Red Planet

6 out of 10

I love how Hollywood works. When a film about a particular subject or thing comes out there always seems to be another one about just that same thing on the heels of it. For example look at Speed and Blown Away (mad bombers), Antz and A Bug’s Life (bugs), Matrix and eXistenZ (alternate reality). These types of films are always released a few months away from each other and I don’t know why because invariably one is far superior to the next usually by a large margin. This year the thing that is being covered twice in theatres is a trip to Mars. The first out of the gates was Brian DePalma’s terrible Mission to Mars. The second is Red Planet and Red Planet is what Mission to Mars should have been.

Humans have finally polluted the Earth to the point where habitation on this planet is no longer viable. What is a species supposed to do? Go find another planet to ruin of course. And this is how Red Planet starts. The opening of the film sets up the story quickly via a voice-over by Command Kate Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss). We meet the rest of the crew quickly, co-pilot Ted Santen (Benjamin Bratt), scientist Dr. Quinn Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), Chip Penttengill (Simon Baker), a religious scientist Chantias (Terence Stamp), and the space handyman Gallagher (Val Kilmer).

Unlike Mission to Mars where a lot of time is spent watching the crew as they go to Mars, Red Planet makes the trip quick and easy. Much of Red Planet actually takes place on the planet Mars. What is interesting and also what drew me into the film was writer Chuck Pfarrer’s (Darkman) notion of how we were going to make Mars inhabitable. Humans, seeing the demise of Earth, sent probes to Mars with algae. This algae worked to make an atmosphere on Mars and eventually the atmosphere would turn habitable and breathable. But, to the surprise of the humans somehow all the algae just disappeared one day. Gone. And it is this disappearance of the algae that the crew, headed by Bowman, is sent to investigate on Mars. The movie has a good and plausible explanation for the disappearance of the algae and it keeps you guessing throughout the film.

Did I like Red Planet? Yes. I enjoyed the film thoroughly. Some might say that it’s a bit long or a bit slow, but I thought it was a good solid piece of sci-fi moviemaking. Kudos to director Antony Hoffman and writer Chuck Pfarrer for putting together a believable and enjoyable film.

The actors all do well. Carrie-Anne Moss again shows that she’s up to par as an actress and that her first time out in The Matrix was not a fluke. (It’s interesting to note that her character’s name is a tip of the hat to the movie 2001’s main character Bowman.) Val Kilmer is excellent as Gallagher. Kilmer has that exact smugness and immature that the Gallagher character calls for and Kilmer shines in the part. Of the other actors Terence Stamp puts out a good performance and so does Tom Sizemore (who is always a good and reliable supporting actor).

The special effects in Red Planet were sufficiently good. The one that I loved the most was AMEE the robot that is supposed to navigate Mars for the ground crew. AMEE is frightening and though the robot is not always onscreen the frightening presence of “her” is always there.

Red Planet is a good sci-fi flick. Catch it in theatres if you have a chance or catch it on video. Skip Mission to Mars, Catch Red Planet.