Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Anthony Hoffman

Stars: Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Carrie-Anne Moss, Benjamin Bratt, Simon Baker, Terence Stamp.

Cinematically, science-fiction fans have not been well served during this first year of the brave new millennium. With a couple of exceptions, most of this year’s offerings (Supernova, Mission To Mars, etc) have been troubled productions, offering rather dull, unoriginal tales that take us boldly where other film makers have gone previously. They have all lavished generous budgets on special effects, seemingly leaving little over for script development. Red Planet is no exception to this roll call of disappointments. Brian De Palma’s misguided Mission To Mars may have been a major disappointment, but, compared to this turkey, even it seems like a minor masterpiece.

Like De Palma’s film, the futuristic Red Planet deals with the first manned mission to Mars. Written by Chuck Pfarrer (Navy Seals, etc), this uninspired film is set in the year 2050. Some fifty years ago, realising that the Earth’s resources were being depleted at a fast rate, scientists planted a special form of algae on Mars’ surface, hoping to generate enough oxygen on that distant planet to sustain life. A scientific crew is sent to Mars to find out what happened to this daring plan to save mankind from destruction.

The mission seems doomed from the start as a solar flare cripples the spacecraft. While Captain Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss, from The Matrix, etc) remains on board to try and effect repairs, the rest of her crew journey to the surface of Mars. However, a crash landing leaves them without communications or scientific equipment. The crew turn on each other as mistrust runs rampant. Their multi-purpose robot, nicknamed Amy, also suffers a malfunction and turns into a deadly renegade warrior that hunts the survivors across the inhospitable terrain.

Red Planet was filmed in Australia, with the desert of Coober Pedy, in Australia’s outback, providing the perfect inhospitable wasteland to double for the bleak red surface of Mars. First time director Anthony Hoffman, who cut his teeth on flashy commercials, struggles to suffuse the material with any real sense of menace or suspense. The effects are impressive enough, but the film itself is emotionally sterile and lacking any genuine excitement.

By all accounts though, this was a troubled shoot, with stars Tom Sizemore and Val Kilmer reputedly not getting on. It seems that the off screen dynamics between the pair provided more sparks than anything captured for the screen. Benjamin Bratt and rising local star Simon Baker (LA Confidential, etc) have little of real importance to do, but they manage to at least breathe some life into their one dimensional characters. And Terence Stamp, returning to Australia for the first time since Priscilla revived his career, is sadly wasted as Chantilas, the mission’s science officer, and he makes a quick exit from the scene once the crew crashes onto Mars.

The distributor delayed Red Planet‘s release several months, presumably so as not to clash with Mission To Mars or any of the other sci-fi films from earlier this year. Unfortunately, this delay has only further served to emphasise just how weak and unoriginal the whole enterprise is.



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