The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on November 11th, 2000.
Here are some updated thoughts: 2000 was indeed the year of the red planet in Hollywood, with Mission to Mars and Red Planet released in the same year. Since that time only one good movie about Mars has been released . . . no, not Doom or Mars Needs Moms . . . The Martian naturally. Yes, John Carter also took place on Mars, and it is a much better movie that critics or the box office would have you believe, but it’s still not better than The Martian. Come to think of it, there are very few really good movies that use Mars as a backdrop. Seems like a waste of a perfectly good planet!
This review contains spoilers.
With the Mars craze currently in full swing, it is inevitable that filmmakers will take advantage of this and give us their rendition of a manned visit to the red planet. While the first film to illustrate this, Mission to Mars, was mediocre at best, Red Planet showed promise from the get-go. From the previews that I saw, I was expecting non-stop action and mayhem. At least half of my expectations were met; the film itself was pure mayhem.
The year is 2050 and the Earth is dying. Pollution and severe overcrowding have forced mankind to look elsewhere for a more suitable home. Years earlier, scientists had planted algae on Mars in hope of producing life and, ideally, enough oxygen to sustain human life. When the experiment doesn’t produce the expected results, a crack team of scientists is sent to investigate.
Among the diverse group of scientists is a biologist, Dr. Quinn Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), a philosopher, Dr. Bud Chantillas (Terence Stamp) and a mechanical engineer, Robby Gallagher (Val Kilmer). Leading the expedition, and the only woman among the crew, is Commander Kate Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss). Along for the ride is AMEE (Autonomous Mapping, Exploration, and Evasion), a military navigational robot on loan from the Marines. In a blatant use of foreshadowing, we are shown AMEE’s “military mode,” capable of inflicting high amounts of damage.
Upon entering Mars’ atmosphere, a solar flare disrupts the computer systems of the mother ship, causing Commander Bowman to stay behind to manually launch an escape pod containing the five scientists. Falling through the atmosphere, the crew decides to detach the landing equipment, with AMEE in it, to gain control of the pod. After a rough landing, the crew must make their way to a supply station that was set up on a previous unmanned expedition. Left behind, Commander Bowman must guide the crew to safety and eventually back to the mother ship.
Red Planet (2000)
A new colony on Mars could be humanity’s only hope. A team of American astronauts is making the first manned expedition to the red planet and must struggle to overcome the differences in their personalities, backgrounds and ideologies. When their equipment suffers life-threatening damage and the crew must depend on one another for survival on the hostile surface of Mars, their doubts, fears and questions about God, man’s destiny and the nature of the universe become defining elements in their fates. In this alien environment they must come face to face with their most human selves.
Director: Antony Hoffman
Starring: Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore
Genre: Science Fiction
Media: Film, 106 minutes
Budget: $80 million
Box Office: $34 million, worldwide
Year: November 10, 2000
Upon reaching the location of the supply station, the crew finds that it has been destroyed. Without food, water and most importantly, oxygen, the men are forced to wait for their own deaths. In an extremely predictable scene, Gallagher, nearly unconscious from lack of oxygen, learns that he can breathe the Martian air! While they may be able to breathe, they are still in serious danger. In a brief reunion with the apparently lost AMEE, the crew discovers that she has been locked in “military mode.” After an attack on Dr. Burchenal, AMEE runs off, leaving the crew wondering when she will return to finish the job and kill them all. The crew’s new mission: find and use an old Russian probe that was sent to Mars for scientific research and escape without becoming a victim of AMEE’s newfound wrath.
Now, the premise sounds promising. Scientists go to Mars for research but are attacked by their own navigational robot gone haywire. What I saw in the previews had me interested in seeing the film. A visit to Mars, explosions, and a killer robot would attract most sci-fi fans. Little did I know Red Planet would be a poorly executed film from start to finish, and for the most part I have only complaints.
If I had to describe Red Planet in one word, it would have to be “predictable,” which is a death knell for any film. There is absolutely no suspense since you can see things coming a mile away. For example, early in the film, Gallagher shows AMEE’s capabilities and mentions that she has a battery that can last up to eight months. Now, at the end of the film, when Gallagher needs a power source, where do you think he will get it? I found myself impatient at times with the pace of the film . . . obvious scenes seemed to drag on far too long. I actually felt like yelling at the actors to “Let’s go!”
My other complaint has to do with the lack of character development. There is such a small amount that, when various characters die, I felt no sadness for them nor sympathy for the other crew members. The only character that I connected with was the only non-human character: AMEE. At times it seemed that AMEE was the only believable character in Red Planet. Sadly, AMEE is not used nearly enough as she should have been.
Now, you may think that I’m being harsh by only giving Red Planet two and a half stars. Don’t get me wrong, there are actually good things about Red Planet., but the negatives far outweigh those positives to give it a recommendation. I give one star to AMEE, the only bright part of the film. The one and a half stars? Well, that goes to the fact that it was cold outside and the theater was warm.
A girl in line ahead of me at the theater summed up the film before even seeing it. She said, “I hope this isn’t like all those other space movies where they go to outer space, a bunch of people die and then some of them come home.” Little did I know that Red Planet fit this mold exactly. Is this film worth going to see? I would have to say no. Weak character development, predictability and a high level of cheese cause Red Planet to fall well short of the high expectations that many people may have.
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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