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Red Planet (2000)
Director: Antony Hoffman
review by Tony Lee
Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss are the human stars of this moderately successful, if fairly predictable science fiction drama, set fifty years from now. They're part of an international team on a mission to land the first people on Mars. Their team includes Tom Sizemore and veteran Terence Stamp, and an autonomous robot called 'Amme'. Of course, there's a near disaster, and some of the crew are killed. There's also a quite intriguing mystery to be solved along the way. But what makes Red Planet work is the filmmakers' keen attention to detail in spite of the slightly hokey plot in which a murder occurs amidst the moral conventions of Hollywood action movies. Is there life on Mars? Will the astronaut heroes get home to Earth?
One of the most popular themes of hard-SF novels in recent years has centred on the problems and hazards encountered by expeditions to Mars, and efforts to colonise the red planet by terraforming it. Books like Ben Bova's 'Mars', and the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson have, along with NASA's televised real-life unmanned Sojourner landing, focused attention and imagination on our neighbouring world. It's a shame that Robinson's ambitious work wasn't adapted itself, instead of simply having a few of its many tropes plundered and reduced to soundbite references for this much less inspiring production's opening narration.
On the plus side, the visuals of Red Planet are magnificent, with astonishingly convincing landscapes supplying a fitting backdrop to the exploits - survival, courage, determination - of your typical bunch of US-movie questing pioneers. The robot is great, the creatures (well, surely you didn't think there wouldn't be any?) are cleverly worked into the storyline without being obtrusive or too far-fetched, and the inevitable romance between the leads avoids the sort of mawkish scenes that could have spoilt the whole thing.
If you liked Peter Hyams' 2010, and Ridley Scott's original Alien, this satisfyingly intelligent genre thriller should appeal.
previously published online, at the New Century of Cinema - Movies on Dowse
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