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Mission to Mars

Rated [PG], 113 minutes
Starring Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle and Tim Robbins
Screenplay by Jim Thomas & John Thomas and Graham Yost; story by Lowell Canon and Jim Thomas & John Thomas
Directed by Brian De Palma

ADDENDUM (3/28/00): OK, OK no more dissmail. Y'all should know that Cranky saw this flick immediately after suffering through The Ninth Gate (and after that, anything would look good). This is the first time I'll admit I screwed up with the rating, which should've been down around rental (probably $2.50). We're not changing the original rating, 'cuz that would be the equivalent of lying.

In Mission to Mars, director Brian De Palma and company set out to make a space film that is as close to "reality" as possible. Effects, Decision-making Processes and all space gear seen on the screen or referenced in the script is based on what NASA does now. This emphasis on "reality," what works great for the flick, is what keeps it from going whole-hog bananas on a special effects laden climax. If you're like the teenboys bitching on, that means Mission To Mars sucks. If you prefer a solid story plus whole-hog bananas effects, you're at least halfway there. Not meaning to be oblique, what has Cranky to say of a solid story in a movie whose special effects complement and enhance the overall tale?

Cranky says don't give it away in the television commercial . . .

. . . which is the case with Mission to Mars. If you were lucky enough to miss the , whose most effective moments come halfway into the film. Cranky's talking dramatic tension, something which De Palma knows a thing or two about <g>. Dropping even the smallest of hints as to what happens in that middle section pretty much kills the need to rush out and see the flick on the big screen -- unless, of course, you've been told that that event is a great reason to see the flick -- either way, I'll not speak of again.

Here's what story I will tell: in the year 2020, with a fully completed space station in earth orbit, NASA sends its first crew towards Mars with replacement Mission Commander Luke Graham (Don Cheadle) in the hotseat. Graham got the nod when original top dog Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise) failed to complete training, choosing instead to take care of his wife, and fellow mission member Maggie (Kim Delaney), who stands down for medical reasons. Successfully placed on the Martian surface, the international crew (including one Russian man and a French woman) stumbles across the ever popular something that isn't supposed to be there and vanishes. What was to have been the second manned expedition of Commander Woody Blake (Tim Robbins), his wife Terri Fisher (Connie Nielsen) and mission scientist Phil Ohlmyer (Jerry O'Connell), is reconfigured as a rescue mission with McConnell in charge. With a six month flight time to the fourth planet, this crew knows darn well that they're as much expected to bring back the bodies as they are to discover exactly what happened.

SPOILER WARNING: Part of that is revealed in the commercial and in the next paragraph so if you don't know it and don't want to see it, don't click and drag across the white space in brackets below.

Keeping the flick "real" means taking away the visually impressive effects that topped off flicks like 2001 and CE3K. Then again, when those flicks came out we weren't used to seeing those kind of effects, which are now a weekly component of teevee shows like Star Trek: Voyager. By itself, the film-story's explanation for the elements spilled in the teevee commercial, that [ the secrets of how life evolved on Earth are found on Mars ] uses as its base speculative SF fantasy about a geological formation on the planet's surface, and assumes that you already know about it. If you do, what you see will make perfect sense. If you do not, you may find yourself thinking that a really intriguing plot point hasn't properly been followed up.

The actor's performance, across the line, are fine (which includes an uncredited Armin Mueller-Stahl as NASA's mission chief on the World Space Station). That means I didn't sit in the movies thinking "I'm watching actors overwhelmed by effects," and that I believed I was watching future astronauts on a realistic mission to Mars. It also means that the "wow!" that the film tries to deliver at its end falls short. Still, there's little here to make the grownups whimper like the disappointed fanboys on AICN.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Mission to Mars, he would have paid...


Mission to Mars is just an OK flick. This rating dateflick level, strictly based upon a story which hits its high point halfway through and then begins to sputter. Without effects to bolster good acting, this would be a rental. Watch the first half. Make out for the rest.

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