Dir: Antonio Hernandez. Spain. 2000. 90mins
It remains a mystery why this original, entertaining and technically astute film experiment has not resonated with Spanish audiences. Despite a wide release by UIP on 152 screens, ticket sales of just $310,000 in the first two weeks placed The Big Martian well outside the top 10 at the box office.
Nevertheless, international theatrical and TV buyers, and producers with a keen eye for remake and spin-off possibilities, should not be dissuaded from checking out The Big Martian. In fact, Martian should have universal appeal: sequences from this film could play for laughs even without dialogue.
Taking the reality TV concept a step further, this 'reality film' is part candid camera and part fake documentary. A camera crew pretending to shoot a documentary follows the 14 cast members of the Spanish version of reality show Big Brother on a promotional trip to a rural Spanish resort. Hidden well out of sight, Martian's creators subject the cast members to a series of pre-arranged and progressively more far-fetched situations, culminating in an encounter with a downed spaceship manned by a Russian astronaut carrying an extraterrestrial being from Mars.
Some of the Big Brother stars are in on the plot and others are hilariously clueless. The film starts out by introducing the protagonists with X Files-like subtitles informing us who are the 'moles' and who are the 'victims'. As the action unfolds, a few victims wise up to what's going on - one woman even suffers a severe panic attack - and have to be brought into the fold, threatening to tilt the mole-victim balance and kill the entire production.
But the makers of Martian pull it off, and they do so with a meticulously crafted script and props, a professional crew of 130 people and more than 30 hidden cameras, credible performances by a handful of unknown secondary actors with talent for improvisation and well-selected 'moles'.
Part of Martian's marketing challenge at home has likely stemmed from Spanish film-goers' scepticism that anyone - and particularly the now-famous, media-savvy Big Brother contestants - could be duped by such an incredible story. Spectators may also have steered clear of a film which could mock people's gullibility or even dim-wittedness, a factor director Antonio Hernandez respectfully avoids taking too far. Audiences find themselves laughing as much with the victims as at them, perhaps with the knowledge that in this day and age anyone could be captured unflatteringly on camera.
Prod co: Zebra Producciones. Dist (Spain): UIP. Exec prod: Julian Pavon. Prod: Antonio Saura. Scr: Alfredo Diaz, Antonio Prieto, Antonio Hernandez. Cinematography: Unax Mendia. Prod des: Gabriel Carrascal. Ed: Javier Lafaille. Music: Victor Reyes. Main cast: Pepa Pedroche, Jaroslav Belski, Paco Hernandez, Raquel Merono, Eva Estevez, Fany Gautier, Armando del Rio and the cast of Big Brother