Dir: Antony Hoffman. US. 2000. 106 mins.
Prod cos: Warner Bros in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment. Dist: Warner (US and rest of world)/Village Roadshow (Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Cyprus). Prods: Mark Canton, Bruce Berman, Jorge Saralegui. Exec prods: Charles J D Schlissel, Andrew Mason. Scr: Chuck Pfarrer, Jonathan Lemkin. DoP: Peter Suschitzky. Prod des: Owen Paterson. Ed: Robert K Lambert, Dallas S Puett. Music: Graeme Revell. Visual effects supervisor: Jeffrey A Okun. Main cast: Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Benjamin Bratt, Simon Baker, Terence Stamp.
For a movie about a 50 million-mile expedition into space, Red Planet is surprisingly earthbound. With no really top-line stars in the cast, and with nothing too out of the ordinary in the special effects line, this Warner-Village Roadshow joint venture seems likely to fare even more disappointingly than the year's first Mars picture, Mission To Mars (which managed $61m in the US and about $50m internationally). Sci-fi buffs will probably want to check it out, but general audiences will be hard to pull in any great numbers.
One problem is that the film shows little interest in the unique aspects of a manned Mars shot. The long voyage - made necessary because something has gone wrong with mankind's attempt to prepare Mars as a refuge from the terminally polluted Earth - passes quickly and without incident, at least until the very end. It's then that the ship is hit by a radiation burst that forces its female captain, Bowman (Moss), to stay in orbit while the rest of the crew hits - literally - the Martian surface. From then on the plot takes a pedestrian peril-and-rescue course, with the peril coming mostly from the crew's malfunctioning robot. Even the surprise discovery of animal life on the planet serves only to knock off another member of the crew before the inevitable rescue.
There's a brief attempt to introduce a spiritual theme - through the crew's chief scientist and resident mystic Chantilas (Stamp) - and a cursory romance between 'space janitor' Gallagher (Kilmer) and Captain Bowman. But ultimately, the film's locations (in Jordan and Australia) prove to be as dramatic as anything in the script.