Mission to Mars (2000) – Brian De Palma

Director Brian De Palma delivers what feels like his spin on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, unfortunately the shoddy and very obvious CGI in a number of the sequences of the film, and especially during the climax when a practical effects would have served better, and leant a stronger reality to the film, which needed it considering where the narrative takes us.

There are some cool things about the film though, at the time the ships and crafts designed for the film were based on actual NASA designs for trips to Mars and beyond. I love how it’s brought to life, and the physical sets of the ship have a sense of reality, even if they don’t neccessarily feel lived in. It also has a fantastic cast; Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, Jerry O’Connell, Peter Outerbridge, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Sugrith Varughese.

When tragedy strikes the first manned Mars mission led by Luke Graham (Cheadle) when they encounter a strange signal and a stunning revelation, a rescue mission led by Woody Blake (Robbins), Jim McConnell (Sinise), Terri Fisher (Nielsen), and Phil Ohlmyer (O’Connell) are on their way.

Arriving at the Red Planet has problems of its own, but the discoveries they make upon their arrival will change everything that humanity has believed about itself. In other words it embraces the idea of life arising on Mars, and that panspermia led to the deliberate seeding of Earth – this is not really a spoiler as it is even hinted at in the trailer.

It’s a very cool idea, but when things start happening the film would have been served better if something had been on set as opposed to added in post. That and a lot of the space sequences featuring the characters look too much like they were shot on a set, they’re too bright, too, well, staged.

There are big ideas at work in the film, and if the narrative took its time, building in the sense of wonder, exploration, discovery, and didn’t confine itself to a less than two hour runtime and bad VFX (which may have been something at the time – but now make it look dated, while its thematic predecessor’s, 2001, special effects, because they are practical, look timeless), it could have been something to see.

I love the cast, there are some truly human moments, and the hint of something more at the end of the film is very much in line with 2001, but none of it has the impact or wonder (which it should) of its subject matter.

It does fire the imagination, and it makes one wonder what we will find out there, perhaps on Mars, perhaps further out, or perhaps here on our own homeworld. Like Star Trek constantly reminds us, the Human Adventure is just beginning…

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