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Mission to Mars (2000).

May 19, 2009

The Scoop:
Elements of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Apollo 13,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Contact” collide in Brian De Palma’s uneven space adventure about the first manned expeditions to Mars.

A scientific expedition, led by Don Cheadle, meets disaster on the Red Planet’s surface, prompting international space station commander Tim Robbins to put together a rescue party (which includes Gary Sinise, Jerry O’Donnell and Connie Nielsen). The rescuers’ rough, year-long journey to the surface takes up the bulk of the film’s plot and nearly grinds it to a halt with its tedium. (Even De Palma’s trademark suspense sequences are subpar here.)

After they finally make a hair-raising landing, the movie finally gets in gear for its intriguing final act, when the rescuers find the sole survivor (Cheadle) ranting madly about extraterrestrial intelligence. The action from this point is really the only reason to watch “Mission to Mars,” even if you have to trudge through a clumsily expository introduction and the endless rescue journey to get to it.

What emerges is an exploration of the mythology surrounding the Cydonia Face (which has prompted true believers to adopt the movie as vindication of their conspiracy theories) and an explanation of life on Earth that eschews the obtuse spiritual speculations of those earlier films.

The screenplay-by-committee, full of predictable action and the occasional plothole, is the weakest link here. The actors are all strong, especially Cheadle, but unremarkable. And De Palma seems to be mailing it in, although he does rise to the occasion in a couple of key scenes. On the plus side are some good CGI effects and Ennio Morricone’s incredible score. The sum total isn’t exactly a winner, but it is enough to make “Mission to Mars” an interesting failure.

Best Line:
“You’re just not man enough to wear jewelry.”

Side Note:
The film is rife with scientific errors, not the least of which is the fact that all the planets are rotating in the wrong direction in the giant solar system model.

Companion Viewing:
“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) and “Contact” (1997).

Movies For Guys.
The case for the Cydonia Face as an alien construct.
The case for the Cydonia Face as a natural phenomenon.
Wikipedia article on Cydonia.

Take a Look:
The slightly spoiler-riffic trailer:

A sample of Morricone’s score:

Some square-jawed heroism (and spoilers):

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