Mission to Mars - movie review (April 7, 2000)

What happens when humans land on and begin to explore Mars?

2021 brings about the arrival of the first manned mission to Mars to the surface of the red planet. All is going well until a catastrophic disaster occurs while the crew, led by captain Luke Graham (Don Cheadle), is investigating a mysterious finding, and the loss of all contact prompts the Mars II to be sent on a recovery mission with the crew consisting of Woody Blake (Tim Robbins), Blake's wife Terri Fisher, Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise) and Phil Ohlmyer. Not quite knowing what to expect, they certainly don't expect to stumble onto the most startling discovery ever made in history.

Mars for some reason has always held a particular fascination for the science fiction minded and others alike. Perhaps Mars' close proximity to Earth makes it the best chance for exploration in our ever-present search for life on other worlds. Many films have already been made about missions to Mars so it's no surprise that yet another has come along using all that modern technology and innovations in science fiction special effects have to offer. Given all that, while the film is indeed very much a visual feast for the eyes, the film is much more cerebral than one might expect. Yes, there are many nifty effects and some pretty cool explosions, but the majority of the film puts the main characters in succeeding rat mazes from which they must puzzle their way through. While the film does bring to mind many previous science fiction films ("2001: A Space Odyssey" and a particular canyon scene in "Star Wars: A New Hope"), it's not nearly as bad as was the case in, say, "Independence Day", and I think the calibre of the acting successfully draws you into the picture in spite of some script weaknesses.

Tim Robbins ("Bull Durham", "Jacob's Ladder", "Bob Roberts", "The Shawshank Redemption", "Arlington Road" and the upcoming "High Fidelity") is terrific as the captain of the Mars II whose decision to save the mission has detrimental personal effects. Gary Sinise ("Of Mice and Men", TVs "The Stand", "Forrest Gump", "Apollo 13", "Ransom" and "The Green Mile") is wonderful as the man who was born to explore the stars. Don Cheadle ("Hamburger Hill", "Colors", "Volcano" and "Bulworth") is excellent as the captain of the failed Mars I.  Kim Delaney (TVs "All My Children" and currently on TVs "NYPD Blue") has what amounts to a cameo role as McConnell's wife Maggie.

The film was directed by Brian De Palma ("Carrie", "Dressed to Kill", "The Untouchables" and "Mission: Impossible"), who I'm not terribly fond of generally, but I think he does fine with this film.

It is my understanding that this film has not done well at the box office and has received generally negative reviews. I don't think it's the best film I've ever seen, but I rather enjoyed it. I thought the storyline was fine, and again, the acting was superb. If nothing else, it's a good popcorn movie, though, again, it's much more thought-based than action-based, I think. In any case, I'd recommend it.

On a related note, I saw a digital showing of this film rather than the regular film projection method, so the colors were perhaps more vivid and vibrant and the quality of the visuals was cleaner and crisper than that seen through the normal projecting method. This is the third film I have seen projected digitally (using Texas Instruments' technology), and I am totally sold on digital films, especially when the film is heavy on effects. If you get a chance to see a movie projected digitally, I completely and wholeheartedly encourage it.


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