbuster movie like ET.
What didn’t I like about Mission to Mars? Well to put it short and simple, two things: The ending was a bit too inspirational for my tastes. Call me a pessimist, realist, whatever, but I tend to find happy endings in movies like this a bit too hokey and unrealistic. The other major thing I didn’t like about this movie was there were too many “bad luck” events, for the sake of interjected drama, one right after another. It seemed as if they tried to rush the film along using these events as the catalyst to make up for lost time. If these “bad luck” events could have been replaced or changed for better and more reasonable events, the film would have lost nothing in the telling of the story.
The “surprise” ending is bound to be controversial to some and eye-rolling to others. It wasn’t a surprise to me as the concept presented has been present in science fiction for many decades. The ending didn’t really add or detract from the film for me, nor was is controversial or eye-rolling. It was average just like the whole.
Mission to Mars is an average film if for nothing other than the special effects. The sound, sets, and first three fourths of the film are generally fun to watch, if a bit too melodramatic at times. Most of the acting is passable for a sci-fi film. As it stands Mission to Mars is a film worth renting for science fiction fans to either enjoy or mock . . . depending on your tastes. And for some of us it’s okay to do both.
Note: I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant. These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.
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