Starring: Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore
Directed by: Anthony Hoffman
Running time: 106 minutes
In the mid-21st century, the nations of a dying Earth look starward for a solution and set out to colonize Mars. But something no one could have expected awaits. Houston, we have big trouble. Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss and Tom Sizemore star in this taut adventure about humankind’s first mission to the mysterious Red Planet. Also on the mission is the multifunctional robo-assistant AMEE. In one mode, she’s as loyal as a puppy. But a malfunction has locked her into a far different mode; a killing machine bent on destroying the crew. Yet that’s not the end of the expedition’s perils. Because Mars may be barren, but it’s not uninhabited.
Look, there’s no way to get around this: Red Planet is not a good movie. It’s a very pretty movie, sure: From the majesty of Mars to the set and costumes, the film is a great looking piece of work that stands up very well, considering it’s over a decade old. The Blu-ray treatment makes some of the circa-2000 CGI look a little plastic, but the visuals and sounds are otherwise really quite good. Unfortunately, Red Planet is just too overwrought to come together in any real way. The dialogue tends to drift into droning technobabble, and the action generally revolves around the crew marching across the blasted wastes of Mars while Commander Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss) sits in orbit, trying to save their damaged spaceship by flipping switches and stripping to a white spaghetti-strap tank in prep for throwing more switches. In 2056, astrophysicists have apparently discovered that swinging a bazillion-tonne spaceship into the right orbit for an emergency shot at home works better when you’re showing off a fabulous rack.
On the planet below, things are going from bad to worse for Bowman’s unlikeable and clichéd crew: the philosopher Chantilas (Terence Stamp) is slouched against a rock with a ruptured spleen; ship’s geek Pettengill (Simon Baker) has tossed mission deputy commander and total jock Santen off a cliff, playing out the fantasies of beta males the world over; and the team’s geneticist (Tom Sizemore) is mixing up the initials of DNA nucleotides and mistaking some sort of Martian beetle for a nematode. Oh, and the robotic helper has been zapped into hunter-killer mode by the same solar flare that baked the ship. Aaaand the mission mechanic (Val Kilmer) is just kind of spacey. Behind the scenes, Val and Tom apparently have such a hate-on for one another that they’re filming scenes with each other’s body doubles. It’s a total mess.
The video is of the quality you’d expect from a well-made Blu-Ray release. The images are sharp and evocative enough that you can almost feel the hot, dusty terrain that the men toil across, and the grit and sweat on their skin. Blu-ray makes this film really shine, with nice darks and skin tones, good brights and a nice level of detail. The high-def treatment really showcases the set and costume design, as well.
Like the video, this release is sonically very good. Every little creak, clunk of a stone or hiss of air is as clear as the largest impact or explosion, though dialogue never gets buried under all the noise. All in all, it’s a good sounding disc. Again, when the source material is a dozen years old, it can sometimes be hard to make it shine, but in this, the disc is a success.
This release is a little anemic in the goodies department: There’s a theatrical trailer and deleted scenes, and that’s it. The deleted scenes are an interesting look into the film’s production process. Few of them are excised completely from the finished movie, but rather show how judicious cutting can improve a scene with heavy dialogue, or that otherwise moves at a ponderous pace.
Menu and Packaging
The dynamic menus are simple and look slightly dated, though they’re clear and easy to use. The packaging is the same old Blu-ray box we’ve come to expect from any self-respecting production house. Aside from that, there’s not much to say.
From the first few lines of Commander Bowman’s dull intro monologue to the last words of her equally lacklustre epilogue, Red Planet is nothing more than a strange string of events that never seems to gel. Perhaps most confusingly, Bowman ends the film by saying that, against all odds, the mission was a triumph. It takes a special kind of scriptwriting disconnect to end the tale of a crew’s implosion and decimation with the word “triumph.” Pedantic? Yes, but it points to the film’s larger problem, which is one of thoughtless writing exacerbated by a lack of directorial vision.
That being said, the high-definition treatment makes Red Planet a good choice for anyone looking to switch off for an evening and hug the popcorn bowl.