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Review: Red Planet (2000)

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Dennis Schwartz

Nov 24, 2000, 5:28:13 PM11/24/00

RED PLANET (director: Antony Hoffman; screenwriters: Chuck
Pfarrer/Jonathan Lemkin, from a story by Pfarrer; cinematographer: Peter
Suschitzky; editors: Robert K. Lambert/Dallas S. Puett; cast: Val Kilmer
(Gallagher), Carrie-Anne Moss (Bowman), Tom Sizemore (Burchenal),
Benjamin Bratt (Santen), Simon Baker (Pettingil), Terence Stamp
(Chantilas); Runtime: 106; Warner Bros.; 2000)

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The third dull Hollywood film about Mars in a little over a year, after
Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks!" and "Mission to Mars." I would think that
three strikes and you're out should apply to any more of these space
bombs cast into theaters by producers with big budgets and small
stories. This one's a nuts-and- bolts sci-fier that looks good but its
dialogue is just terrible, with the capable cast unable to overcome the
poorly plotted story and saying things like Val Kilmer is forced to say
about Mars, "Things happen on Mars that are extreme and otherworldly."

The story is a formula one, where the mission is to save the world and
find missing algae needed to supply the world with oxygen. The
characters are either undeveloped or predictable stock characters. The
film itself is unconvincing, making the Mars-mission astronauts into a
disharmonious team (which is hardly likely of ever happening, especially
when this is known before the orbit, and the fact that it takes six
months to reach their destination), and the unreality of the film is
furthered by making one of them into a real villain, which seem
far-fetched for an astronaut.

South African director Anthony Hoffman directs without imagination, as
the film seems to drag on at a lethargic pace. The "Red Planet" was also
void of humor and the obstacles encountered by the astronauts seemed
arbitrarily thrown into the film to purposefully give the film an excuse
for the special effects to be the star. I think Hollywood should
reevaluate its plans to make these special effect only films about Mars
and see if they can go back to the drawing board and put some life into
these stories about the Earth's last frontier. Those B-movies made in
the 1950s on a shoestring budget were more entertaining to me than this
large-scale leaden sci-fi adventure story.

The film opens on the listless note it will maintain, unfortunately,
throughout, as the serious Commander Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss) will
relate via her voiceover the purpose of the mission and introduce the
crew, as she takes the viewer on a tour of the sleek aircraft.

In 2050, the Earth is about to become unlivable from pollution. The most
telling sign of this danger, is that all the frogs have died. The only
way the human race can save itself is the
Mars Terraforming Project, an attempt by scientists to create a
habitable atmosphere based on the obtaining of oxygen- producing
blue-green algae, which calls for colonizing Mars. An unmanned Mars
project that was working has mysteriously malfunctioned, so an emergency
mission commanded by Bowman is sent to get things straightened out.

The introduction of the crew is done in the same tired formula style
seen in countless films, as each member is labelled and doesn't move
from that tag, except for the film's designated hero Gallagher (Val
Kilmer), the ship's mechanical engineer, considered the least important
person on the mission, a 'space janitor,' someone who has designs on
Bowman, especially after seeing her beautiful tits when she comes out of
the shower. Predictably, he becomes the most important member of the
crew, saves the world and gets the only girl aboard the ship who isn't a
mechanical robot.

The other crew members are so boring and one-dimensional, that when they
started getting picked off one by one, for one reason or another, I was
rooting for a more efficient way of getting rid of them, maybe picking
up the pace at two at a time killings. Burchenal (Tom Sizemore) is the
head scientist, he writes code for genetics and doesn't believe in God
and jokes about becoming Mars's new "king" and having Bowman be the
"queen" to propagate the species. His counterpart, wouldn't you know it,
is a believer in God, the resident scientist-philosopher, Chantilas
(Terence Stamp). He is an arrogant preacher of the truth, who's only
purpose in the film, is to rant on about the limitations of science,
seemingly impressed by the sound of his own voice. Thankfully we got rid
of him in the first wave of deaths.

The two most repulsive crew members are the co-pilot, Santen (Benjamin
Bratt), who is a
tormentor of the others and an egomaniac, and the other is the
agricultural specialist, Pettingill (Simon Baker), the villain, who is
both a liar and a coward. This was some crew, lacking in credibility,
wit and likability!

The voyage runs into trouble from a gamma ray storm, disabling some of
its equipment. The Mars lander descends to the surface with Gallagher,
Burchenal, Santen, Pettengil and Chantilas. We then get into the
special effects part of the film, the only thing the film can brag
about, as there's a well-photographed crash landing scene. The five men
become the first humans on Mars when their landing capsule roughly
bounces upon the desert surface until finally rolling to a stop, as they
are surrounded by airbag-like balloons.

The barren red desert of Mars is breathtakingly beautiful, as the men
trudge through it unable to find the algae that had been growing there.
When they reach the spot that was created to house them safely for a two
year period, they find it in ruins. The source of that destruction is a
mystery, which the film never tries to explain. Did God do it? Maybe, an
alien? It's an interesting theme, but this film was only able to grab
onto its spectacular special effects (showing the Mars earth
mysteriously moving) and by proving that there is life on Mars, and was
not able to follow through on any ideas invested in the far-reaches of
the story.

There is one other passenger on their voyage, an all-utility tracking
robot, AMEE, who is maintained by Gallagher. When AMEE goes mustang and
can't be repaired, she starts attacking the men, aiming to destroy all
of the them by going into a war mode, which gives the story another
contrived plot.

When ideas are quickly jettisoned, the film comes down to being a
formula film, one of a rush against the clock to leave Mars in one
piece, with Bowman, aboard the craft that is damaged by a solar flare,
making emergency repairs and with the crew, now reduced to only the
space janitor, trying to get back to the main craft and return to Earth
with the knowledge to save humanity before it is too late.

I thought the film lacked suspense, and the acting was only bearable,
not giving this film too much of a chance to overcome its overall
dullness. If you are the kind of viewer who goes bananas for technology,
this film might seem better to you than what I thought of it, as that
part of the film was stunning, indeed. But if you are interested in a
lively story, then I'm afraid you wouldn't get that on this mission.


Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"


Steve Kong

Nov 29, 2000, 8:31:11 PM11/29/00
Red Planet (2000)
Review by Steve Kong
The Hard Boiled Movie Guide

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

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.


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