Red Planet

scene from red planet

Director: Antony Hoffman
Screenwriter: Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin
Starring: Val Kilmer, Carrie Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Simon Baker, Benjamin Bratt, Terence Stamp
Release details: Warner Bros, USA 2000, 106mins
Full details: IMDb / view trailer (Quicktime)
Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller
Rating: 5 out of 10

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise; its ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly ....

No. Wait. Wrong movie. Red Planet is not some crappy but beloved 1960s TV show, it's a 21st century big-name, big-action, big-CGI blockbuster, isn't it? So, why does the casual viewer get the feeling that you've just watched a particularly low-key and dull episode of Star Trek / Star Trek:TNG / Babylon 5? Maybe because Mars is a great big oval with three large rocks, just like almost every planet in the sci-fi universe (Coober Pedy, Australia, and Wadi Rum, Jordan, stand in for the Martian landscape).

Anyway, it's 2050 and Commander Kate Bowman (Moss) has to lead a rag-tag bunch of soldiers and scientists to Mars to investigate whether the planet is inhabitable. The Earth, you see, has all but depleted its supply of oxygen and its occupants can hardly walk the eight feet from their front doors to their 10 miles-per-gallon Sports Utility Vehicles without getting breathless. So, NASA have been growing algy on Mars as a way of oxygenating the planet for human habitation. Well, it may not have been NASA, it might have been anyone - this is the sort of film which is short on explanation and long on lingering shots of how pretty Val Kilmer and Carrie Anne Moss are.

The crew all have appropriately astronaut-y names - Lieutenant Ted Santen (Bratt), Dr. Quinn Burchenal (Sizemore), Dr. Bud Chantilas (Stamp), Chip Pettengill (Baker) - except Kilmer's character, Robby Gallagher. He's a bit of a rebel, our Robby; the sort of guy who could arrange a great frat party down at Delta House, but he's certainly not hero material.

Val Kilmer The Matrix Reloaded - Trinity Terence Stamp stars in The Limey The Matrix Reloaded - Trinity The Matrix Reloaded

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Robby modestly refers to himself as a "space janitor" and is only interested in two things: getting his buddy Burchenal to make moonshine in the lab and charming his way into Commander Bowman's space-pants. But, he's very pretty and he does have the ability to stare into the middle distance to give the impression of hidden sensitive depth, so you can forgive him a lot.

Besides, you just know that he's going to come through in the end once they're down on the planet. Especially after there's an unforeseen incident which endangers both the crew and the mission. (There's always an unforeseen incident which endangers both the crew and the mission in this type of sci-fi film.)

That's one of the problems with Red Planet. It's not that it's badly made or suffers from poor acting. It's just that it's join-the-dots film making, that's all. Every sci-fi cliché you're expecting is here. Every "unexpected" twist is present and correct. The cowardly Pettengill does double cross the good guys, but he gets punished for it. One of the more noble, intellectual members does bite it early and tells the rest of the crew: "go on without me - I'll just hold you back." And, just when you think our heroes have cracked it, there's another set-back.

Having spent a few years in the movie wilderness, suffering from rumours of his ego being bigger than his talent, it's good to see Kilmer in a big starring role. He's always been under-rated, probably because his reputation has preceded him so much. And, did I mention how pretty he was? And he's added some real muscle to his physique, which may be an added bonus for some of our more shallow viewers (among whom I include myself).

You also can't find much wrong with the rest of the crew. All are well-cast and competent at their roles. I suppose we should be thankful that at least they don't have to carry around unnecessary sub-plot baggage like the crew from Mission To Mars.

But, when it comes down to it, the most memorable moment in the whole film is finding out that the Russian space program uses an animated on-screen bear (wearing his own little space-man uniform) to instruct cosmonauts in the use of multi-billion dollar interplanetary space-craft. The rest of it is just predictable and a bit dull.

Buy it



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